A bun-derful tradition: spreading Easter cheer with a tasty treat!

A batch of freshly baked hot cross buns sit on a table with a plate of butter and blueberries.

Few people can resist a hot cross bun.

The delicious treat, marked with a cross on top, is traditionally made with currants or raisins, although these days there is a whole plethora of variations on offer, which means there’s something for everyone.

And not only is it a tasty addition to the Easter table, the hot cross bun has a rich history, deeply rooted in religious and cultural traditions.

Here’s some fun facts you may not have thought about when tucking into the beloved hot cross bun:

Religious origins

Hot cross buns have strong associations with Christianity, particularly with Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The cross on top of the bun symbolises the crucifixion, making it a fitting treat for the solemn occasion. The spices in the bun are said to represent those used to embalm Jesus’ body.

Ancient Greece

Hot cross buns have a long history dating back to ancient civilisations. The earliest recorded reference to them dates to Ancient Greece, where they were offered as a tribute to the goddess of the dawn, Eostre. They were later adopted by the Romans, who introduced them to Britain during their occupation.

Medieval roots

In medieval Europe, hot cross buns were consumed during Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and penance leading up to Easter. Initially, hot cross buns were plain buns made with basic ingredients like flour, water, and sometimes spices. Over time, they evolved to include dried fruits and spices, adding flavour and richness to the buns.

Superstitions and traditions

In addition to their religious significance, hot cross buns have been surrounded by various superstitions and traditions. It was believed that sharing a hot cross bun with someone would ensure friendship and goodwill between them. Some even believed that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday possessed medicinal properties and would never spoil. It was thought that they could ward off illness if hung in the home and would ensure good baking throughout the year.

Royal connections

Hot cross buns gained popularity in England during the 16th Century, and Queen Elizabeth I is said to have issued a decree allowing them to be sold only on Good Friday, Christmas, and for funerals. This decree was intended to regulate their consumption and preserve their special significance.

Modern traditions

Today, hot cross buns remain a cherished Easter treat enjoyed by people all over the world. While available in bakeries and supermarkets in the weeks leading up to Easter (often appearing on the shelves as early as January), many families also have their own recipes for making them at home. Traditional recipes include currants or raisins, however, variations with chocolate chips, raspberries, or other ingredients have also become popular.

World records

In 2017, the largest hot cross bun ever made was created in London, England. It weighed a whopping 168 kg (370 pounds) and measured over 1.4 metres (4.6 feet) in diameter. The bun contained over 55 kg (121 pounds) of flour, 16 kg (35 pounds) of sugar, and 5 kg (11 pounds) of mixed spices.

If all those fun facts have got you hungry and you’re keen to try and make a batch of buns at home, here’s a recipe from Mercy Community’s Cookery Nook catering team – happy baking!

Traditional hot cross buns (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 20g fresh yeast
  • 50g melted butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 375ml milk (warm)
  • 700g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 50g sultanas
  • 1 egg
  • Orange zest
  • water
  • Apricot jam (for glaze)
  • 60g flour and 60 ml water (for crosses)


Preparation

  1. Add yeast to warm milk with a little sugar to activate.
  2. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately
  3. Combine all ingredients and mix with a flat bladed knife until dough almost comes together before finishing with your hands. Do not overmix. Dough should form away from sides and not be sticky. Add a small amount of extra flour if required.
  4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, knead for 10 minutes or until dough is smooth.
  5. Place in a clean large bowl and cover with gladwrap. Allow to rise in a warm place (double in size). Approx 30-90 minutes.
  6. Knock the dough back and cut in 4. Divide into 12 even portions.
  7. Roll the individual pieces into balls and place on a sprayed tray with grease paper. Spray glad wrap and gently cover. Place rolls in a warm (not hot) oven to prove for around 30 minutes.
  8. When buns are almost doubled in size, use a piping bag to draw lines over the top with the flour and water mixture. Preheat oven during this time – 180C.
  9. Bake for 22 minutes. Remove when golden brown.
  10. Brush with melted jam while still hot.

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