Bake them on Good Friday: The history and tales behind these spiced buns are plenty and intriguing, steeped in folklore dating back as far as Anglo-Saxon Britain. This is perhaps one of the most iconic of buns.
Every year well before Easter Marks & Spencer starts piling up Hot Cross Buns from chocolate & salted caramel to blueberry and marmalade. Marmalade I can understand as you do add candied orange peel to the dough, but chocolate & salted caramel and blueberry just creates a whole different bun, the cross being the only reminder of a traditional Hot Cross Bun. But what is traditional or original with a recipe as old as this one? If you scroll down to the recipe you might discover I too dare to add something which isn’t traditional from time to time.
The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre – most likely being the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life.
The Christians saw the Crucifixion in the cross bun and, as with many other pre-Christian traditions, replaced their pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
According to Elizabeth David, it wasn’t until Tudor times that it was permanently linked to Christian celebrations. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns except at burials, at Christmas or on Good Friday.
The first recorded reference to ‘hot’ cross buns was in ‘Poor Robin’s Almanac’ in the early 1700s.
‘Good Friday come this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns.’
This satirical rhyme was also probably the inspiration of the commonly known street vendors cry:
‘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!’
A century later the belief behind the hot cross bun starts to get a superstitious rather than a religious meaning.
In London’s East End you can find a pub called The Widows Son, named after a widow who lived in a cottage at the site in the 1820s. The widow baked hot cross buns for her sailor son who was supposed to come home from the sea on Good Friday. He must have died at sea as he never returned home, but the widow refused to give up hope for his return and continued to bake a hot cross bun for him every year, hanging it in her kitchen with the buns from previous years.
When the widow died, the buns were found hanging from a beam in the cottage and the story has been kept alive by the pub landlords ever since a pub was built on the site in 1848.
For whatever reason or belief you choose to bake a batch of hot cross buns on this Good Friday, it will most likely be to enjoy them with your loved ones. May it be for Eostre, Easter, the beginning of a much awaited spring or as a superstitious amulet for when you set sail, bake them with love!
This recipe is a revised version from one that appeared years ago on this site. I advise to use this one.
So here is how you bake your own:
Hot Cross Buns
What you will need
- 300ml whole milk
- 40 g soft unsalted butter
- 500g strong white flour (I used one with 11g of protein)
- 11 g dried yeast (or 15 g fresh yeast)
- 60 g demerara sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1 (5g) teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 level tsp sea salt
- 1 free-range egg, beaten
- 150 g currants
- 50 g mixed candied peel
For the cross:
- 50 g plain white flour
- 80 ml water
For the shiny glaze:
- 2 tbsp of water
- 2 tbsp of sugar
- or 2 tbsp of golden syrup
**Optional: I like to add 100 grams of finely grated carrot (weighing the carrot before grating) which I think is a nice addition to the bun without taking away too much from its traditional character.
Warm the milk to body heat and chop in the butter to melt, stir.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and spices. Make a well in the middle and pour in half of the milk & butter mixture and the egg, knead (using a mixer with the medium speed, dough hook attached) for a short while, then add the rest of the milk until everything is combined and you don’t see any dry flour left.
Leave to rest for a few minutes* for the gluten to develop then sprinkle over the salt and knead for 5 minutes on medium with a mixer and 10 minutes by hand, then leave to rest for a few minutes again.
When the dough has rested add the dried fruits and candied peels and use your hands to work them into the dough or use your mixer on a very low speed.
Place the dough in a large bowl or leave in the bowl of the mixer and cover it, I re-use those plastic shower caps you get in hotels. Leave to prove for one to two hours, until doubled in size.
In the meantime prepare a large shallow baking tin by lining it with baking paper. This is also a good time to prepare the mixture for the cross topping. Combine the flour and the water and add to a piping bag.
After resting, divide the dough into 12 even pieces and gently shape into balls. Place these balls evenly spaced on the baking paper and leave to rest in a warm place for another 30 minutes to one hour (until about doubled in size) covered with a clean damp cloth or plastic bag.
Preheat your oven to 210° C.
The buns should be doubled in size by now – carefully pipe the cross to each bun by using the piping bag and the mixture you prepared.
Bake the buns in the middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown.
Prepare the shiny glaze by heating up 2 tbsp of water with the sugar or heating up the golden syrup with a teaspoon of water.
Remove the buns from the oven; brush them with the glaze to give them that lovely shiny finish.
The day after they can easily be heated in a hot oven for a few minutes, or 10 seconds in a microwave.
Freeze for up to a month. Leftover buns make a perfect Hot Cross Bun and Butter pudding, see my recipe here >
*Letting the dough rest for a while without salt is called an “autolyse”. It allows for enzymes to do part of the gluten development before you start to actually knead it. Adding salt with the yeast can kill it or slow down the process. This way it forms a developed dough more quickly.
You might also enjoy (more buns of course):
For Bath Buns go here >
For Cinnamon buns go here >
For Santa Lucia Buns go here