Hot Cross Buns were traditionally served during the Lenten season, especially on Good Friday. Their origins, however, like the Easter holiday, are mixed with pagan traditions. To the ancient Aztecs and Incas, buns were considered the scared food of the gods, while the Egyptians and Saxons offered them as sacrifices to their goddesses. The cross represented the four quarters of the moon to certain ancient cultures, while others believed it was a sign that held supernatural power to prevent sickness. To the Romans, the cross represented the horns of a sacred ox. The word “bun” is derived from the ancient word “boun,” used to describe this revered animal. The Christian church adopted Hot Cross Buns during their early missionary efforts to pagan cultures. They re-interpreted the “cross” of icing which adorns the bun to signify the cross on which Jesus sacrificed His life. Some historians date the origin of Hot Cross Buns back to the 12th century, when an Angelican monk was said to have placed the sign of the cross on the buns to honor Good Friday, known at the time as the “Day of the Cross.” In 1361, a monk named Father Thomas Rocliffe, was recorded to have made small spiced cakes stamped with the sign of the cross, to be distributed to the poor visiting the monastery at St. Albans on Good Friday. According to the scholar Harrowven, the idea proved so popular that he made the buns every year, carefully keeping his bun recipe secret. According to tradition, Hot Cross Buns were the only food allowed to be eaten by the faithful on Good Friday. Made from dough kneaded for consecrated bread used at Mass or Holy Communion, and thus representative of Christ’s body, Hot Cross Buns were also credited for miraculous healing and for protection. Throughout the years, Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday were used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses. In addition, many families hung the buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect their households from evil for the years to come. The tradition, however, suffered attack during the 16th century. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, when Roman Catholicism was banned, ‘backward-lookers’ were reportedly tired for Popery for signing the cross on their Good Friday buns. The accused often claimed that it was necessary to mark a cross on the dough, to ensure that the buns would rise. However, the popularity of the buns prevailed, and the Queen resorted to passing a law which limited the bun’s consumption to proper religious ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter, or funerals. Here is a recipe for Hot Cross Buns that makes one dozen buns. Raisins or lemon peel can be added for extra flavor. The buns can be served with lemon curd or candied lemon peel.
HOT CROSS BUNS RECIPE
Traditional Hot Cross Buns (Ingredients)
3/4 c warm water (110’ F)
3 T butter
1 T instant powdered milk
1/4 c white sugar
3/8 tsp salt
1 egg white
3 c all-purpose flour
1 T active dry yeast
3/4 c currants
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
2 T water
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp milk
1. Put warm water, butter, skim milk powder, 1/4 c sugar, salt, egg, egg white, flour, and yeast in bread maker and start dough program.
2. When 5 minutes of kneading are left, add currants and cinnamon. Leave dough to double in size (takes about 1 hour).
3. Punch down bread on floured surface, cover, and let rest 10 minutes.
4. Shape into 12 balls and place in greased 9×12 inch pan. Cover, let rise in warm place for 35-40 minutes.
5. Mix egg yolk and 2 T water. Brush on balls
6. Bake at 375’ F for 20 minutes. Remove immediately and cool.
7. To make crosses, mix confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and milk. Put an “X” on each cooled bun.