A hot cross bun is a sweet yeast-risen bun made with currants or raisins marked with a cross on top, traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Who would imagine that a little bun could create controversy? When researching hot cross buns, I was amazed at the history of contention surrounding this bit of bread. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying them, though. I’ve got more on the story and a fabulous recipe.
Do you remember the rhyme?
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!
The first known written use of the term “Hot Cross Bun” was in 1733, with the cross on the bun symbolizing the Crucifixion, but the buns have references which predate Christianity. Here are just some of the interesting highlights surrounding Hot Cross Buns:
- They are linked to pagan celebrations of the goddess Eostre by the Saxons, the cross thought to symbolize the four quarters of the moon.
- English folklore has superstitions regarding them; one being that buns made on Good Friday have medicinal properties and should be kept to feed to the ill; another being that a bun should be hung in the kitchen to ensure that all breads baked that year would turn out perfectly and fires would be prevented.
- Elizabeth I and James VI, both Protestant Monarchs in England, feared the buns represented a Catholic hold over England and tried to ban their sale. Eventually, because they were so popular, they were allowed to be made but only on Good Friday, Christmas, or for burials; laws regarding these restrictions were strictly enforced.
- There is bickering, to this day, regarding how this little bun is to be made and some of the quarrels are quite contentious. They include arguments about what fruits are to be in them, to how the cross is to be formed. Don’t mess with people’s Hot Cross Buns.
In the case of how they are to be made, I was particularly tickled by one person who actually called out two well-known television cooks for their versions. One was chastised for not making them as a sweet bun; another for making “tarted up cinnamon rolls.” According to many, the typical versions we see most often in this country with an icing cross on top of the baked bun are flat wrong. The cross is supposed to be formed with a pastry cross, or a cross made from piping on a paste of flour and water (with sometimes sugar added).
See what I mean about controversy?
I looked at many recipes for Hot Cross Buns and finally settled on one that was English and purported to be authentic. The recipe was in metric (by weight) measurements, which I have converted for you. While I have a kitchen scale, it’s not digital, so my measurements are likely not exact, but they must be close enough, because my Hot Cross Buns were simply delicious. And, I’d imagine that cooks who made hot cross buns through the centuries didn’t precisely measure the ingredients to the gram either. *wink*
Many of the recipes I found had the buns squeezed together in a pan, much like cinnamon rolls; you can certainly make them that way, but I spaced them out on a baking sheet so that each roll was rounded and beautiful. The tops of the Hot Cross Buns are typically brushed with a warm fruit jam after baking, with apricot being recommended; I used Rose Petal Jam, for the Crown of Thorns symbolism; it’s also why I chose the twig basket to picture them in. Far be it from me to not add to the Hot-Cross-Bun-brouhaha, right?
Now…yeast breads are not easy. But this one wasn’t hard either. You really just have to be patient with yeast and allow it, in the initial stage, to be fully fed; and then to rise properly. It is worth the wait and the effort. This recipe does not require a mixer. You simply stir the ingredients together. You do need to knead it, but it’s only five minutes and you can just consider that your exercise for the day.
If you want to serve something really special this Easter, make these Hot Cross Buns. Let them become a tradition in your house at Easter, or anytime…they aren’t illegal now. But, they are so good, maybe they should be! *wink*
- FOR THE BUNS:
- 1⅓ cups warmed milk
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 teaspoons dried yeast (I used SAF, if you're using packages use regular - not rapid-rise and cut open the packages to measure)
- 4⅓ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into eight pieces
- 1½ cups currants (or raisins)
- 2 large eggs
- FOR THE CROSSES:
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- FOR THE GLAZE:
- 2 tablespoons fruit jam, warmed (apricot recommended)
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the warmed milk, sugar, and yeast until sugar has dissolved.
- Cover loosely and set aside for 10 minutes or until mixture becomes frothy (be patient, this is the feeding stage of the yeast and you want it to have about a 2 inch head of foam).
- Meanwhile, mix the sifted flour (be sure to sift the flour), salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
- Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a fork, or pastry cutter, until evenly distributed and the mixture is crumbly.
- Add the currants, or raisins, and stir to combine (having a flour coating on the raisins prior to adding the liquids will ensure they stay separated in the dough).
- Add the eggs and the frothy yeast mixture and stir to combine.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
- Lightly grease another bowl (or clean your first mixing bowl and then grease).
- Place the dough in the greased bowl and turn the dough until it is coated with the oil. I used a little bit of Canola oil.
- Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size (this should take about an hour).
- When dough has doubled, remove the towel and punch down the dough.
- Knead briefly, on a lightly floured surface, until smooth.
- Separate the dough into 12 even rounds.
- Shape each round into a bun and place in a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking pan (if you want them to look like cinnamon rolls) or on a lightly greased baking sheet, separated by about 3 inches (if you want rounded rolls).
- Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for about 15 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 390 degrees F.
- Whisk together the all-purpose flour, water and sugar to create the paste for the crosses.
- Add flour if necessary, to thicken so that the paste can be easily piped onto the buns.
- Once the buns have risen on the baking sheet, or pan, pipe on the crosses.
- Put the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for a further 15 minutes, or until buns are golden and sound hollow when tapped.
- Remove from oven to a cooling rack.
- Warm the jam for the glaze and dilute with water if necessary. Brush onto buns while still warm.
- Buns are best eaten warm from the oven or freshly toasted, on the day of baking. They are also tasty cold and you can store any leftovers in an air-tight container for a day or two.