In the spring, a young cook's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of -- pastry.
At least that's the way it seems around here with so many special sweet goods turning up in March and April.
There are Paczki, for instance (pronounced "POONCH Ki"), the over-filled doughnuts that Poles love. Also Fastnacht Kuecheles, another type of doughnut, usually unfilled but dipped in sugar or cinnamon. Both of these, if we're going to be technical about it, are supposed to be indulged only on Shrove Tuesday, just before the rigors of Ash Wednesday and Lent.
The idea, legend tells us, was to use up all the rich fat in the household during the stringent days to come.
Shrove Tuesday was yesterday, of course, but no matter. Here in Western New York, we like these goodies so much that they are enjoyed until Easter; you'll be able to buy both of them in supermarket bakeries during the next few weeks. The doughnuts come out every day about 8 a.m., says Dawn Sharpe, who runs the bakery department in the Tops Market at Maple and Transit roads in Amherst. (As always, when it comes to fried goods, the fresher the better.)
If you're feeling ambitious you can make your own. We're including the old-time News recipe for Fastnachts.
There's a Jewish holiday coming up soon, too. Purim, on March 14, joyously celebrates the death of Haman, a wicked prime minister in old Persia who had planned the execution of all the Jews until Queen Esther found out and foiled the plan. (Haman was hanged.)
And so we have Hamantaschen, filled pastries that resemble triangles. The story goes that Haman wore a three-pointed hat, so Hamantaschen (pronounced Hah-man-tosh-in), are shaped that way. You can buy homemade ones this year made by Mary Rossberg, Hamantaschen Baker Extraordinare, who is baking them for the benefit of Yad B'Yad (Hand in Hand), an organization that helps challenged children and adults.
When we last spoke with Rossberg she had already made 140 dozen hamantaschen and will be taking orders only until Sunday. ($10 per dozen. Please call 688-6708.)
But if you miss the deadline, she has passed along her own wonderful recipe. Rossberg fills her Hamantaschen with apricot preserves, but prune filling is more common. The recipe that follows calls for both.
"Whichever filling you use, don't use more than a teaspoon per pastry," she advises. (Prune Butter can be found in most supermarkets.)
And let us not forget Hot Cross Buns, traditionally served on Good Friday but, again, enjoyed in Western New York all through Lent. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the law stipulated the buns be baked only on special occasions.
The cross on the top can be interpreted in different ways. It signifies the crucifix, of course. But, tradition holds that the shape was originally cut on the top to ward off evil spirits.
Some experts also think that the original buns symbolized the earth and the cross represents the sun. The four quadrants are supposed to represent the four seasons. "Not necessarily so," says Caroline Conran in her book "British Cooking."
"If properly made on the actual day -- Good Friday -- the buns are supposed to protect the whole family from fires, rats, accidents and shipwrecks."
The recipe for this cheap form of insurance is among those that follow.
In keeping with British tradition (sort of) the recipe that follows comes from King Arthur Flour and, yes, it does indeed call for both yeast and baking powder. How so? We asked.
"It's the belt and suspenders approach," said a spokesman.
>Hot Cross Buns
1 cup currants or raisins, soaked in
1 tablespoon water or rum
1 cup water
4 3/4 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup softened butter
Confectioners' Sugar Icing:
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 to 5 tablespoons milk
Make the dough by hand: Place 1 cup water, flour, yeast, sugar, nonfat dried milk, salt, vanilla, nutmeg, baking powder, eggs and butter into a mixing bowl. Mix and knead until you have formed a smooth, stiff dough. Knead in the soaked fruit and any of the liquid that was not absorbed. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hour in a warm place until is doubled in bulk.
Bread Machine Method: Place all of the dough ingredients except the fruit into the pan of the machine; program the machine for manual or dough; press start. Add the fruit and any remaining soaking liquid about 5 minutes before the end of the kneading cycle, then allow the machine to complete its dough cycle.
Whichever method you use, transfer the dough to a lightly greased or floured work surface; knead it gently three or four times to express any air bubbles. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a round ball. Place the balls, smooth side up and about 3/4 -inch apart, in two greased 9-by-9-inch cake pans or a greased 12-by-12-inch pan. Let the buns rise, covered in a warm place, until they are almost doubled in size, 45 minutes to an hour.
Bake the buns in a preheated 350-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until they are a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven; transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Cool them for about 15 minutes, before icing. They should be warm but not hot. Makes 24 buns.
Icing: Combine the icing ingredients, using enough milk to make the icing smooth. Pipe icing over slightly warm rolls in the traditional cross pattern. (If the buns are very hot the icing will run; if they are to cold, it won't stick.)
To pipe without using a pastry bag, spoon icing into a plastic bag, snip off a corner of the bag and squeeze icing out on the buns.
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Crisco
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups prune butter
1/2 cup apricot butter or preserves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Mix filling ingredients together. Set aside. Sift together: flour, baking powder, salt and set aside.
Cream Crisco with sugar. Mix in honey, lemon juice and eggs. Stir in the flour mixture and work into a soft dough.
Turn out on lightly floured pastry board or cloth. Roll a small amount at a time, about a quarter of an inch thick. Cut into circles with biscuit cutter or large glass.
Mix the filling ingredients together and place one teaspoon of filling into the center of each round. Pinch edges together to make a three cornered pastry.
Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned and firm. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen pastries.
3 to 4 cups flour
1 package dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup combined Crisco and butter
1 3/4 cups milk
Mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, dry yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
Heat milk, shortening and butter until mixture is just lukewarm. (It isn't necessary for the shortening to melt.) Add to the dry ingredients; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally.
Add egg and half a cup of flour or enough flour to form a thick batter. Beat at high speed for 2 more minutes.
Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough, kneading lightly. Cover bowl; let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about one hour.
Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead lightly. Roll out to half-inch thickness. Cut in squares. Let dough stand, covered, for a few minutes while you heat deep fat or oil to 375 degrees.
Fry kuecheles a few at a time in the oil until they are golden brown. Before you drop the dough squares into the fat, pull on the outside rims so that the dough is slightly thinner in the center. While they are still warm, sprinkle with powdered or cinnamon sugar.