As Easter approaches, it is the time of year when the much beloved hot cross buns appear in good bakeries. While it is true that the cross on the bun is meant to symbolize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the sweet spice bread has a fascinating history.
Long before Christianity, pagan cultures celebrated spring with sweet buns. It is said that evidence exists of such baked goods dating as far back as 79 AD. The sweet buns were made to honour the goddess Eostra and fertility while the crosses symbolized the four phases of the moon. The word Easter is thought to be derived from Eostra.
The strong Christian heritage of hot cross buns dates to 1361 with the original, now familiar recipe being created by a monk at St. Albans Cathedral. The buns were given to the poor on Good Friday. Even little buns can be controversial! Queen Elizabeth 1, for political reasons, banned the sale of hot cross buns except for burials, Good Friday and Christmas. During this time, the much beloved buns began to be made in homes.
Hot cross buns were embraced in song and poetry. In 1733, the Poor Robin’s Almanac published the lyrics to the song “Hot Cross Buns”. Mother Goose nursery rhymes included the poem. For generations, enjoyed the literary and culinary delights of hot cross buns.
Many myths surround hot cross buns. They were thought to ward off evil spirits, cement friendship if shared, stay fresh for a year if baked on Good Friday, help the infirmed and provide sustenance to sailors on long voyages. Whatever the myths, the basic truth is these buns are delicious and a significant mark of Easter.
I know this is a little stretch from preserving but remember hot cross buns are chock full of dried fruit, peel and are glazed with apple or apricot jelly and served with last summer’s strawberry jam!
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Hot Cross Buns (yield 12 buns)
- 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 TBSP sugar
- 1 package rapid-rise yeast (2 ½ tsp)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. grated orange rind
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of currants and/or raisins or peel rehydrated and drained.
In a stand mixer with dough hook, blend together all dry ingredients. Heat milk, water and butter to 120 and pour into dry ingredients blending. Mix in eggs and dried fruit. Mix for 5 minutes at low speed for kneading. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 equal rounds and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover and place in warm location to rise for 45 minutes.
If you want the traditional cross, blend together ¾ cup flour and about 10 TBSP water. Pipe the crosses on the buns. Alternatively, just cut a cross in the buns. Glaze the buns with melted jelly.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.
Bake at home or pick up at your local bakery. Either way, enjoy the history, tradition and gustatory satisfaction of Hot Cross Buns.