There is a great deal of tradition and lore surrounding hot cross buns. According to some accounts, this sweet dough roll—studded with dried fruit and scored with a cross—dates back to the 12th century, when an English monk was divinely inspired to bestow the Christian sign of the cross upon a batch of rolls in honor of Good Friday. The first written record of the hot cross bun, however, dates back to a 16th century rhyme:
Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns.
The tradition of making hot cross buns on Good Friday has persisted throughout the centuries and was a favorite Eastertide tradition of the Victorians. Popular superstition of the time suggested that leaving a hot cross bun to hang from the kitchen ceiling throughout the year warded off evil spirits and made for a happy home. Shavings from preserved hot cross buns mixed with water were believed to cure minor illnesses. And the sharing of a hot cross bun was thought to solidify a friendship, hence the old rhyme:
Half for you, and half for me, between us two good luck shall be.
A royal decree was even made regarding the humble hot cross bun. Queen Elizabeth I believed the bun was too special to be baked just any old day. And so she forbade the peddling of this delicacy on any occasion other than Good Friday, Christmas, or a Christian burial.
Come Friday, we’ll be donning our aprons and firing up our ovens to keep this ages-old traditional alive! Here is our recipe:
Mrs. Sharp’s Hot Cross Buns
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup milk, scalded
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 2/3 cup currants
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 egg white
- Soften yeast in warm water.
- Dissolve sugar in scalded milk. Let milk cool, then combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, and milk-sugar mixture together. Beat together. Add butter, salt, eggs, and remaining flour. Hand beat until light (about 5 min.)
- Cover with a damp dish towel, set in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled (about 1 hr.)
- Beat down and then add currants and cinnamon.
- Roll dough 1/2-inch thick on a floured board.
- Shape into buns (or cut into circles using a small juice glass).
- Place on a greased baking sheet.
- Cover and let rise for about 30 min. or until dough feels springy and is about double in size.
- Cut a deep cross into the top of each bun with a sharp knife. Brush with slightly beaten egg white.
- Bake at 350 for 12-14 min.
- To make a glaze, dissolve 4 teaspoons granulated sugar in 6 tablespoons of milk and boil for 2 minutes. Brush warm buns twice with this syrup to glaze.
Breathnach, Sarah Ban. Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Nostalgic Suggestions for Re-creating the Family Celebrations and Seasonal Pastimes of the victorian Home. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. p.93.
Rheinlander Bakery. “What Are Hot cross Buns?”. <http://www.rheinlanderbakery.com/Category.cfm?CategoryID=42>.
“5 Great Historical Myths & Traditions About Hot Cross Buns, a Pre-Easter Pastry.” Smithsonian.com. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/five-great-myths-about-hot-cross-buns-traditional-pre-easter-pastry-180951130/?no-ist>.