Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hot Cross Buns - Half for You and Half for Me

Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be‘ - this an old Irish rhyme on the sweet bun that many of us know as a Hot Cross Bun, a real seasonal food, associated with the end of Lent (Fastenzeit), traditionally eaten and baked only on Good Friday (Karfreitag), now eaten around the Easter season, especially the week before Easter, the Holy Week (Karwoche). It's known and beloved in many countries including England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These lovelies have also been called 'one of the British Commonwealth's most loved and literal foods'.

A traditional hot cross bun is a yeasted and spiced sweet bun. It's filled with dried fruits such as raisins, currants, or sultanas and sometimes mixed peel, then marked on top with a cross that's either piped on or etched into the dough. According to the Oxford Companion to Food ,they're made from a ‚rich yeast dough of flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants and spices‘.

There is a rather definite explanation for why they appear around Easter. Of course there’s some pretty obvious Christian symbolism - bread (for communion), cross (for the crucifixion of Jesus), and spices (for the seven spices used by Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Christ’s body). Because they have a long history, there are also several stories, or tall tales, about them. And the legends and superstitions have grown considerably, over time.

One story has hot cross buns going back as far as the 12th century. It is said that a monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross, in honor of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and became a symbol of Easter weekend.

Back in the days, Elizabeth I decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials - too special to be eaten any other day, or too many superstitions. People believed the buns carried medicinal or magical powers, and feared them being abused. To beat the law, people baked the buns in their own kitchens.  If caught, they had to give up all their illegal buns to the poor.

Another tale is that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday, and hung from the kitchen rafters, ward off evil spirits for the next year. They're also said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out.  Better still, this will ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly. Yet another tale is that taking the buns on sea travels protects the boat from shipwreck.

And, my personal favorite belief or call it superstition, is the one that those who share a hot cross bun will enjoy a strong friendship for the next year.  As mentioned above, there is this old Irish rhyme that sums this one up - 'Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.'

And, apart form all those lovely tales and stories and the strong sybolism, they’re utterly delicious (that is if you are into that sort of baked goods, and who isn't), plus they're pretty fun to make too, just taking a bit of time for that yeast to do its thing and rise.

Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12; prep 3.5 to 4 hrs; bake 20 minutes)

Ingredients for the Buns
  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting (around here that’s ‚Type 550‘)
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 75g superfine (caster) sugar
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 40g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, (M), free range or organic, beaten
  • 120ml warm full-fat milk (I use 3.5%)
  • 120ml cool water
  • 150g sultanas (feel free to soak them in warm tea or apple juice for about 30 minutes prior to adding them to the yeast dough; strain well before using)
  • 80g raisins
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges (organic and/or untreated peel)
  • 1 baking apple, cored and diced, peel on (I like to use ‚Elstar‘)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
  • 1 tsp‚Mixed Spice‘*

For the crosses
  • 75g plain flour
  • 75ml water

For the glaze
  • 75g apricot jam

Mixed Spice

Mixed spice is a British blend of sweet spices, similar to the pumpkin pie spice used in the US and the Dutch spice mix called speculaaskruiden, used mainly to spice food associated with the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration on Decemeber 6.  It is often used in baking, or to complement fruits or other sweet foods. The term 'mixed spice' has been used for this blend of spices in cookbooks at least as far back as 1828.  
  • 6 tsp ground coriander
  • 6 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 6 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
Mix all spices toghether and keep in a glass spice jar for up to 4 months. Feel free to half the recipe and/or prepare smaller quantities. Left over spice mix is wonderful in fruit compotes, waffles and shortbread - no limits really.

Preparation of the Buns
  1. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto your lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin.
  3. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm spot until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.
  4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and scatter the sultanas, raisins, orange zest, apple, cinnamon and mixed spice on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Cover and leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 more hour.
  5. Fold the dough inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces (of roughly the same weight) and roll into balls. Place, fairly close together, on 1 or 2 baking trays lined with baking parchment or silicone paper.
  6. Cover each tray very loosely with cling film (kitchen wrap) and leave to rest for 1 more hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly when lightly prodded with your finger. 
  7. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (395°F).
  8. For the crosses, in a small bowl, mix the flour and water to a paste. Using a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle (or fill a freezer bag and snip off a small corner) pipe crosses on the buns. 
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. 
  10. Warm the apricot jam with a bit of water, sieve and brush over the tops of the warm buns to glaze. 
  11. Cool the buns on a wire rack BUT serve warm (best!) or at room temperature. You can eat them as they are or halvedm slathered with butter and maybe some local honey, homemade or marmelade.

In this recipe, the addition of one apple to the dough enhances the taste and lends a lovely, moist texture, you can leave the apple out and substitute mixed peel if that's what you prefer.

Hot-cross Buns!

Hot-cross buns!
Hot-cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons;
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot-cross buns!

Source: This is the most common version of the Hot Cross Buns, an English language nursery rhyme, Easter song, and street cry referring to the spiced English bun known as a hot cross bun. The earliest record of the rhyme was published in London in 1798; earlier references to the rhyme as a street cry in London, 1733, noted:

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs.
With one or two a penny hot cross buns.

Both the nursery rhyme and the street cry refer to the fact that you could either get two small buns OR one regular bun for one penny!

