Why do we eat hot cross buns at Easter?

We take a closer look at why we eat hot cross buns at Easter, as well as the history and traditions surrounding them.

A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins, marked with a cross on the top, and traditionally eaten on Good Friday.

The eating of hot cross buns marks the end of Lent because they are made with dairy products which are forbidden during this period. Plain buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning on Shrove Tuesday and through to Good Friday.

Different parts of the hot cross bun have a certain meaning. The cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signify the spices used to embalm him at his burial.

How are hot cross buns made?

The standard hot cross bun recipe consists of strong bread flour, full fat milk, butter and yeast. Sultanas or raisins are then added to the mixture with eggs, cinnamon and even orange zest.

Crosses are traditionally cut into the surface of the bun, however a simple way to make them is to use a paste of water and flour. The buns are then baked in a hot oven for 20 minutes till golden brown and then brushed with a coat of glaze.

They can then be served hot or cold, buttered or dry on Good Friday and throughout Easter.

What is the history of the hot cross bun?

Some believe the hot cross bun originates from St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Albans Abbey, developed a similar recipe called an 'Alban Bun' and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361.

In 1592, during the reign of Elizabeth I, it was forbidden to sell hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas.

If you broke the decree then you had to give all of your buns to the poor. As a result, hot cross buns were primarily made in home kitchens. Further attempts to suppress the sale of these items took place during the reign of James I of England/James VI of Scotland (1603-1625).

The first definite record of hot cross buns comes from a London street cry: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns", which appeared in Poor Robin's Almanack for 1733.

What are the traditions around hot cross buns?

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.

Another tradition encourages keeping a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck.

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