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Hot cross buns: traditions and silliness (oh and a recipe)

Kate is a big fan of hot cross buns, I, to be honest, don’t really see what’s so fantastic about them. But hey ho, that doesn’t mean I can’t experiment with making some so Kate can have a treat.

Just in case you live somewhere in the world where hot cross buns haven’t already appeared on supermarket shelves, in bakeries and in adverts, basically they are a spiced bun with dried fruit and citrus which get eaten traditionally around spring time in the UK. They have a cross marked on top which I suppose is why they get associated with easter.

As with most traditional foods, there is no definite evidence of where they originated or when, but tradition says that these originated with a monk in St Albans in the 14th century. The spices and cross were said to be representative of Jesus being crucified and his body embalmed.

Folklore in the UK include:

  • buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year,
  • if someone is ill a piece of hot cross bun will help them recover,
  • hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck, and
  • If hung in the kitchen, they will protect against fires and make sure that all your bread turn out perfect. You need to replace the hanging bun each year though.

Regardless of how true any of this is, let’s make some buns.


for the buns

  • 250ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • 600g bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 80g sugar
  • Tbsp fast-action yeast
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 75g dried fruit (raisins and sultanas)
  • 50g mixed peel
  • zest 1 orange
  • juice of said orange
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cardamom

For the cross (or other decoration)

  • 75g plain flour
  • about 6 tbsp water

For the glaze

  • 3 tbsp marmalade

Let’s bake

Ok first thing, warm your milk. Keep an eye on this as if it boils over, it’s a nightmare to clean up. Once it is warm to the touch, take it off the heat and add the butter to melt into it. Give it a wee stir.

Next, add your dry ingredients to a bowl or your mixer bowl, (flour, salt, sugar and yeast). Add your beaten egg, and the milk / butter mixture. Give this a good mix to bring it together and knead, either by hand or with the dough hook for about 5 mins until it is smooth and elastic. It is meant to be a slightly sticky dough, so don’t worry. It will come together, just be patient. Add the dried fruit, peel, zest and spices to the dough and give it a good knead to incorporate. Put it into an oiled bowl, cover it and put it aside to rise for about an hour. Until it has doubled in size.

Once it’s risen, punch it back by giving it another short knead and then cover and leave it aside again.

So that’s two rises (is that the right word)?

Once the dough has risen for the second time, divide the dough into even pieces, I usually get about 14 or 15. Roll each piece into a smooth ball and arrange the buns on a big baking tray or two if you don’t have one big enough. Leave enough space for the balls to expand, but I like the whole thing of them touching when they are baked so you have to tear them apart (like bread rolls) so I don’t give them masses of space, about a cm.

Cover them with a tea towel or put them in a proving bag if you have one and leave them to double in size again. I know, I know, but it’s worth it, trust me, they will be soooo scrumptious. It will probably be between half and hour and an hour. Meanwhile you can preheat your oven to 220C/200C fan.

Once they are risen, for the decoration on top, be it a cross, a smiley face etc, mix 75g plain flour with about 6 tbsp water to make a paste. You want it to be thick enough so that it doesn’t fall out of the piping bag. Add the water 1 tbsp at a time so that you don’t add too much if it isn’t needed.

Then put that into a piping bag and pipe your design onto each bun. A cross is easiest as you can do this in big lines across the whole batch but feel free to get creative. I went with some hearts for Kate… awwwww!

Bake for 20 mins on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

For the glaze

Gently heat 3 tbsp marmalade to melt it, then while it’s still warm, brush it over the top of the buns and leave to cool.

Warning this makes them really sticky! REALLY sticky!

Now go eat. Kate prefers them cut in half and toasted with butter and marmalade spread on each half, but they also make fantastic french toast 🙂

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