During pre-Christian times, Germanic Saxons would celebrate spring with a fertility festival in honor of the pagan fertility goddess, Eastre or Eostra. Her symbol was the rabbit, because it reproduces quickly. When Christianity came to Britain, the holiday was worked into the Christian calendar and became Easter. Eggs also represented fertility and were gifted and eaten during Easter.
There are many theories of the origin of Hot Cross Buns, a traditional Easter food, which is still enjoyed today. Some say they started being baked in the 12th century by a monk who marked them with the cross to remember Good Friday. Another monk in the 14th century also baked them at St. Albans Abbey and called them Alban Buns. He gave them out to the poor on Good Friday.
In 1582, the London clerk of markets put a ban on the buns being sold by bakeries, because of the superstition that they held magical or medicinal qualities. Queen Elizabeth I (my favorite historical figure) passed a law that the buns could only be sold at Easter and Christmas. But the people loved the buns and began baking them at home until the law was rescinded.
The popular nursery rhyme was published first in 1798. Perhaps you have heard it.
‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
Hot Cross Buns
3/4 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
3 tbls butter – melted
¼ cup white sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 whole egg
1 egg white (save the yolk for below)
3 and ¾ cups all-purpose four (and more if too sticky)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ c dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins, cut dried apricots)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp milk
- Warm milk in microwave to 110 degrees F (not too hot or the yeast will die). Put yeast in milk and let sit 5 minutes.
- In large bowl of a stand mixer, mix white sugar, salt, egg, egg white, flour, cinnamon, and yeast/milk mixture together (paddle attachment). Add melted butter.
- When dough comes together, turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Add dried fruit and knead for another 5 minutes.
- Put dough into a greased bowl and cover to rise until doubled – about 1 hour.
- Turn out onto floured surface and punch down. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Break into 12 balls of dough (I weighed them to be about 3 oz each) and place in greased 9X12 baking pan. Cover and let sit in warm place until doubled – about 40 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).
- Mix saved egg yolk with 2 tbsp water. Brush mixture gently over risen buns.
- Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack. (If not they could get soggy inside the hot pan)
- To make criss-cross pattern, put powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and 2 tsp milk into a zip lock bag and massage bag to mix (or mix in a bowl). Cut tip off the corner of bag (or fill a tipped icing decorator bag). When buns are cool to the touch, pipe icing out in traditional criss-cross pattern.
- If you prefer the more historically accurate criss-cross on top, score the top of the risen bun with a sharp knife. Make a paste from flour and water to pipe into the score marked cross before baking. Once it comes out, you can always add the sugar icing.(I didn’t get a good result doing it this way. If I do it again, I’ll make sure the paste is very thick.)