The Humble Hot Cross Bun
There's a lot more to Hot Cross Buns than you think
When I was a child, Hot Cross Buns were the big highlight of Easter.
On Good Friday we would gather in the kitchen, waiting for the buns to come out of the oven. If I close my eyes I can smell them still.
Those buns churned out by the Hot Bread chains are mass produced and frozen before they reach the outlet. As for supermarket buns, the less said the better. Why not try making your own?
Almost my Mother's recipe
I've had many years of success with it
I would have really enjoyed giving you the traditional recipe that my mother, and her mother, used. (I assume it was familiar to everybody's grandmother). Mum had a large number of recipes in a school exercise book, written in faded longhand, some dating from 1946.
Sadly, much of that book has fallen to pieces and I scarcely dare touch it for fear of the whole lot crumbling to dust before my eyes. I really should find out how to restore it.
Nowadays I use a much simpler recipe, with a packet of bread mix
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: Overall approx 4 hours
- 500 g pack white bread mix
- 2 heaped tsp mixed spice
- 50 g butter - chopped
- 50 g caster sugar
- 50 g mixed peel
- 85 g currants
- 100 ml milk
- 1 large egg
- Tip the bread mix into a bowl and stir in spice and sugar. Rub in the butter with your fingertips. Stir in the peel and currants.
- Pour 100ml/4fl oz water onto the milk, then beat in the egg and pour into the dried ingredients. Mix to a very moist dough (the wetter the better). Leave for 5 mins then cut in to 10 equal pieces and roughly shape into buns with oiled hands (this helps to stop the mixture sticking too much). Even though the mixture is very moist, try not to use extra flour as it will toughen the dough.
- Space the buns apart on 2 greased baking sheets, cover loosely with cling film, then leave in a warm room until about half again in size. This will take anything from 45 mins to 1 hr 15 mins, depending on how warm and moist the environment is.
- When the buns have risen, heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7 and make the crosses. Mix the flour with 2 and a ½ tbsp water to make a paste. Pour into a plastic food bag and make a tiny nick in one of the corners. Pipe crosses on each bun. Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden.
- Trim the excess cross mixture. They'll keep fresh for a day, and after that are best toasted.
Traditional Glazing for Hot Cross Buns
1 and 1/3 cup icing sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons of milk
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 and 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
Making Hot Cross Buns Video
Actions speak louder than words. Watch a demonstraion of hot cross buns being made
Why all these little cakes and buns?
Lttle buns were baked all over pre-Christian Europe in honour of the Spring goddess, Eostre. It was the Saxons who carried this particular tradition to England.
The cross on these Saxon cakes was the sacred symbol of the sun wheel which is in perfect balance at the Spring Equinox.
Similar treats were enjoyed in the Americas too. Every eight years the planet Venus returns to the same position in relation to the sun and the earth. This cycle was celebrated by the Mayas in Yucatan, the Aztecs in Mexico, and the Incas in Peru who all offered small cakes in celebration.
The cross on the bun
What's it for?
The cross also represents the four seasons, or the four phases of the moon, and were found on the sacrificial bread of lunar goddesses of many cultures. We still use a circle with a cross as the biological symbol for female - the sign of Venus.
When Christianity gained ascendancy, the cross on the bun came to represent the traditional Christian cross and the Easter festival became dominated by Christian traditions.
In modern times we associate hot cross buns with Good Friday, or at least with the lenten season, but it took a decree from Queen Elizabeth I to limit consumption of hot cross buns to proper religious ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter or funerals.
For Elizabethan England, the cross on the bun smacked too much of the Church of Rome.
Traditional Easter breads are enjoyed across the world today. They are yeast-based, slightly sweet and enriched with eggs and dried fruit.
Some, like the Russian kulich, the Greek tsoureki and the Italian columba, are single large loaves or cakes, whilst others are made into little individual buns.
In Australia, the buns are yeast-based, studded with raisins and citrus peel and topped with a cross of flavoured icing. Whatever they are, wherever they come from, they're drop-dead delicious.
If you're baking hot cross buns this year make sure you choose Good Friday for your cooking.
Folklore tells us this makes sure they never grow mouldy.
What about your buns? Poll
When do you eat your hot cross buns?
© 2009 Susanna Duffy