Baking for Easter – The History of Traditional Hot Cross Buns and Hot Cross Bun Recipe

Hot Cross Buns

Baking for Easter

The History of Hot Cross Buns

~ Traditional Hot Cross Buns Recipe ~

Victorian Hot Cross Buns Seller

Hot Cross buns have quite a history behind them; the idea of marking crosses on baked goods such as bread, cakes and buns goes right back to pre-Medieval times and was a visible sign that the bread was “blessed” and had the power to ward off evil spirits, as well as help with the longevity of the bread by stopping it going mouldy or becoming stale so quickly. A cross marked on the dough was also believed to help the bread to rise. The first buns with crosses that were attributed to the festival of Easter came along a little later however, as Kate Colquhoun states in her excellent book  “Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking“……….“In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earliest form of hot-cross bun”.  It can be said that these were the earliest examples of what we know to be Hot Cross Buns today, and from the late 1600’s onwards the custom grew that special spices buns known as “Good Friday Buns” were to be marked with a cross and were to be eaten for breakfast on Good Friday.

Hot Cross Buns – straight from the oven and cooling

Although the name for Hot Cross Buns was commonly known as Good Friday Buns for nearly a hundred years, during the 1730’s the buns were starting to be sold on the streets, and therein the name as well as the popular rhyme emerged, as the sellers would shout out ” One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot-cross buns “………..a penny for a larger bun or for two smaller ones. This tradition was still in practice as little as eighty years ago, as my dad can remember the Hot Cross Bun sellers coming around the streets to sell them on Good Friday. Nowadays, you can buy Hot Cross Buns all year around, which I think is a great shame, as it cheapens and weakens the history and traditions behind this wonderful spiced bun.

Hot Cross Buns served in a Tin Easter Egg!

It is to be noted that prior to our Hot Cross Buns being an edible symbol of Christianity, there were similar small cakes made for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, and as part of the pagan celebration of spring. And, it is well documented that the Greeks and Romans also had festive spring cakes which bore some similarity to our own Hot Cross Buns. The original reasons for the marking of crosses on baked goods, as well as the superstitions that grounds the practice, is recorded in the popular rhyme below:

“Good Friday comes this month—the old woman runs
With one or two a-penny hot cross buns,
Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,
They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.”

Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday

One of the most well-known traditions surrounding Hot Cross Buns is still in practice today and takes place in a London Pub! At the Pub, The Widow’s Son at Bromley by Bow, a Hot Cross Bun Ceremony takes place each Good Friday. In the early 19th century, a widow who lived on the site was expecting her sailor son back home for Easter, and placed a hot cross bun ready for him on Good Friday. The son never returned, but undaunted the widow left the bun waiting for him and added a new bun each year. Successive landlords have kept the tradition going after the pub was opened. You can still have a pint in the pub if you wish today, whilst admiring the collection of Hot Cross Buns in various stages of decay!  As you can see from the photo below, there is a net of Hot Cross Buns that hangs above the bar at The Widow’s Son, and each year a sailor comes to add another bun to the collection, the buns being baked specially for the occasion with the current year piped on them between the cross.

Alan Beckett places the bun on Good Friday, 4th April 1958.

But back to my recipe for Hot Cross Buns; this recipe is adapted from a Tudor recipe for spiced baked buns, and has been my favourite Hot Cross Bun recipe for some years now, mainly for the blend of spices and fruity filling, as well as a light but filling nice texture too. I add an egg to my flour paste for the crosses, hence them being so yellow – NO artificial colouring there, but just good free-range eggy goodness! However, if you prefer a cross in a lighter hue of yellow, just rub some butter into some flour and add some milk or eater until you have a stiff paste that can be piped onto the buns. I made two dozen of these yesterday in readiness for Easter as they freeze so well; just remember to take them out to defrost, although they will defrost quite nicely in a cool to warm oven and of course, some modern toasters have a “defrost” setting on them too.  I hope you have enjoyed recipe number two in my Easter collection, I will be back tomorrow as usual with a rather nice egg recipe! Have a great day, Karen.

A Hottle of Hot Cross Buns! (New Collective Noun!)

Hot Cross Buns

Serves 12 Hot Cross Buns
Prep time 2 hours
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 20 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Bread, Breakfast, Dessert, Side Dish, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Region British
By author Karen S Burns-Booth
A delicious traditional spiced, sticky glazed fruit bun with pastry crosses. Served as a classic Easter treat, the buns can also be enjoyed at any time of year.

Ingredients

  • 450g strong white bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 50g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon easy-blend dried yeast
  • 210ml tepid milk
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 100g mixed dried fruit
  • 25g cut mixed citrus peel
  • 50g plain flour (for the crosses)
  • 1 free-range egg (for the crosses)
  • 30ml milk (for the glaze)
  • 25g caster sugar (for the glaze)

Note

If you have a bread machine, you can start the dough in the machine up to the second proving stage. Add the dried fruit 5 minutes before the end of kneading or when your bread machine beeps.

