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Understanding the Significance of Hot Cross Buns

hot cross buns

There are foods and practices that feel as though they are crucial to our holiday celebrations. Those who practice Christianity, follow the traditions of Lent and abstain from meat each Friday through the Lenten season. Latkes and sufganiyot are often consumed during Hanukkah because fried foods are a reminder of the oil from the traditional Hanukkah story. And when it comes to Easter, there’s likely a specific treat in mind: hot cross buns.

What are Hot Cross Buns?

No, we’re not talking about the song you may have sung in elementary school. Hot cross buns are the intersection between a sweet roll and a dinner roll, serving as a spiced sweet bun. They’re often made with fruit included as well, with each bun marked with a cross on the top as a religious symbol. 

There are multiple meanings that are thought to be the significance behind hot cross buns as it pertains to religion. Some believe that the combination of the spices used to make the buns signify the spices that were used to embalm Jesus during his burial, while others see the cross marks made on the top of the buns as representative of Jesus’ crucifixion.

What’s their history?

The history of hot cross buns dates back centuries. Over the years, they’ve become synonymous with Easter and are often consumed on Good Friday because of their past. Most commonly, these are consumed in countries including The United States, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Guyana, and have remained a staple in holiday celebrations likely due to a rule made several hundred years ago. It’s often thought that during the reign of Elizabeth I of England in the last 1500s, the London Clerk of Markets made an order that hot cross buns–along with other spiced bread–were forbidden to be sold except for three occasions: burials, Christmas, or Good Friday.

Nowadays, hot cross buns are far more accessible but still became a staple around Easter Time to uphold their legacy throughout history. 

Where to buy them?

While hot cross buns are popular around Easter given their historical and religious correlation, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to locate a bakery nearby that is able to provide you with your fix or accompany your upcoming holiday meal if you celebrate. Support your local businesses and put in an inquiry to see if they’ll be on the menu during the holiday season to place your order ahead of time.

How to make your own?

If you’re feeling more adventurous for the upcoming holiday and want to add a new recipe to your repertoire, you can also go the homemade route and make yourself a pan (or two) of hot cross buns. The internet and likely your favorite cookbooks are flooded with various recipes to try and test out to find the taste and texture that appeals most to you. 

For a basic version, the New York Times Cooking recipe will serve up to two dozen of the sweet rolls for you and your loved ones. To accommodate specific allergies and dietary restrictions, you can also test out these gluten-free hot cross buns from Gluten Free on a String or vegan hot cross buns from BBC GoodFood. The Gutsy Kitchen even has a recipe that whips up gluten, dairy, egg, and grain-free hot cross buns for the crew.

There are a variety of ways to make the cross on the top of the bun. Some recipes call for using a shortcrust pastry, while others suggest icing or a combination of flour and water to do the trick for the scoring. You can also add a glaze—some recommend a citrus base like orange or even apricot for some extra zest and tartness—to finish off the buns with a little extra sweetness.

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