Wednesday at the Barn Prix Fixe Menu

April 4, 2012

Asparagus Salad Araucana Egg, Shaved Pecorino, Béarnaise Vinaigrette Domäne Wachau, ‘Terassen’ Federspiel, Grüner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria

Fritschen Vineyard Leg of Lamb Caramelized Fennel, Spring Vegetable Jardinière, Natural Jus L. Preston, Rhone Blend, Dry Creek Valley 2009

Mandarin and Chocolate Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches Citrus Supremes, Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche

$35 per person *Special wine pairings for this menu, add $18, Large Parties Welcome

Dish of the Week: The Case for Hot Cross Buns

Food that carries a religious message is bound to be about more than taste. At Passover, which like Easter falls in the redemptive season of Spring, Jews empty their homes of all flour and eat unleavened Matzo instead of bread. They don't eat Matzo because it tastes good ~ trust me on this one ~ no matter how much butter and salt you slather on to make it palatable it sticks in your throat, dry as the desert. If you had lived in Egypt as slaves for over two hundred years, then were given just 24 hours to leave, would you have waited for bread to rise? Eating Matzo today is a way of remembering their story, which took place thousands of years ago.

Passover and Easter share a season and the same etymology but taste wise Hot Cross Buns have a lot more going for them. Which makes sense, as the story they tell is complex and bittersweet. Though they are no longer made from the same dough used in the communion wafer (the reason English Protestants who feared Catholicism only allowed them to be eaten on Good Friday), they still represent bread as the staff of life; the cross baked into their shiny carapace a not so subliminal reference to the crucifixion.

Most of their flavor comes from the hit of dried fruit ~ currents and sultanas ~ for a balance of sweet to sharp, that is folded into the dough before it rises. Sweet frosting is a recent invention ~ buns baked the first few hundred years after the death of Christ had only simple flour and water crosses across the top.

Octavio’s buns honor the simplicity of the recipe and its history, with a few decisive changes. For the frosting he uses sifted powdered sugar, a good quality Madagascar vanilla and whole milk, which makes for a sweet aromatic glaze. While traditionally the cross should be baked down into the bun ~ the better to represent the wounds on Jesus’ body ~ Octavio is a chef, not a liturgist, so no dry frosting for this good Catholic. To ensure a beautiful golden color, he brushes the buns with melted butter after a shorter than normal proofing stage, then allows them to split slightly, creating a warm crevasse for the frosting to melt down into.

Whether or not it’s true that even further back in time the cross held a pantheistic meaning ~ thought to symbolize the four quarters of the moon ~ there’s no denying Easter’s connection to Spring and a continuum that remembers history ~ personal, social, religious ~ through food. The kids may not know the meaningful, complicated story behind Hot Cross Buns as they gobble them down, but if it holds them at the table a bit longer hopefully, someday, they will. For just as it’s true that if we don’t know our history we are doomed to repeat it, the corollary holds even greater power: when you don’t know your history you have no reason to carry it forward, with food traditions that may ultimately fill more than your stomach.

Speaking of Easter...

Barndiva will be serving an expanded Brunch menu this Easter Sunday with Octavio's Hot Cross Buns in pride of place and a few special additions, notably a delicious entrée featuring Fritschen Lamb with all the fixings. For the kids we will be hiding chocolate eggs in the garden (weather permitting). For the adults, Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and a chance to Lift, Flirt or Slide your way through Easter with one of our new series of cocktails we wrote about in last week's Eat the View.  For reservations and the full menu call the Barn: 707 431 0100.

Happy Easter!


Hot Off the Press... Jazz Festival News!

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted).