When I think of Easter and the foods we serve, several immediately come to mind.
Ham, for sure, but also a fruited rice pilaf we love, hard-boiled eggs, our traditional coconut bunny cake, chocolate Easter eggs… and hot cross buns. It wouldn’t be Easter without them.
While exact origins of hot cross buns are unclear, it is generally agreed they go back to a 12th-century Anglican monk. Who baked sweet buns for the poor on Good Friday, and etched a cross in each bun to celebrate the Easter holiday.
The first definite record of hot cross buns, however, comes from a 16th and 17th-century text stating:
“Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs,
with one or two a penny hot cross buns.”
Centuries later, Queen Elizabeth I limited the sale of sweet buns to 3 specific occasions.
The reason, Smithsonian Magazines says, “They’re too sacred to eat any old day.”
“In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could no longer be sold on any day except for Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. They were simply too special to be eaten any other day. To get around this, FoodTimeline explains that people baked the buns in their own kitchens—although if they were caught they had to give up all of the illegal buns on their premises to the poor.”
But there is one more theory.
A fascinating mention of an earlier origin in Sue Ellen Thompson’s Holiday Symbols and Customs:
“When archaeologists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy,
which had been buried under volcanic ash and lava since 79 C.E.,
they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins.”
An early hot cross bun?
Here’s how to make your own…
Easter Hot Cross Buns
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 – 4 cups bread flour
instant yeast or fast-action yeast (1 packet)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
2 tablespoons zested orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon water
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
In a saucepan, scald milk, remove from heat and add butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until butter melts, cool to room temperature.
In bowl of a stand mixer, add 2 cups flour, yeast, currants or raisins, zested orange peel, cinnamon, and nutmeg and combine. Then add egg and warm milk mixture. With paddle attachment, mix, gradually adding remaining flour (more if necessary) until you have a somewhat sticky dough. Mix for about 3 minutes, scrape down the sides of the bowl and change to the dough hook. Knead for an additional 4 minutes.
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and turn to grease top. Cover; let rise until dough doubles (about 1 hour or a bit more).
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; punch down to remove air bubbles. Divide into 3 parts. Divide each third into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Or, using a large muffin or ice cream scoop, portion 18 scoop of dough. Place on parchment lined baking sheet, sides touching. Cover; let rise until indentation remains after touching, about 1 hour more.
Heat oven to 375-degrees.
For the Cross and Glaze:
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white, 1 tsp. water and a pinch of salt. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg wash. Using sharp scissors or a knife, cut a cross into the top of each bun.
Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the buns are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let cool.
To make the icing, in a bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice. Transfer the icing to a pastry bag with a small plain tip and pipe an “X” on each cooled bun along the indentations where you scored the dough.
Serve on your Easter table with Honey Butter.
To Make Ahead:
These Hot Cross Buns are easy to freeze. When cooled wrap in plastic wrap and then foil; store in freezer. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and reheat foil-wrapped buns in a 325-degree oven until warm.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ½ tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
Using a mixer, whip butter and honey together until smooth.
Fold salt in gently with a rubber spatula. Serve soft or at room temperature.