Hot cross buns are great. Far more so than chocolate eggs or Easter bunnies, they are what I look forward to at Easter. They take everything that is great about a toasted teacake and, somehow, with the addition of a simple dough cross on the top, make it so much better. I would happily eat hot cross buns throughout the year given half a chance.
I have decided to put my hot cross buns where my mouth is and give you a run down of a small sample of local buns.
These hot cross buns are from Darts Farm. The first thing you’ll notice is how much rounder and fuller they are when compared with mass-produced buns. Maybe it’s to do with the way they are baked or, possibly, just because they are not stacked in trays on top of each other, but these are more substantial, solid buns. And they taste good too.
These are about as fresh as you can get; they were picked up this morning from Ella, our local artisan baker. I’m not sure what time she was up this morning baking buns, but at 8:30 there was already a queue of Ashburtonians forming, eager to get their hands on some freshly baked hot cross buns. There was a delicious spiced aroma wafting around our kitchen as these gently toasted, and that carries through to the taste. The combination of spices, a sweet glaze and pieces of orange in the dough make for a delicious bun. And, as we found with the Darts Farm buns above, these are a substantial bun. Something to really get your teeth into.
Hot cross buns are nowadays eaten on Good Friday but that was not always the case (and, you might argue, is no longer the case either, as they tend to appear on supermarket shelves soon after Christmas). Traditionally, in many Christian countries, buns are eaten hot or toasted throughout lent and not just at Easter itself. At least, that’s according to Wikipedia, a site that should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Other fun facts that Wikipedia threw up were:
- In Elizabethan England the sale of hot cross buns was forbidden other than at Christmas, on Good Friday and, somewhat bizarrely, at burials. You have to be a certain type of salesman to thrive at burials I’d imagine. And a certain type of mourner too.
- Superstition says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy. This is unverifiable in the RB household unfortunately, where hot cross buns will never linger long enough to be at any risk of spoiling.
- Hot cross buns at sea (now there’s a film just waiting to be made) will protect against shipwrecks.
- Hanging a bun in the kitchen protects against fire. I may mention this to our canteen staff.
Over at Smithsonian.com they abandon any pretence at fact and embrace the myths and legends of the hot cross bun, reporting on their five favourites. The most surprising thing to be found on the whole page, however, is not one of the hot cross bun myths; it is the sentence “nowadays the cross might be made of chocolate icing or cream”. Now that is odd.
To read a far more thorough and well-cited account of the history of the hot cross bun then you could do a lot worse than visiting the Food Timeline, which helpfully lets you know that to bake two dozen hot cross buns at home in 1875 would probably cost you in the region of 1s 6d. That helpful tip was found in a book with the endearing title of ‘Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations’, prompting the title for today’s blog post.
And here, just before you go, is a final set of hot cross buns. I cannot pretend that these came from Devon (they came instead, all the way from Yorkshire) but as a sucker for marzipan in any form, there was no way I was going to be able to pass up these mouthful-sized marzipan hot cross buns. It’s a different twist on the traditional version.