Hot cross buns: A small bread baked with a big history, perfect for Easter, in the UAE


Hot cross buns: A small bread baked with a big history, perfect for Easter, in the UAE

Read about the many tales behind this leavened bread, and make it at home with this recipe



hot-cross-buns
This story is very little bit about the popular nursery rhyme 'hot cross buns' of the 1700s, and more about the doughy, fruit-studded, spiced yet sweet bun in the song Image Credit: Shutterstock

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!

Does this popular nursery rhyme ring a bell? This street cry turned nursery rhyme is claimed to have been sung in London during the early 1700s, while selling freshly baked hot cross buns. Some say it was a baker’s child who sang it out in front of his father’s bakery; while his father worked endlessly to cater to customers who came in wooed by the aroma of warm currants and spices, during the annual Easter rush. However, this story is very little bit about the rhyme, and more about the doughy, fruit-studded, spiced yet sweet bun in the song.

Hot cross buns can be distinguished from their baked counterparts by a notable cross – either etched into or piped with icing – on their surface. Traditionally eaten during Lent, especially the week right before Easter, these baked buns are an absolute delight.

Despite being a staple in every Christian home during Easter, these buns were once a topic of debate, a means to ward off evil and the last resort for those who couldn’t afford a meal throughout the year. Gulf News Food took a quick history lesson on these popular baked buns and here’s what we discovered.

A well-kept secret of the 14th century

hot-cross-buns
The original recipe remains a closely guarded secret, but ingredients include flour, eggs, fresh yeast, currants and grains of paradise or cardamom Image Credit: Hathaipat/Unsplash.com

Several claim that these leavened buns originated in Greece in 6AD, however, no records of this have been found. Another story narrates that it was an Anglican monk from the 12th century, who baked these buns for the poor on Good Friday and also gave it the distinct cross; but yet again there are no records to date this discovery.

However, it was in the 14th century, when hot cross buns finally took its form, thanks to Thomas Rocliffe, a priest at St Alban’s Cathedral in UK. Mentions of these baked goods can be found in Ye Booke Of St Albans, a gentleman's guide to hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Rocliffe is believed to have created the original, modern-day recipe in 1361 to distribute to the poor on Good Friday.

How to make Hot Cross Buns Supplied/Panadero Bakery, Dubai

According to stalbanscathedral.org, the official website of the Cathedral, “The original recipe remains a closely guarded secret, but ingredients include flour, eggs, fresh yeast, currants and grains of paradise or cardamom. The baker today stays faithful to the original 14th century recipe with only a slight addition of some extra fruit. The buns are distinctive in their appearance due to their lack of a piped cross. Instead, the baker cuts the cross into the top of the bun with a knife.”

Word spread eventually about these unique buns, so much that everyone in London wanted a taste of it. They soon started making these buns in large quantities, with the belief that it held the power to ward off evil and also last the entire year without growing stale.

A resistance movement with delicious benefits

hot-cross-buns
The English were superstitious and believed that these buns carried medicinal properties in addition to their other beliefs Image Credit: Shutterstock

Eventually, in 1592, Elizabeth I of England issued a decree from the London Clerk of Markets, forbidding the sale of spiced bread, which included the famed hot cross buns. Spices were considered a rarity and were termed as precious, and she felt it was ‘too special to be eaten on a regular day’. Anyone found in violation of this law would have these doughy and fruit-studded buns confiscated and redistributed to the poor.

However, the English were superstitious and believed that these buns carried medicinal properties in addition to their other beliefs. The people feared that not baking hot cross buns would be equal to disobeying the power it held. Moreover, it was the belief that these buns could never grow stale, which prompted the people to buy and stock up for the year in case they couldn’t afford a meal on some days.

And so, they resisted the law by baking more and more hot cross buns, thus removing the decree once and for all.

A tasty talisman

hot-cross-buns
The buns had become spicier too, with the addition of mace, caraway seeds, and even coriander Image Credit: Teagan Ferraby/Unsplash.com

As time progressed, the bun evolved as well. According to food52.com, a popular US-based food website, “Victorian recipes suggest various glazes to top the bun with after baking, including molasses, or honey with turmeric. The buns had become spicier too, with the addition of mace, caraway seeds, and even coriander. Most notably, hot cross buns were now decorated with crosses made from flour and water paste, rather than cut with crosses before baking.”

Soon after this, people started using these hot cross buns like a talisman that rid their houses and shops off of evil spirits, by hanging these hot cross buns on window panes on Good Friday. Sailors would also carry these hot cross buns before a voyage, because they believed it would protect them from shipwreck. A testament to this belief can be found at ‘The Widow’s Son’ on 75 Devons Road in London.

hot-cross-buns
The annual ceremony of hanging up a hot cross bun takes place on Good Friday at 'The Widow's Son' at Devons Road, Bow, London. Able Seaman William Gregory (above), of Stayners Road, Stepney, London, hung up the 'victory' hot cross bun on April 19, 1946. Each year a sailor performs the ceremony. Image Credit: Reuters

Legend has it, that the restaurant was named after a woman who lived in a cottage at the exact same spot. It is claimed that she hung a bun in a net from her rafters, and added to the collection every year to commemorate her son, a sailor who disappeared at sea. After her death, her cottage was renovated and generations of landlords and owners carried on this tradition forward, still following it today.

It also believed that sharing a freshly baked hot cross bun with a loved one cements friendships. But you would only know that if you tried it out, right? So, here’s a quick recipe to make hot cross buns at home.

Share your food stories and recipes with us on food@gulfnews.com

More From Food

This website stores cookies on your computer. These cookies are used to improve your experience and provide more personalized service to you. Both on your website and other media. To find out more about the cookies and data we use, please check out our Privacy Policy.