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YEASTY EASTER. Festive breads for the holiday that are quicker and easier

It's great to have festive breads to liven up spring menus around Easter time, but most cooks are just too busy to think about making a yeast bread unless there's a quick, easy way. One way to make such traditional Easter breads as Romanian Easter Bread and Hot Cross Easter Buns, without spending hours in the kitchen, is to speed up the preparation time with a hot roll mix that has fast-acting yeast.

Romanian Easter Bread, folded into a plump braid, is lightly flecked with lemon peel and filled with a delicious almond paste. (See bread recipe on page 25.)

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Making the braid is simple.

Just spread the almond paste along the center of the three strips of dough. Tuck it in securely by pinching the length and the ends of each strip to seal. Braid the strips loosely together by overlapping every other strip. Then bake it.

The almond flavor of the paste is repeated in the glaze, which is made of powdered sugar, milk, and a touch of almond extract drizzled over the braid.

The English classic Hot Cross Buns, which are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, should really be a year-round bread. Give them a citrus twist by substituting orange juice for some of the liquid in the recipe.

The buns are studded with sunny golden raisins. The cross atop each bun is made from a glaze of powdered sugar and more orange juice.

Hot Cross Easter Buns Bread 16-ounce package hot roll mix 1 cup golden raisins 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon grated orange peel 1 teaspoon cinnamon Juice of 1 orange plus water to total 1 cup liquid* 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened 1 egg

Tip: *1/2 cup prepared orange juice plus water to equal 1 cup can be substituted.

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Glaze 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

In large bowl, combine flour mixture with yeast from foil packet, raisins, 2 tablespoons sugar, orange peel, and cinnamon. Mix well.

In small saucepan, heat orange juice liquid until warm (110 to 120 degrees F.). Stir orange juice liquid, butter, and egg into flour mixture until dry particles are moistened.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. With greased or floured hands, shape dough into a ball. Knead dough for 5 minutes or until smooth. (Follow directions on back of package for kneading.)

If necessary, sprinkle flour over surface to reduce stickiness.

Cover dough with large bowl. Let rest 5 minutes. Grease 13-by-9-inch pan.

Divide dough into 20 equal pieces; shape into balls. Place in prepared pan. Cover completely with towel. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

On countertop, let dough rise about 30 to 45 min-utes on wire rack set over large pan to which very hot water has been added. Dough should be light and doubled in size.

Uncover dough. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 18 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

In small bowl, combine glaze ingredients; blend well. Spoon over tops of cooled buns to form a cross on each bun. Makes 20 buns.

Romanian Easter Bread Filling 1/4 cup water 8-ounce can (1 cup) almond paste 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Bread 16-ounce package hot roll mix 1/4 cup sugar 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel 3/4 cup hot tap water 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened 2 eggs

Glaze 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 to 2 tablespoons milk 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

In small bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Beat until smooth; set mixture aside.

In large bowl, combine flour mix-ture with yeast from foil packet, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons lemon peel. Mix well.

Stir in 3/4 cup hot water, butter, and eggs until dry particles are moistened. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface.

With greased or floured hands, shape dough into a ball.

Knead dough for 5 minutes or until smooth. (Follow directions on back of package for kneading.)

If necessary, sprinkle flour over surface to reduce stickiness. Cover dough with large bowl. Let rest 5 minutes. Grease large cookie sheet.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough into 18-by-9-inch rectangle. Cut into thirds lengthwise.

Spread filling lengthwise down center of each strip. Firmly pinch long edge and ends to seal.

Place strips seam-side down on ungreased cookie sheet. Braid loosely from center to each end overlapping every other rope.

Fold ends under to seal. Cover completely with towel. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

On countertop, let dough rise 30 minutes on cookie sheet set over large pan to which very hot water has been added. Uncover dough.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 18 to 25 minutes - or until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients. Blend well. Spoon over cooled bread.

Makes 24 servings.