Easter Bunnies: The History of Hot Cross Buns (Plus an Easy Recipe)

Easter Bunnies: The History of Hot Cross Buns (Plus an Easy Recipe)
As the weather warms and our toes defrost, Easter draws nearer. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the holiday, this time of year means that treats are upon us! Peeps and chocolate are to be expected, but have you tried hot cross buns? The history of hot cross buns is one that isn’t widely known, but will give you a deeper appreciation for the delicious seasonal treat. And who doesn't want an easy hot cross buns recipe?
Hot cross buns are piled on a wooden board in front of a green, leafy plant. The overlay text reads: the history of hot cross buns plus an easy hot cross buns recipe.

The History of Hot Cross Buns


A popular Easter-time treat across much of the world, the hot cross bun is traditionally a sweet, spiced bun with a cross decorating the top. Whilst there are many stories regarding the history of hot cross buns, one, in particular, seems to be generally accepted. Once called “Good Friday Buns,” it is believed that a twelfth-century monk baked the sweet buns and decorated them on the top with the cross in remembrance of Jesus’ death.
Over time, the buns grew in popularity – so much so that Queen Elizabeth the First of England in the late sixteenth century decreed laws around when the buns could be made. The sale of hot cross buns and other sweet buns was limited to Easter, Christmas, and funerals.
These rules only caused the buns to be made in secret in people’s homes, apparently unable to resist the lure of the tasty treats. Being a hot cross bun lover myself, I can’t blame them! There’s even a song about hot cross buns that seems to have been coined around this time, which goes:
"Hot cross buns. Hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny. Hot cross buns.”

As you can see, the passion for hot cross buns was pretty high.
The history of the hot cross bun is scattered with a few superstitions: that buns baked on Good Friday won’t go stale, that they’ll ward off evil spirits, and that a bun shared with a friend will guarantee friendship for the coming year.
I don’t know about the first two, but if you share these treats with a friend, they’ll certainly be happy to have these warm and tasty buns in their tums!
Today, hot cross buns are often enjoyed in the lead-up to the Easter season. In Australia (where I am from), variations of the traditional bun are popular, with chocolate chips or spiced apple flavors arising in recent years. Bakeries and stores have even run competitions to see which store has the best hot cross bun, with members of the public casting their vote.
Half a dozen hot cross buns on a wooden board sit next to a blue mug of tea on a bright pink table runner.

Easy Hot Cross Buns Recipe


So there you have it, the wild and long-reaching history of hot cross buns. Today we’ll be sharing an easy hot cross buns recipe so you can sample these delicious buns for yourself! This recipe does require a bit of time for you to allow the dough to rise, but otherwise is very simple. If you’re in a hurry you could skip the second rising, but your buns won’t be as soft. It’s definitely worth the time.
This recipe is for the traditional spiced hot cross buns, but if you would like to adapt them to become chocolate chip hot cross buns, simply substitute the currants for chocolate chips and add 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the recipe. Either is best enjoyed when warm, spread with butter to serve.
Enjoy with a cup of chai tea such as Stargazer Caramel Maté. Or, for a fruity and spicy experience that will warm you from the inside out, try Comfort Blend. The orange and cinnamon notes are the perfect accompaniment for this easy hot cross buns recipe.
Overhead view of half a dozen hot cross buns on a wooden board. One of them has been split in half and slathered with butter.

Easy Hot Cross Buns Recipe


Makes 12 buns

Ingredients:
For the buns:
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups raisins or sultanas
  • 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 7-gram sachets of dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon oil
For the flour paste:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
For the glaze:
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar

Directions:
In a large bowl, sift together flour, mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and salt. Add raisins and stir to evenly disperse throughout flour mix. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine milk, yeast, and sugar. On low heat, whisk until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is lukewarm. Your mixture should have thickened and become slightly frothy on top.
Make a well in the center of the flour mix and crack the egg into the well. Gently pour milk mixture into the well. Using a flat-bladed knife, gently mix until dough is just combined.
Spread some plain flour on your counter or tabletop and place dough onto the surface. Gently knead until the dough is smooth, with no pockets of flour. Around five minutes of kneading should be enough.
Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough into it. Cover bowl in cling wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for one hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. I used the pantry in my kitchen.
Line a baking tray with non-stick paper. Once your dough has risen, remove the cling film and ‘punch’ dough back to its original size. Knead for less than a minute on your lightly floured counter.
Divide dough into 12 even portions and arrange on your baking tray, spaced one centimeter apart. Cover buns with cling film and return to your warm, draft-free spot for a further 30 minutes or until buns have doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 340F for fan-forced (convection) ovens or 380F for conventional ovens.
Unwrap buns from cling film. Mix together flour and water to make the paste for the crosses on the buns. Mix should be thick enough to pipe. Place into a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off) and pipe crosses on the top of buns.
Place decorated buns in the oven for 20 minutes or until buns are golden.
Make glaze for top of the buns by dissolving 2 tablespoons of caster sugar into 1/3 cup of water in a saucepan on the stovetop.
Remove buns from oven and brush glaze over them with a basting brush while they are still warm.
To serve, cut a warm bun in half and spread with butter. Enjoy!

Hot cross buns are piled on a wooden board and set on a wrought iron table outside. A large red teacup planter can be seen in the background.

Steph Huddleston

Steph Huddleston is a freelance writer and book blogger from Australia. Her passion is for the written word, and of course, tea. If you’re looking for your next great book to read with that cup of tea you can check out her website or follow her on Instagram @stephhuddlestonwriting.
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