If dried fruits aren’t your thing you might want to try one of the many new variations on the traditional recipe, such as toffee, orange-cranberry, chocolate chip and coffee.  But make sure to mark your buns with a cross and to use the same mixture of spices though, as ‚spice' and 'the cross' are important things in all hot cross buns‘ (Dorothy Hartley's, Food in England, published in 1954).

(Ad/Werbung): my recipe for Hot Cross Buns is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the year, I talk about different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a listen (in German) HERE.

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St Christopher's Day (St Christophorus), the energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE)
  • for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE)
  • for Halloween a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (Kürbis-Gewürzkuchen)
  • for St Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE)
  • for St Andrew's Day (Andreastag) a classic Petticoat Tails Shortbread (HERE)
  • for Christmas Day (Weihnachten) these Traditional German Gingerbread (Elisenlebkuchen) (HERE
  • for New Year's Eve New Year's Eve Pretzel (Neujahrsbretzel)
  • for Candelmas Day (Mariä Lichtmess) some delightful Navettes de Saint Victor (HERE)
  • for Carnival Season (Karneval) these lovely Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevals-Krapfen) (HERE
  • for St Patrick's Day a traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread (Irisches Sodabrot)(HERE
  • for St Joseph's Day a long-forgotten but thankfully re-discovered Sweet Cotton Bread (Baumwollbrot)(HERE
  • for Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) these very pretty Palm Pretzels (Palmbrezel) (HERE)
  • for Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) an Easter Brunch at Home with Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) (HERE)
  • for the Month of May (Marienmonat Mai) these elegant Visitandines de Nancy (HERE
  • for Pentecost/Whitsun these festive Beignets (Heiliggeistkrapfen) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.


  1. What delicious and lovely buns Andrea and love your cup with the Mother !

    1. Dear Gloria,
      so glad you like these traditional Hot Cross Buns - I must say that we rather enjoy them every time I make them!
      The lovely cappuccino cup hails from 'INPETTO' a coffee roasting company in the Lake Garda region!
      Thank you for dropping by!

    2. Dear Gloria, that sounds fabulous! If you do get a chance to bake these, pls let me kno whether you enjoyed the recipe - maybe post a few pics too?!

  2. Liebe Andrea , what a great addition to the Easter brunch. I love the history behind those buns. There is so much tradition during Easter here in Europe.

    1. Lieber Gerlinde, apart from the fact that these buns taste absolutely wonderful, it's their colorful history and the tales that have developed around them that makes me want to bake them every year!
      Ich wünsche euch ein frohes Osterfest und dir eine wunderbare Zeit mit deiner Familie!
      Liebe Grüße,

  3. My mom used to bake up then frost buns for us to eat after Easter Vigil Mass. I think it's high time I follow the tradition. Your hot cross buns are the perfect inspiration!!

    1. Thank you dear Liz! Tradition in baking is a really good thing when it comes to these delicious hot cross buns - they are wonderful served with butter, jam or honey, glazed, frosted or just as is and their history is truly amazing and fun! I love serving them to my family every year during Lent - although it did take me quite a while to blog about them.
      Thank you for dropping by, my friend! Always appreciate your kind comments!

  4. These hot cross buns look so pretty and really yummy - the glaze looks so good!

    1. Thank you Amy, the apricot glaze is part of their tradition I was told and that's how I know and love them, it adds an extra element of flavor, it looks good plus its adds a bit of sweetness, which is really nice here.

  5. I absolutely love Hot Cross Buns, but haven't had them since my mother died (over 30 years ago!). Your post today brought back so many memories of her, and the buns - even the old children's rhyme... Thank you for that, and the recipe. And I promise to make them - even if after Lent is over!

    1. Dear David, although this post took quite a while to put together - it was one of the most fun post that I have written lately. Plus we got to eat lots of hot cross buns, fresh and soft and with those warm spices and fruits - they are way too delicious to bake them only for Good Friday or during Lent. If you do get a chance to bake them, please let me know whether you enjoyed the recipe! Would love to see your pics too!
      Thank you so much for your kind and wonderful comment - loved, loved it!
      Liebe Grüße nach Tucson,

  6. Andrea, the hot cross buns look amazing, and what an amazing history for this recipe. Truthfully, I've never tried a hot cross bun, it's not something that's been very traditional with my family. I will have to change that and give these a try... spices are definitely my thing. :) I really enjoyed this post! Happy Easter to you and your family, Andrea and I hope you all are doing very well xoxo -M

    1. Dear Marcelle, thank you kindly for dropping by! So nice to hear from you! I must say that Hot Cross Buns are not really a pastry you would see in bakeries around here but I have known them for many years. I ate them for the first time in Canada (many moons ago) and have been baking them ever since. So, it has become a 'newish' family tradition at our house to enjoy these lovely buns come Easter.
      Hope you and ypur lovely family had a wonderful Easter!

  7. Your hot cross buns look so tasty with all the spices and dry fruits in it....and so light and fluffy...I am sure I would not be able to stop with one...thanks for sharing this traditional recipe.

    1. Dear Juliana, from all your wonderful yeasted bread recipes that your post on your blog, I happen to know that enjoy fluffy breads and buns a lot. Personally, I love the spicyness here and the fact that the buns are loaded with dried fruits and an apple for freshness. And I enjoy them not only during Lent.
      Thank you kindly for dropping by,