Hot Cross Buns for Easter
When you hear Easter, what food do you think of first? For many, the answer would be chocolate. I too look forward to a good dark chocolate bunny. And it’s hard to have an Easter egg hunt without chocolate. But honestly, I have a hard time connecting chocolate with that day over two thousand years ago that started the whole thing. Chocolate had not reached Golgotha or anywhere in the “Old World” and Christianity had not reached the new world. So there really is no connection to actual Easter.
For me, nothing says Easter more than Hot Cross Buns, even though if I want to be accurate, they are actually associated with Good Friday, and were originally called Good Friday Buns. But there’s a cross to make the connection! And of course, they didn’t originate 2,000 years ago either, but at least the spices were widely available and used then.
First of all, what is a hot cross bun? It is a yeast bun made with milk, butter, spices, raisins and one other dried fruit.
Thanks to England for the Hot Cross Bun
The actual hot cross bun as we know it may have been first made by a monk in the 12th century. Or by a monk in St. Alban, England in 1361 and distributed to the poor on Good Friday. (Don’t you love historians, from a vague whole century to a “maybe” in a specific year!)
They became extremely popular and people ascribed magical and healing properties to them, and a lot of superstitious folklore developed.
And for the next theory: it is suggested that this was the reason that Queen Elizabeth I of England decreed that the sale of hot cross buns and other sweet buns be limited to Easter, Christmas, and funerals. And it must have been serious, because further attempts to suppress the sale of these sweet, spicy buns took place during the reign of James 1.
Finally in 1733, we have the actual first record of the Hot Cross Bun in London, being sold on the streets. And then they spread throughout the British Commonwealth where to this day, they are traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and USA.
And funnily enough, as I was writing, an article from MSN appeared of where to find the best hot cross buns around the country in New Zealand so clearly they take the topic seriously!
I admit that I will cheat and buy a few at a bakery, but for you, the recipe appears below. Note that the cross is made with a flour paste whereas traditionally it would have been a shortbread.
Recipe: Hot Cross Buns
For the buns:
- 4 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves or allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups raisins or sultanas
- 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 7-gram sachets of dried yeast
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon oil
For the flour paste:
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4-5 tablespoons water
For the glaze:
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
In a large bowl, sift together flour, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, cinnamon, and salt. Add raisins and stir to evenly disperse throughout the flour mix. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine milk, yeast, and sugar. On low heat, whisk until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is lukewarm. Your mixture should have thickened and become slightly frothy on top.
Make a well in the center of the flour mix and crack the egg into the well. Gently pour milk mixture into the well. Using a flat-bladed knife, gently mix until dough is just combined.
Spread some plain flour on your counter or tabletop and place dough onto the surface. Gently knead until the dough is smooth, with no pockets of flour. Around five minutes of kneading should be enough.
Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough into it. Cover bowl in cling wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for one hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Line a baking tray with non-stick paper. Once your dough has risen, remove the cling film and ‘punch’ dough back to its original size. Knead for less than a minute on your lightly floured counter.
Divide dough into 12 even portions and arrange on your baking tray, spaced 1/2 inchapart. Cover buns with cling film and return to your warm, draft-free spot for a further 30 minutes or until buns have doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 340F for fan-forced (convection) ovens or 380F for conventional ovens.
Unwrap buns from cling film. Mix together flour and water to make the paste for the crosses on the buns. Mix should be thick enough to pipe. Place into a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off) and pipe to make crosses on the top of buns.
Place decorated buns in the oven for 20 minutes or until buns are golden.
Make the glaze for the top of the buns by dissolving 2 tablespoons of caster sugar into 1/3 cup of water in a saucepan on the stovetop. (optional step)
Remove buns from the oven and brush glaze over them with a basting brush while they are still warm.
Enjoy a warm bun sliced in half, with butter.
Recipe credit: https://www.plumdeluxe.com/history-of-hot-cross-buns