One of the things I love about food is the way that different foods mark out the year, its changing seasons and its various festivals. I particularly love cooking at Christmas and Easter, partly because many of the things i make on these occasions are once a year treats: the rarity of mince pies, Christmas cake and simnel cake makes both the making and eating of them all the more exciting.
At Easter Hot Cross Buns are top of my baking list. This year, with it being an early Easter, school only broke up yesterday. And what could be a better way to start my Easter holidays than by rolling my sleeves up and throwing flour all around the kitchen. Whilst supermarkets stock very tasty Hot Cross Buns, I love the satisfaction of making them myself, even if it means that with the rising and baking time I don’t get to eat them until half-way through Good Friday. Today’s batch only came out of the oven just before lunchtime!
The origins of Hot Cross Buns are not clear. Marking a cross on bread dates back to early Christianity when this sign replaced earlier pagan signs, and it is known that spiced buns were eaten in Tudor England since a bylaw was passed forbidding the sale of these foodstuffs except on Good Friday, at Christmas and at burials. However, whether these were marked with a cross is not known.
The first documented reference to Hot Cross Buns appears in 1733, in Poor Robin’s Almanack, an annual satirical publication. The reference is to a London street cry: “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns“. This seems to be a forerunner of the well known children’s nursery rhyme which was first published in 1798:
One a penny, two a penny,
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny, two a penny,
I haven’t been able to find any references to Hot Cross Buns in literature, though Charles Dickens did write about them in an 1870 issue of All The Year Round, a weekly literary journal that he founded in 1859 and continued to edit until his death in 1870 (after which the journal continued to be published until 1895).
In his short entry on Hot Cross Buns, Dickens comments satirically on their vendors – who are only ever seen one day a year – and the unchanging price of a Hot Cross Bun (one penny):
The Hot Cross Bun. Who these vendors are, whence they come, and what is their occupation on the other three hundred and sixtyfour days of the year, are questions left somewhat in mystery; for the people are evidently not all connected with the baking trade. That the buns are all hot, that they are crossed, that they are “one a penny, two a penny,” are facts asserted in a very determined and unanimous way by the vendors. And herein is suggested a speculation—why are hot cross buns always the same price? Do we get an advantage when flour is cheap in the market; and if not, why not?
I think I’ve left this post too late for anyone to be inspired to make their own Hot Cross Buns this year, so I’ll omit the recipe and just show you my finished version. I’ll aim to be more organised and get a post out earlier next year!