Hot Cross Buns

I’m Jewish, but I was born Christian. I’ve blogged about this before. The short story is, that I converted years ago when I got married. Growing up, my family was not religious at all, but we celebrated the major Christian holidays, mainly through food, family time, and gifting. Easter was a favorite. I loved glazed ham and Easter baskets and looked forward to both each year. Hot cross buns were not something my family regularly ate, although they always intrigued me. But it wasn’t until recently that I took a deep dive into their origin and developed my recipe to share with you.

hot cross buns

What Exactly Are Hot Cross Buns?

A hot cross bun is a yeasted sweet bun that is typically lightly spiced and studded with either raisins or currants. Their trademark, the well-known cross on top, is traditionally piped in icing or etched into the dough. These famous buns have been a holiday staple of many communities for centuries and are traditionally eaten in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the Americas on Good Friday. The hot cross bun itself marks the end of Lent and different parts of the bun have a certain meaning; including the cross representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm him at his burial.

hot cross buns

To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t an obvious explanation for why hot cross buns are as popular as they are on Easter. Some theories rely heavily on Christian symbolism, though there are several stories about their origins. Some theories talk about hot cross buns, once called Good Friday buns, being baked and eaten solely on Good Friday, while others mention them being eaten throughout Lent. Given the baked good’s long history, many legends and superstitions have had time to develop and grow around them. Here are five favorites I found in my research:

Hot Cross Bun Legends

  • Created by a 12th-century monk. According to the legend, a monk marked the bun with a cross and baked the buns on Good Friday for the upcoming Easter holiday. The buns quickly gained popularity around England as a symbol of the holiday weekend.  Nowadays the cross might be made of chocolate icing or cream, but, traditionally, it is made of a simple dough or a knife imprint.
  • They stay fresh for a whole year. One theory is that if you hang a hot cross bun from your kitchen rafters on Good Friday, legend has it that it will remain fresh, and mold-free, for the whole year. This is a direct reference to the body of Christ, which, according to the Bible, did not show any signs of decay after his crucifixion and before his resurrection. The theory is that the bun should be replaced each year on Good Friday.

  • Expel bad spirits. Due to the cross on top, hot cross buns hung in the kitchen are said to protect a home from evil spirits. They’re also said to prevent kitchen fires and ensure that all bread baked that year will turn out perfect.
  • Cement friendships. It is said that those who share a hot cross bun are supposed to enjoy a strong friendship and a strong bond for the coming year.
  • Considered sacred. 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. The Queen felt they were too special to be eaten any other day.

What Do Hot Cross Buns Taste Like?

The truth is, my hot cross buns are a little less traditional than most, with less spice and more citrus. My recipe yields a soft, yet slightly dense, bun with great flavor, but this recipe is adaptable. I use raisins instead of currents, and the combination of brown sugar and orange marmalade glaze for sweeteners. Slightly sweet, but not overly so, and I make my cross with frosting, instead of dough, because I love frosting. Some people think hot cross buns will be comparable to a traditional dinner roll and that is a true misconception, they are more similar to a breakfast sweet roll or cinnamon roll instead.

hot cross buns

About the Author

Andrea Potischman

I am a professionally trained NYC chef turned CA mom and food blogger. I post about real food, with doable ingredient lists that are family friendly.

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