Baking for Easter - The History of Traditional Hot Cross Buns and Hot Cross Bun Recipe - Lavender and Lovage (2024)

Hot Cross Buns

Baking for Easter

The History of Hot Cross Buns

~ Traditional Hot Cross Buns Recipe ~

Victorian Hot Cross Buns Seller

Hot Cross buns have quite a history behind them; the idea of marking crosses on baked goods such as bread, cakes and buns goes right back to pre-Medieval times and was a visible sign that the bread was “blessed” and had the power to ward off evil spirits, as well as help with the longevity of the bread by stopping it going mouldy or becoming stale so quickly. A cross marked on the dough was alsobelievedto help the bread to rise. The first buns with crosses that were attributed to the festival of Easter came along a little later however, as Kate Colquhounstates in her excellent book “Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking“……….“In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earliest form of hot-cross bun”. It can be said that these were the earliest examples of what we know to be Hot Cross Buns today, and from the late 1600’s onwards the custom grew that special spices buns known as “Good Friday Buns” were to be marked with a cross and were to be eaten for breakfast on Good Friday.

Hot Cross Buns – straight from the oven and cooling

Although the name for Hot Cross Buns was commonly known as Good Friday Buns for nearly a hundred years, during the 1730’s the bunswere starting to be sold on the streets, and therein thename as well as the popular rhyme emerged, as the sellers would shout out ”One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot-cross buns “………..a penny for a larger bun or for two smaller ones.This tradition was still in practice as little as eighty years ago, as my dad can remember the Hot Cross Bun sellers coming around thestreetsto sell them on Good Friday. Nowadays, you can buy Hot Cross Buns all year around, which I think is a great shame, as it cheapens and weakens thehistoryand traditions behind this wonderful spiced bun.

It is to be noted that prior to our Hot Cross Buns being an edible symbol ofChristianity, there were similar small cakes made for theAnglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, and as part of the pagancelebrationof spring. And, it is well documented that the Greeks and Romans also had festive spring cakeswhichbore some similarity to our own Hot Cross Buns. The original reasons for the marking of crosses on baked goods, as well as thesuperstitionsthatgroundsthe practice, is recorded in the popular rhyme below:

“Good Friday comes this month—the old woman runs
With one or two a-penny hot cross buns,
Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,
They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.”

Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday

One of the most well-known traditions surrounding Hot Cross Buns is still in practice today and takes place in a London Pub!At the Pub, The Widow’s Son at Bromley by Bow, a Hot Cross Bun Ceremony takes place each Good Friday. In the early 19th century, a widow who lived on the site was expecting her sailor son back home for Easter, and placed a hot cross bun ready for him on Good Friday. The son never returned, but undaunted the widow left the bun waiting for him and added a new bun each year. Successive landlords have kept the tradition going after the pub was opened. You can still have a pint in the pub if you wish today, whilst admiring the collection of Hot Cross Buns invariousstages of decay! As you can see from the photo below, there is anet of Hot Cross Buns that hangs above the bar at The Widow’s Son, and each year a sailor comes to add another bun to the collection, the buns being baked specially for the occasion with the current year piped on them between the cross.

Baking for Easter - The History of Traditional Hot Cross Buns and Hot Cross Bun Recipe - Lavender and Lovage (6)

Alan Beckett places the bun on Good Friday, 4th April 1958.

But back to my recipe for Hot Cross Buns; this recipe is adapted from a Tudor recipe for spiced baked buns, and has been my favourite Hot Cross Bun recipe for some years now, mainly for the blend of spices and fruity filling, as well as a light but filling nice texture too. I add an egg to my flour paste for the crosses, hence them being so yellow – NOartificialcolouringthere, butjustgood free-range eggy goodness! However, if you prefer a cross in a lighter hue ofyellow,just rub some butter into some flour and add some milk or eater untilyouhave a stiff paste that can be piped onto the buns. I made two dozen of these yesterday in readiness for Easter as they freeze so well; just remember to take them out to defrost, although they will defrost quite nicely in a cool to warm oven and of course, some modern toasters have a “defrost” settingonthem too. I hope you have enjoyed recipenumbertwo in my Easter collection, I will be back tomorrow as usual with a rather nice egg recipe! Have agreatday, Karen.

A Hottle of Hot Cross Buns! (New Collective Noun!)

Hot Cross Buns

Print recipe

Serves 12 Hot Cross Buns
Prep time 2 hours
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 20 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Bread, Breakfast, Dessert, Side Dish, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Region British
By author Karen S Burns-Booth

A delicious traditional spiced, sticky glazed fruit bun with pastry crosses. Served as a classic Easter treat, the buns can also be enjoyed at any time of year.


  • 450g strong white bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 50g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon easy-blend dried yeast
  • 210ml tepid milk
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 100g mixed dried fruit
  • 25g cut mixed citrus peel
  • 50g plain flour (for the crosses)
  • 1 free-range egg (for the crosses)
  • 30ml milk (for the glaze)
  • 25g caster sugar (for the glaze)


If you have a bread machine, you can start the dough in the machine up to thesecondproving stage. Add the dried fruit 5 minutes before the end of kneading or when your bread machine beeps.


Step 1 Sieve the flour, salt, ground mixed spice and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, then add the sugar and yeast.
Step 2 Beat the egg and add to the flour with the tepid milk. Mix together to a form a soft, pliable dough.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully work the mixed dried fruit and mixed peel into the dough until well combined. Knead lightly for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
Step 3 Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the buttered/greased mixing bowl, then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for one hour to prove.
Step 4 Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock back the dough. Shape it into a ball again and return it to the bowl, then cover again with the tea towel and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rise.
Step 5 Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a bun shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the tea towel and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Step 6 Meanwhile, make the mixture for the crosses; mix the flour and egg to a stiff paste, but thin enough to pipe. Make the glaze too - heat the milk and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.
Step 7 Place the hot cross buns onto buttered/greased baking trays, then place the tray/s inside a large oiled polythene bag. Tie the end of the bag tightly so that no air can get in and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise.
Step 8 Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas 8.
Step 9 When the buns have risen, remove them from inside the polythene bag, and then spoon the flour and egg mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun.
Step 10 Bake the buns in the pre-heated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until pale golden-brown, and when turned over and tapped on the underneath they sound hollow. As soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush them with the sugar and milk syrup, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.
Step 11 Serve warm, split and spread with butter, or serve toasted, split and spread with butter. The cooked buns can be frozen for up to 3 months; allow 6 hours for them to defrost and serve as above.

Straight from the oven, Hot Cross Buns

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Baking for Easter - The History of Traditional Hot Cross Buns and Hot Cross Bun Recipe - Lavender and Lovage (2024)
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