For longer than I care to think about, I have missed out on an annual ritual: nipping down to a nearby bakery, buying half a dozen freshly baked hot cross buns and taking them home for a Good Friday breakfast.
This year it will be different. After a slight hiatus of 62 years, I’ll be in Scotland for Easter and top of my list of festive treats will be a breakfast that includes two freshly baked hot cross buns, thickly spread with butter, and with a good layer of chunky strawberry jam.
I did have hot cross buns on Good Friday morning, but never from my friendly bakery just round the corner from where I lived. I once bought them from a Mallorcan bakery in Plaza Serralta, near the top end of Avda Argentina, and another year the provider was an English bakery in Palmanova.
On three occasions I baked my own and the main pleasure there was being able to have buns packed with dried fruit and spiced exactly as I prefer them — lots of cinnamon, some nutmeg and a pinch of allspice.
Hot cross buns are just another type of scone and they are no more difficult to do than dozens of other traditional scones for which England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are famous.
The texture should be light and fluffy and the aromas and flavours of warm spices should be well in the foreground. When they come out of the oven like that, they are among the best of British bakery treats.
For breakfast on Easter Sunday I’ll be having an Italian dish that has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It’s a frittata made with meaty Italian sausages, a dish that broke the meatless days of Lent in the part of Italy where my father was born.
In countries like Spain and Italy, Lent was an extremely serious occasion for Catholics. It was the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday during which no kind of meat was eaten, and some days were even fast days.
These days were usually Fridays and the term ‘fast’ meant only one meal was eaten. With such a strict culinary regime, everyone looked forward to Easter Sunday lunch when meat was once again on the table.
But in the village where my father was born (a small town called Vallerotonda near Montecasino, perched on a hillside like Mallorca’s Galilea) some people jumped the gun and had a breakfast with a meat content.
In my father’s home that meant a frittata, Italy’s flat omelette (like a Spanish tortilla), done with chopped up meaty sausages that have a lovely taste although they don’t contain much in the way of herbs or spices.
My father made the sausage frittata on Easter Sundays, not for religious reasons (he wasn’t a practising Catholic, didn’t observe Lent and sent his children to Protestant schools) but because it was a nostalgic thing from his childhood.
It is now a nostalgic memento of my childhood, and although I couldn’t do it in Palma with Italian sausages, I found acceptable substitutes. One of them was a chorizo from Mercadona, a meaty semi-cured sausage they call ‘chorizo oreado’ .
These ‘chorizos oreados’ are also most suitable for cooking in your usual fresh tomato sauce for an hour or so and then serving them with a pasta of some kind. I prefer spaghetti, partly because when I was young we always ate spaghetti at home and never short pastas.
I eat some of the short and broader pastas at home nowadays, but I never order them in restaurants. Most Italian cooks make their short pastas so much al dente that I find them positively uncooked and not a all palatable.
This year I’l be able to use real Italian sausages for the Easter Sunday frittata but I want to try something a little different. Some butchers sell the Italian sausage meat without the casings and I’ll be using it in small patty shapes instead of sliced up sausages, the patties crisp on the outside with juicy interiors. These patties will also be worth trying in a tomato sauce.
So this year I’ll be recovering some of the traditional British Easter treats. But there will also be something that’s not present — the essentials of a Mallorcan Easter, such as the lamb empanadas and robiols, the traditional turnovers filled with jam, a fresh cheese mixture or a thick custard.
The making of Mallorcan savoury and sweet Easter pastries is very much a family affair and it begins a week or so before Good Friday.
I was reminded of this when Xisca Caimari, of the Ultima Hora advertising department, sent me a video of her family preparing the empanadas and robiols for this coming weekend. It was a most nostalgic moment that came with a traditional Mallorcan song.
The empanadas and robiols they were making looked marvellous and Xisca’s daughter Sandra, sister, and Paula and other members of the family were obviously having a great time.
Apart from being a pasta freak, I am also extremely fond of pies of every shape and size. Scotland has a big choice of pies but this weekend I’ll be missing the island’s Easter lamb empanadas and also the robiols, turnovers that come with four basic kinds of fillings: apricot or pumpkin jam, a fresh cheese called requesón, and a thick custard.
I toyed with the idea of making my own lamb empanadas but decided not to because I can’t get the essential small amount of sobrasada that’s needed to lubricate the lamb and add its special flavour.
Some shops specialising in Italian goods sell Sardinian ‘nduja’ (pronounced ‘en-doo-ya’ and very similar to sobrasada) but it costs an incredible £90 a kilo.
Several centuries ago Sardinia was part of the Kingdom of Mallorca and some island traditions still exist there. Sardinians do a pie that is exactly the same of the Mallorcan lamb empanada and their ‘nduja’ is another leftover of those days.
I prefer Mallorca’s sobrasada, but ‘nduja’ would be a good substitute for adding to a lamb empanada - but not at £90 a kilo. You can get a very good sobrasada in Mallorca for €18.
But I’ll do robiols, some with apricot jam and thick custard fillings. And roast leg of lamb will also be a salute to the island — but underdone in the French style.
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