I love Hot Cross Buns, especially for breakfast.
Unlike other goodies that appear at Christmas and Easter time, such as mince pies and Simnel cake, hot cross buns are available all year round which doesn’t really make them such a treat. That is sad in some ways, because it does make them less special. As I was eating mine at breakfast this morning I thought it would be a fun thing to find out what are people’s favourite brand or recipe for this delicious little spicy and fruity bun. There is no doubting that a home made hot cross bun is probably going to be a lot tastier than a bought bun.
If you make your own, please share your recipe, unless it belongs to a great family secret tradition of course.
A Little History Lesson
The tradition is to eat Hot Cross Buns, toasted and buttered on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion. They didn’t always have Christian connotations. It is believed that the bun pre-dates Christianity and that the cross symbolises the four quarters of the moon. The bun was eaten by the Saxons in honour the goddess of Spring and the dawn, Eostre, which is also probably the origin of the name Easter.
Long before Medieval times bakers would mark all bread, buns and cakes with the sign of the cross to ward off evil spirits thus preventing the bread from going mouldy or stale.
It was only when I started to look into the history of the hot cross bun that I discovered that in the late 1600’s the Puritans tried to ban the sale of the buns as they were made from the dough used in making communion wafers and condemned as “Popish”. Our good Queen Elizabeth 1 came to the rescue and in order to appease the Puritans, she passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them only at Easter, ensuring that only goods baked on Good Friday were allowed to have a cross on them in token of the Crucifixion.
There are a lot of superstitions that surround hot cross buns.
- If you bake and eat them on Good Friday they will remain fresh for the year.
- Sailors took buns to sea with them hoping they might ward off shipwreck.
- To share a bun with someone else and saying “Half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be” is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the year.
- A hot cross bun should be kissed before eating.
Although the first two can be laughed at as pure nonsense, I quite like the idea of the last two.
One of the first reference to the bun with a cross actually being called a Hot Cross Bun was in the early 18th Century. This could be because they were generally sold hot – guaranteed to give you raging indigestion!
We all know the nursery rhyme about Hot Cross Bun’s which was published in 1798 and it is said to have been what the street vendors sang to sell their buns.
Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
One ha’ penny two ha’ penny
Hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One ha’ penny two ha’ penny – Hot cross buns.
However, that nursery rhyme is predated with an earlier reference in 1733 when it was written in Poor Robin’s Almanac :
“Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs
With one or two a penny hot cross buns”
Now for the foodie bit
A true Hot Cross Bun is a sweet bun made with flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, spices (usually cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves) and currants or raisins with candied citrus fruits often also added. They are marked on the top with a cross made of pastry, a flour and water mix, rice paper or sometimes icing and usually eaten toasted with lashings of butter. It seems that butter is a must and nothing else really compares, but you may think otherwise.
There are so many recipes for HBC’s including a recipe that dates back to 1875:
“Mix two pounds of flour with a small tea spoonful of powdered spice and half a tea spoonful of salt. Rub in half a pound of good butter. Make a hollow in the flour, and pour in a wine glassful of yeast and half a pint of warmed milk slightly coloured with saffron. Mix the surrounding flour with the milk and yeast to a thin batter; throw a little dry flour over, and set the pan before the fire. When risen, work in a little sugar, one egg, half a pound of currants, and milk to make a soft dough. Cover over as before, and let it stand half an hour. Then make the dough into buns, and mark them with the back of a knife. Time, fifteen to twenty-minutes to bake. Sufficient for twenty-four buns.” – English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David [Penguin Books:Middlesex UK] 1979
To our very own Nigella Lawson’s “My Mum’s Hot Cross Buns” .
There is one big problem about writing about hot cross buns and taking photos of them for this post, that is they now have to be eaten!
Your turn to join in
Hot Cross Buns are eaten all over the world. Please stop a while and share your favourite brand or recipe, when you like to eat them and if you prefer them toasted or not. I look forward to reading your comments.
- Heston follows orange pudding with Earl Grey hot cross bun (telegraph.co.uk)
- How to cook perfect hot cross buns (guardian.co.uk)
- Hot cross buns – Top 10 things you didn’t know about Easter (time.com)
- BBC Food recipes (bbc.co.uk)
- Traditional hot cross bun recipe (britishfoodabout.com)
- On The Menu: National Pie Week; The Balcon; hot cross buns; Shakespeare in the Sky; The Ginstitute; Alan Rosenthal’s one-pot stews (independent.co.uk)
- Priest’s bun fight over cross (heraldsun.com.au)