In her book A Continual Feast, author Evelyn Birge Vitz shares the traditions behind serving Hot Cross Buns on this day, as well as a delicious recipe:
"The Hot Cross Bun is the most famous, and probably the oldest, of the many English buns. Unlike today, when it is to be found throughout Lent, the Hot Cross Bun was originally eaten only on Good Friday. According to tradition, Father Rocliff, a monk and the cook of St. Alban's Abbey, in Hertfordshire, on Good Friday in 1361 gave to each poor person who came to the abbey one of these spiced buns marked with the sign of the cross, along with the usual bowl of soup. The custom was continued and soon spread throughout the country - though no other buns could compare, it was said, with Father Rocliff's. Hot Cross Buns became enormously popular in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Street cries were commonly heard on Good Friday:"
Hot Cross buns, Hot Cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross buns!
If your daughters won't eat them,
Give them to your sons;
But if you have none of those little elves,
Then you must eat them all yourselves!
The author goes on to say that "Hot Cross Buns, and other forms of Good Friday bread, were considered blessed, and were believed to provide powerful protection against disease and danger."
Hot Cross Buns
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (about 100-100 degrees F)
- 1 teaspoon white or light brown sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup sweet butter
- 1/3 cup brown or raw sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups sifted flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2/3 cup dried currants
- 1/3 cup finely diced or julienned citron
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (more if needed)
- grated rind of 1 lemon
Sprinkle the yeast into the lukewarm water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar. Let sit until frothy.
Scald the milk. Add the butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until blended. Cool to lukewarm. Beat the eggs until light, and combine with the milk mixture. Add the yeast.
Sift 3 1/2 cups of the flour with the spices into a mixing bowl. Make a well, and pour in the yeast mixture. Beat for 5 minutes. Toss the currants, and citron, if using it, with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Mix into the dough.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. The dough should be fairly firm, otherwise it will not take the cuts for the cross.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover the dough with a towel and put it to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in volume. This will take about 2 hours.
Punch the dough down. Shape it into 2 dozen buns.
Place the buns 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on well-greased cookie sheets or in muffin pans. With a sharp knife cut a cross into the top of each bun. Allow them to rise until doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes.
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
For the frosting, mix the milk with enough sugar so that the icing is not runny. Add the rind. Brush a cross on the top of each bun.
Yield: about 24 buns
Variations: (also from A Continual Feast)
Try varying the spice ratios: for example, eliminate the cinnamon, and use only the other spices (increasing the quantities proportionately). You can also substitute allspice for the ginger.
Eliminate the icing: the icing on Hot Cross Buns is considered by some purists to be new-fangled.
Since I promised pictures, here are a couple even though they didn't turn out near as good as others I seen online. They tasted delicious, or so I was told!
The Hot Cross Buns in this first picture were baked on a cookie sheet:
The Hot Cross Buns in this picture were baked in a muffin pan:
Since I made them for Good Friday, I left the frosting off... I'll add frosting to the remaining Hot Cross Buns and serve them with our Easter Brunch.
Be sure to read Jen's interesting post on the History of the Hot Cross Bun.