Blessed be the Buns - A History of the Hot Cross Bun

By Alicia Upton on 02/04/2021

The return of spring brings many things- fresh blossoms, bird song, and for many of us, what feels like a new lease of life. Bright new beginnings call for celebration, and for civilizations throughout history that has meant one thing- the humble hot cross bun.

Eating a warm and generously buttered hot cross bun can feel like a religious experience, so you’d be forgiven for believing they were a Christian treat. The white cross emblazoned across the top seems like it could mean nothing else.

Indeed, the invention of the hot cross buns is widely credited to the Cathedral of St Albans, where a 14th Century Monk baked spiced buns to distribute to the poor on Good Friday.

In truth, Religions have been fighting over hot cross buns for millennia, and who can blame them- I too have been known to start a scuffle over them mself!

The Saxons ate buns marked with crosses during pagan spring celebrations to honour Eostre- Goddess of spring and fertility. The crosses, in this lifetime, signified the four phases of the moon. Similar practice has been documented across the globe- Greeks indulged in honour of Artemis (Goddess of the moon, maidens and the hunt) and the Romans in honour of her Latin counterpart, Diana.

Christianity was quick to co-opt the pagan spring festival, bringing new life to the hot cross bun. The cross was repurposed as a signifier of the crucifix and Eostre, although immortalized in naming the festival ‘Easter’, was forgotten in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

Alongside this religious relevance, the hot cross bun is the centre of a rich history of folklore. Legend has it that if you hang a freshly baked hot cross bun from the kitchen rafters on Good Friday (and manage to resist the temptation of eating it!) it will remain fresh and mould free for the entire year.

Almost like an edible evil eye, a hanging hot cross bun will protect against evil spirits and act as a magical kitchen cure all- not a single loaf will burn under its protection.

When crumbled into water, these treats were used to treat all manner of ills and ailments. Perhaps this Easter miracle could save us from the Covid pandemic?

Sailors would often take the buns on long voyages, as they were said to reduce the chance of shipwrecks. However- this magical protection does have its limits. Hot cross buns have been found in the ruins at Herculaneum (a city neighbouring Pompeii, also preserved by the blast) - clearly their cover doesn’t extend to volcanic eruptions!

Much like the Christians and the pagans, I’m sure we’ll all be fighting over the last hot cross buns this season, meaning it may be time to get baking! So why not try out this week’s recipe and bake some of our beautiful boozy hot cross bun and butter pudding with Duncans delectble blossom custard. Whether you dedicate them to Artemis, Eostre or Jesus, Easter is the perfect time to break (deliciously spicy) bread and celebrate the beginning of spring.

 

Hot Cross bun and butter pudding

Ingredients

  • 300ml double cream
  • 600ml milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla essence 
  • A couple of shots of Rum (or (holy) spirit of your choice)
  • 8 hot cross buns 
  • 40g butter 
  • 3 tbsp chunky marmalade (Home-made obviously)
  • icing sugar , for dusting

 

Method

  • STEP 1
    Whack the oven up to 170C/150C fan/gas 3. Warm the cream and milk in a pan over a gentle heat. Whisk the eggs, sugar, rum and vanilla together with a fork in a large bowl, then gradually add the warm cream mixture whisking as you go.
  • STEP 2
    Halve the buns, toast them lightly and spread with the butter. Arrange in a large shallow ovenproof dish (approx 25 x 32cm), brush the marmalade on top.
  • STEP 3
    Pour over the cream mixture and set aside to soak for 15 mins. Press the buns down into the custard mixture as they soften making sure they are well covered in the stuff.
  • STEP 4
    Bake for 50 mins until set, then remove and allow to stand for 10 mins. Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve while still warm.

Blossom Cusard

Ingredients

  • 200ml double cream
  • 700ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks (make meringue with the whites and crumble over pudding before serving)
  • 3 tbsp cornflour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp Blossom Syrup (sugar, water and either apple or cherry blossom)

Method

  • STEP 1

Make you’re blossom syrup by dissolving one part sugar in one part water over a gentle heat.  Chuck in the blossom (this should be equal in the volume to the sugar),  allow the blossom to steep in the syrup for ten minutes or so to impart as much flavour as possible.  Seive out the blossom.

 

  • STEP 2

Put the cream and milk into a large pan and gently bring to just below boiling point. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the yolks, cornflour, sugar and blossom syrup. Gradually pour the hot milk mixture onto the sugar mixture, whisking constantly.

  • STEP 3

Wipe out the saucepan and pour the mixture back into it. Heat gently, stirring with a wooden spoon until the custard is thickened. 

 

Photo by Jasmin Waheeb on Unsplash

 

Article written by Alicia Upton

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