Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

“Hot Cross Buns!  Hot Cross Buns!  One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny, Hot Cross Buns!  Remember that nursery rhyme?

I didn’t grow up with Hot Cross Buns being a tradition in our home at Easter.  In fact, before I made them this morning, I had never even tasted them.  I was aware of their existence but that was about the extent of my knowledge of Hot Cross Buns.  I decided this year was the time to try them.

I did some research to see what I could find out about these buns, their origin, and their connection to Easter.  Here is what I learned.

The buns are made of a rich, sweet yeast dough with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and sometimes cardamom.  A mixture of raisins, currants, and/or mixed fruit are also added to the dough.  The dough is twice-raised, meaning it is risen to twice its size, punched down, and formed into individual rolls and allowed to rise again before baking.  Each bun is highly glazed with an egg and milk wash and has a cross shape outlined with an icing glaze made of icing sugar and milk.

Traditionally, the buns have been eaten on Good Friday and, for Christians, the mark of the cross on the top of each bun symbolizes the crucifixion.  There are a mixture of pagan and Christian stories and legends as well as superstitions surrounding Hot Cross Buns.   One school of thought suggests that Hot Cross Buns have their origin sometime around 1361 when an English monk was said to have made the spiced buns for distribution to the poor who were visiting a monastery in Hertfordshire in Southern England on Good Friday.  Another theory suggests that the buns were eaten by the Saxons to pay homage to Eostre (whose name means Easter), the goddess of Spring with the four marks of the cross in this theory symbolizing the four quarters of the moon.

My research also revealed some interesting superstitions surrounding Hot Cross Buns:

– The English believed that bread baked on Good Friday would protect their homes from fire and bad luck for the next year

– Sailors were reported to have taken Hot Cross Buns on voyages to guard them against shipwrecks

– Some believed the buns had medicinal properties

– Others believed that, if prepared on Good Friday, the buns would never get mouldy.

There is even a story associated with the Protestant Revolution that indicates English Protestants tried to ban the sale of the buns as they were seen to be a sign of Catholicism because they were baked from dough made for communion wafers; however, the story goes that the buns were so popular and were still being made despite threats of punishment that, in the late 1500s, the Queen is supposed to have decreed by law that the buns could be sold but only at Christmas, Easter, and at funerals.  So, lots of myths and folklore about Hot Cross Buns.  How much is fact and how much is fiction is anyone’s guess.

I went on the hunt for a Hot Cross Bun recipe.  I’m a fairly experienced bread maker so I’d consider myself a reasonably good judge of whether a recipe will work or not.  This helps tremendously when determining if a recipe is accurate and reliable or not.  For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of cinnamon for 3 ½ cups of flour – right away, I questioned the credibility of the recipe since that’s a lot of cinnamon for a small amount of flour and it would have been way too spicy for my liking.  I found several other recipes that called for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon for approximately the same amount of flour which is much more reasonable.  For ‘seasoned’ cooks and bakers, they can usually quickly detect if a recipe is “on the mark” or not.  For novice cooks, however, it’s not as easy and they can fall for trying recipes that are not reliable.  This causes frustration when their efforts do not turn out a positive result.  My advice is to, first, read through a recipe for the ingredients and to determine if the directions are well laid out and easy to understand and follow.  Then, find a few other recipes for the same food.  Compare how much flour, yeast, milk, spices, etc., each takes.  If you find recipes that really seem way off compared to the others or the directions are not sufficiently clear, don’t waste your time and ingredients on them.  Second, check with friends about which recipe sources they trust and try those.

So, as I indicated above, after researching several recipes, I opted to use the one provided by Joy of Baking and I was not disappointed.  Here is the hot link to the Joy of Baking’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns.  The great thing about Hot Cross Buns is that they do not take a lot of ingredients or ones that would be difficult to find.   It’s very important to make sure that the temperature of the water is accurate for the yeast to raise and, for this, I highly recommend using a food thermometer.  You will need a good, heavy-duty stand mixer with the dough hook to knead the dough to ensure that it is smooth and elastic.  While not difficult to make, Hot Cross Buns do require a significant amount of time, first to allot about 10-15 minutes for the yeast to rise and become foamy, then time to mix the ingredients and knead the dough, third to allot a couple of hours for the dough to raise the first time, then another hour or so for the buns to raise, and lastly about 15-18 minutes for the buns to bake.  This is a factor when considering any recipe as it is important to be able to set aside the necessary time for the entire process.

Mixing Dough for Hot Cross Buns


Hot Cross Buns Dough


Hot Cross Buns

I served the Hot Cross Buns warm with butter and raspberry jam.  They received the thumbs-up and delicious rating.  They made a great Easter Sunday morning breakfast treat.  Happy Easter, everyone!


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