Easter Hot Cross Buns: 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…
2 Ways to Make the Cross in Hot Cross Buns
The distinctive cross on hot cross buns can be made two ways.
The easiest of the two crosses. By making a simple icing, a piped cross can be added after the buns are baked.
Roll out store-bought pastry very thinly (about 1/8-inch thick) and cut into narrow strips. Apply the egg wash to the buns just before baking and place two strips on each bun to form a cross. Bake.
Easter Hot Cross Buns
It isn’t Easter without Hot Crossed Buns. You can buy them, but they’ll never be as good as those you make yourself! Here’s how…
- Yield: 24 Hot Cross Buns
1 cup warm whole milk
1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 packets instant yeast or fast-action yeast (5 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
store-bought pastry dough or icing
Icing (if using)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 teaspoons milk
Stir together the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, currants or raisins, zested orange peel, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then add the eggs and warm milk mixture. With the paddle attachment, mix, gradually adding the remaining flour (more if necessary) until a dough forms. Change to the dough hook, and continue to mix and knead for another 4 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms that pulls away from the side of the bowl. Add additional flour in 1 tablespoon increments as necessary. Although you can skip this step, I like to remove the dough from the bowl to a floured surface and knead by hand briefly to get that smooth texture.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to grease top. Cover; let rise until dough doubles (about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours).
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; punch down to remove air bubbles. Divide dough into 2 parts and shape into two 12-inch logs. Cut each log crosswise into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball and place on a parchment lined or buttered baking sheet. Cover; let rise until doubled, about an hour more.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375-degrees.
While the dough is rising for the second time, roll out the ready-made pastry very thinly (about 1/8 inch thick) and cut into thin strips. Just before baking, brush buns with the egg wash and arrange two strips of pastry on each bun top to form a cross; trim the ends with the bottoms of the buns. If you’re making an icing cross, skip this step but do brush the buns with egg wash before baking.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white, water, and sugar. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg wash.
Bake the buns in the center of the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Do not over bake the buns. Transfer buns to a rack to cool.
Whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Transfer the icing to a pastry bag (or a sandwich baggie with a very small tip cut in the corner) and pipe an “X” on each cooled bun.
To Make Ahead:
These Hot Cross Buns are easy to freeze. When cool, and before piping icing, wrap in plastic wrap and then foil; store in the freezer. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and reheat foil-wrapped buns in a 325-degree oven until warm. If icing, follow directions above before serving.
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.