Monday, April 6, 2009

Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally served on Good Friday. They are a spiced bun and each bun is marked with the shape of a cross to symbolize Christ's suffering and crucifixion. I usually serve these to my family for breakfast on Good Friday. Sometimes I make them from scratch, and when that is not possible I frantically try to find some in town order some from our local bakery.

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
  • Optional:
  • 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.

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  1. Joanna Bogle on her EWTN series used a flour and water dough cross on top of her Hot Cross buns. I like the idea of scoring a cross and adding another on top. I didn't realize until this year that Hot Cross buns were eaten al Lent, but ALWAYS on Good Friday. So now I'm thinking icing cross every day BUT Good Friday?

    1. All of Lent should be penitential, so save the icing for Easter Sunday.

  2. My understanding of this tradition was that they were made or sold on Good Friday, but were not eaten until Easter, as they were not Lenten foods and, until recently, Good Friday was a strict fast day.

    1. Good point, except that the buns would be stale.

  3. Appreciate having the info and recipe. Looking forward to a photo - though I think the illustration used is very cute!

  4. I really want to try making Hot Cross buns this year.

    I looked up some more information on Hot Cross Buns, Jessica...I'll post a follow-up post to yours.

    Thanks for posting!

  5. Ok -- I added pictures, but I think I need to keep practicing cutting the crosses into the dough! =)

  6. We made these (in a muffin tin) and I went ahead and added the little bit of icing...when the kids asked about it (since we've been abstaining from sweets), I explained that the cross is sweet to us...and is why we call it GOOD Friday.

    I was wondering how these were a traditional food, though, as I mixed in milk, butter, and eggs...

  7. I was just talking to my mom and she said my Grandmother always made a flour and water dough cross on top of her Hot Cross Buns too. I think I may have to try that this year!

  8. I just made my Hot Cross Buns for tomorrow :).

  9. Jessica, Thank you so much for this recipe. I just finished mixing these up. I did want to note that there's an omission in the directions. They only tell you to add 2/3 cups of flour and then 1/2 cup of flour. No directions on when to add the other 3 1/3 cups. You might want to edit that in.

    1. I think it's a typo. I have the book from which this recipe is taken, and it tells you to mix 3 1/2 cups (not 2/3 cup) of flour with the spices.

    2. Thank you Melanie and Anne-Marie! Yes it was a typo and I've updated the post. Sorry for any confusion... Happy Easter!

    3. No problem. I made these on Good Friday for the second year in a row and my kids absolutely love them. Thanks so much for the recipe. Happy Easter.

  10. We just finished kneading the dough for these and they smell delicious! I didn't read the comments first and was confused about the flour amounts...I just added enough to make what I thought was the right consistency in the dough...

    Thanks for the recipe!

  11. I'm trying this recipe out but am just wondering if there is a typo with the icing recipe. It seems pretty hard not to have runny icing when there is only twice as much sugar as milk. And would you add all of the rind of one lemon? Thanks!

    1. I just checked the cookbook and the measurements match the post here. . . The recipe does say to "mix the milk with enough sugar so that the icing is not runny." but you are right, that would take a lot of extra sugar. I would probably start with the sugar and add milk until it is the consistency I want and then add enough rind to give it a nice taste, without adding too much.

  12. I've always found it odd that Hot Cross buns are served on Good Friday, which is a day of fasting, so I make mine instead for Passion Sunday.

    1. It is odd, but it's a really old custom of long standing. So I really had to ponder what all those generations of people knew about fasting that I didn't. Did they have an understanding of fasting that was different from mine? Was their sensibility different from ours? And was there something valuable to be learned by following ancient custom instead of modifying it? I'm not sure I can exactly articulate what it is but after trying them on different days and then trying them on Good Friday, I found that there was something right about breaking the fast with something sweet. Fasting is meant to be mortification but it's not a repudiation of the goodness of food. And I think hot cross buns eaten after going to the celebration of the Lord's Passion help to remind me of the mystery of the cross, that it has a sweetness as well as a bitterness, that there's an element of celebration to Good Friday because we know that Jesus is risen and so there's a doubleness to our awareness: we fast because he died, but we break our fast with something sweet and symbolic, a bun marked with the very instrument of his passion, because we know that we are merely commemorating that death, that he hasn't died again. So our death to self in Lent is punctuated by the celebrations of the Eucharist every Sunday, and by the eating of hot cross buns on Good Friday, a mixture, a paradox, a mystery, a conundrum to be puzzled over. Why do we call this day Good? Why do we fast? Why do we kiss the cross? So many questions and I don't have all the answers, but the more I walk the path of the liturgical year, celebrating it with food, the more I find wisdom in these old customs and a sense to them, even if I can't quite put my finger on what it is. All I know is that somehow spiced buns remind me of the spices the women carried to the tomb, remind me of the hope of resurrection, remind me of the joy of our faith. And I love the delight with which my kids anticipate this custom every year and the way it connects us to Catholics of the past who also broke their fast with a spiced bun marked with the cross.