Directions

Step 1 Sieve the flour, salt, ground mixed spice and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, then add the sugar and yeast.
Step 2 Beat the egg and add to the flour with the tepid milk. Mix together to a form a soft, pliable dough.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully work the mixed dried fruit and mixed peel into the dough until well combined. Knead lightly for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
Step 3 Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the buttered/greased mixing bowl, then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for one hour to prove.
Step 4 Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock back the dough. Shape it into a ball again and return it to the bowl, then cover again with the tea towel and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rise.
Step 5 Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a bun shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the tea towel and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Step 6 Meanwhile, make the mixture for the crosses; mix the flour and egg to a stiff paste, but thin enough to pipe. Make the glaze too - heat the milk and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.
Step 7 Place the hot cross buns onto buttered/greased baking trays, then place the tray/s inside a large oiled polythene bag. Tie the end of the bag tightly so that no air can get in and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise.
Step 8 Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas 8.
Step 9 When the buns have risen, remove them from inside the polythene bag, and then spoon the flour and egg mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun.
Step 10 Bake the buns in the pre-heated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until pale golden-brown, and when turned over and tapped on the underneath they sound hollow. As soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush them with the sugar and milk syrup, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.
Step 11 Serve warm, split and spread with butter, or serve toasted, split and spread with butter. The cooked buns can be frozen for up to 3 months; allow 6 hours for them to defrost and serve as above.

Straight from the oven, Hot Cross Buns

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for a great recipe, I was hoping you would post one. I’ve never baked hot cross buns but seeing yours looking so tasty I’m going to try next week. (And if they are as successful as yours, I may even bake them again in France for the neighbours!) Thank you Karen. I love the marbled eggs too, I must paint some this year with C, we have the dunes nearby which will be ideal for egg rolling! Jude x

    • says

      Thanks Jude, there was an error in the recipe software earlier, all fixed now, so if you have printed the recipe already you will need to amend it! These are so delicious and I am pleased that they are all made for Easter now! Karen

  2. says

    they look glorious… I love the fact that you’ve put egg into the crosses, something i don’t do but it really works doesn’t it?… lovely!

    • says

      Let me know if you try these Kate, if you make bread, they are no different apart from the crosses and sugar glaze, and worth the effort!

  3. says

    I love how religion hijacks all the favourite pagan symbols and then forgets their origin, just as well we have you to remind us, Karen!

    I was fascinated by your crosses as soon as I saw them, I’m never sure what to make them from there are so many options and some of them taste awful. I like the idea of using egg, seems appropriate for Easter!

    • says

      Thanks Janice, many of the so called “Christian” traditions are “borrowed” from ancient pagan rites…..the church adopted lots of them and then made them “holy”! As for my crosses, I have always used egg as part of the paste for the crosses, seems right for an Easter treat, as you say, and is better then making a “runny” pastry with flour, margarine and then water, IMHO!

  4. says

    You’ll be glad to know that Hot Cross Buns only show up around Easter here in Kansas. I was familiar with the nursery rhyme, but I’d never seen the buns for sale until we moved here almost four years ago. I must say that yours look ten times better than bakery Hot Cross Buns and I’ll have to try them out.

    • says

      That’s good to know Lauren, as in the UK you can just about buy Hot Cross Buns all year around, which I think is a shame! These really are SO much better than commercial buns, and if you have some baking time, they are quite easy to whip up, and if you batch bake as I did, they freeze well too.

  5. Susan Otto says

    They look absolutely amazing. I might just give these a try for Easter brunch. I love the your directions are posted, It makes it so easy to read and follow.

    • says

      Thanks Susan! I am glad that the directions will help you, I always try to set them out as I would want to see them when baking!

  6. says

    These buns look fantastic, Karen – and I’m so glad you shared the story of origins. My mom made these for years and I vaguely remember hearing a similar story about how the buns came into existence – but like then, I’m still far to busy gazing at the buns to pay close attention ;)

    • says

      Thanks! These Hot Cross Buns mean Easter to me, always have done and I remember being excited when mum started to make them or buy them.

  7. says

    These look perfect – I can’t wait to try the recipe for the coming Good Friday! Thanks for sharing the history behind these delightful buns, Karen. Great post :)

  8. says

    I absolutely love a Hot Cross Bun Karen and really enjoyed reading all the history and traditions behind the beautiful buns! I’ll have to seek out that London Pub- great post and tale!

  9. RelishPDX says

    Hi,

    Are you positive about the oven temp and baking time? I peeked at the 10-minute mark with the oven at 475°F (verified by oven thermometer), and I would have had Hot Charred Buns by the 11-minute mark. The centers were fully baked, so no harm done, but you should double-check the recipe. I can’t imagine what 18 minutes would have done to them.

    Mighty tasty buns, though. Thanks for the recipe!

    • says

      Hi! The recipe states between 15 and 18 minutes and it really depends on the size of the buns and your oven, because they DO vary! I am 100% confident about the timings in this recipe as I have made them so many times, and they bake for me between 15 to 18 minutes…..glad they were tasty though!

  10. says

    Such an informative blog post, I love hearing the history behind our beloved hot cross buns. Will save this ready for next year.

  11. Fiona Matters says

    Easter is coming up again and I’m determined to make my own hot crossed buns! The history is absolutely fascinating too.

  12. says

    You’re very good Karen, the last time I made these was at school and they probably weren’t great! Yours look stupendous – well done:-)

  13. Heather says

    Hi, Karen! I didn’t use your recipe exactly but I did make my crosses with the flour/egg paste and brushed them with the syrup. Turned out great! I love that the crosses were baked into the bun instead of just being icing piped on afterward. Thanks for the tip!

    Also, I agree that I would have had hockey pucks had I baked them at 475. I did 375 for 18 minutes and they came out perfect.

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