My earliest memories of hot cross buns are waking up on Easter Sunday by the spicy smell wafting through the house. My dad loved warming up hot cross buns for a special breakfast, delicious with some butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. A scrumptious treat.
Hot Cross Buns, a spicy bun with a cross piped on top, are traditionally eaten on Good Friday in Christian communities. I remember when we just arrived in Ireland, almost 20 year ago, you could only find hot cross buns just before Easter in the shops. But you had to be quick because they sold out quickly. These days you can get an abundance of hot cross buns almost throughout the year, but especially now.
My mom, who immigrated with my dad to South Africa from the Netherlands, said that she only learnt eating hot cross buns in South Africa. They didn’t know about it in the Netherlands. I’m sure that has changed as well.
It is not that clear where hot cross buns originated from. One theory is that a certain Brother Thomas Rodcliff, a 14th century monk at St Albans Abbey in England, developed something similar to a hot cross bun and called it an ‘Alban bun’. It was distributed to the local poor on Good Friday from 1361.
These days this sweet spiced bun, usually made with raisins and dried fruit, marked with a cross on the top, is traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the many parts of the world, including United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand and parts of America and Canada.
The cross represent the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices in the bun signifying the spices that were used to embalm Him at his burial.
I made some delicious hot cross buns over the weekend and used this recipe. Have a look at the hyperlink because it also gives alternatives to the flour, milk and honey.
- 625g/1lb 6oz strong white flour, extra for dusting
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice (or a combination of ground spices such as cinnamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and ginger)
- 45g/1½oz unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
- 85g/3oz caster sugar
- 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated zest only (alternatively use finely grated zest of ½ orange or 1 tangerine/satsuma)
- 1½ tsp dried fast-action yeast
- 1 free-range egg
- 275ml/9½fl oz tepid milk (non-dairy milks are also suitable)
- 125g/4½oz dried mixed fruit of your choice
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 tbsp golden syrup or runny honey, gently heated, for glazing
- For the buns, sieve the flour, salt and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, then add the sugar, lemon zest and yeast. Beat the egg and add to the flour with the tepid milk. Mix together to a form a soft, pliable dough.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully work the mixed dried fruit into the dough until well combined. Knead lightly for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
- Grease a large, warm mixing bowl with butter. Shape the dough into a ball and place into the prepared bowl, then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour to prove.
- Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock back the dough. Shape into a ball again and return to the bowl, then cover again with the teatowel and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rise.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a bun shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the teatowel and set aside to rest for 5–10 minutes.
- Grease a baking tray with butter and transfer the buns to the tray. Wrap the tray very loosely in baking paper, then place inside a large polythene bag (or cover loosely in lightly oiled cling film). Tie the end of the bag tightly so that no air can get in (if using) and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise. (I put the buns on the baking paper and covered with cling film.)
- Preheat the oven to 240C/220C Fan/Gas 8.
- Meanwhile, for the topping, mix the plain flour to a fairly thick smooth paste with 2 tablespoons cold water (use slightly less or more water to get the right consistency).
- When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bag and the greaseproof paper. Spoon the flour mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun.
- Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 8–12 minutes, or until pale golden brown. As soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush them with the hot golden syrup, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- A side note: We used some choc chips in some of the buns for those people who don’t like raisins.
- Another side note: My sister who is gluten intolerant made this gluten-free recipe and said it was so tasty!
Happy Easter and baking.