One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! – Traditional nursery rhyme.
The Easter season is loaded with traditions. Although a religious holiday, many secular observances are now commonplace: colored eggs, baskets full of candy, parades and bonnets. One of the most enduring is the hot cross bun. Hot cross buns have long been considered both a religious and a secular tradition of the holiday, but dating back even further, these spiced rolls were a celebration of springtime and the fruitful gardening ahead.
The ancient Greeks served an early version of these spice-laden holiday favorites as a celebration of the arrival of spring and the deity Astarte, goddess of fertility as gardens were prepared to accept new crops. The tradition of serving these “penny buns” in springtime carried through cultures and lands, especially popular in England in the time of the Tudors. It became so associated with Good Friday that a law was passed that they could only be sold on that holy day. Many years later, that the signature cross was added to honor the holiday and the name “hot cross bun” turned a springtime tradition into a religious icon of the season.
I have fond memories of an early trip to a small, corner bakery with my father on Good Friday, returning with a box of the once-a-year treat before anyone else was out of bed. These days, the tradition lands in my own kitchen. I don’t strictly adhere to the Good Friday law of the Tudors, but preparations of the gardens for spring planting are well underway. Or they will be. After breakfast.
Hot Cross Buns
- 1 cup milk, warmed to 110 degrees
- 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 4 cups flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons orange zest
- ½ cup golden raisins
- ½ cup dried currants or raisins
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup milk
Combine milk, butter, eggs, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest in a mixer with a dough hook and mix until a ball begins to form.
Add golden raisins and currants to dough and continue to mix until fully integrated.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and allow to rest 15 minutes.
Divide into 16 pieces, roll into balls and arrange in a greased 9×13 pan.
Cover and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Whisk egg and a tablespoon water together and brush top of buns.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Transfer buns to a wire rack to cool completely.
Combine confectioners sugar, vanilla extract and milk in a bowl and stir vigorously until a smooth, thick glaze forms.
Transfer glaze into a Ziploc bag, cut a small corner from the bag and pipe glaze into a cross on top of each bun.