Hot Cross Buns — Traditional Easter Food

The History and Heritage of This British Good Friday Treat

Hot cross buns are a popular Easter food, traditionally eaten on Good Friday. However, they have not always been associated with Christianity.

Hot cross buns are traditionally an Easter treat made popular by the British, who have enjoyed these doughy buns for centuries. They are as much a part of Easter as chocolate eggs, Easter bunnies and daffodils.

However not all consumers today actually realize their significance, and how the humble hot cross bun has evolved through the ages.

Pre-Christian Origins

The hot cross bun has somewhat of a chequered past. Although these tasty treats are normally associated with Christianity, their origins date back to pre-Christian times, when Pagans worshiping the goddess Eostre (from whom Easter takes its name) ate small cakes decorated with a cross. During Pagan times (when the conservation of food was a problem), these cakes had a special significance as they could be kept and stored for as long as a year without going mouldy.

Hot Cross Buns and Christianity

The Romans were the first to introduce hot cross buns to England. Shortly after, the buns drew their associations with Lent when in 1361, on Good Friday, a monk gave them to the poor people of St Albans in Hertfordshire. He had piped a cross of dough mixture on the top of the bun, instead of the traditional recipe, integrating a cross in the bun itself. This sweet doughy bread heralded a delicious way to celebrate the season of abstinence and henceforth hot cross buns became popular with not only the poor but with the more affluent British.

The dough to make hot cross buns was actually the same recipe used in Catholic communion wafers. In Protestant times during the reign of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I tried to ban the buns, as they represented a return to Catholicism. Such was their popularity, however, that she was unsuccessful in banning the bun totally but passed a law that bakeries could only sell them at Easter and Christmas.

Today, although these buns can now be enjoyed at any time of the year, their religious significance (with the cross standing for the symbol of cruxifiction) has lead to them becoming a staple Easter food, traditionally eaten on Good Friday.

However, in 2003, the controversy over the hot cross bun resurfaced again with several local councils in England banning the buns from being served in their schools at Easter. They did so in the name of political correctness and on the grounds that they could be offensive to non-Christians.

Hot Cross Buns and Their Healing Powers

During ancient times buns baked on Good Friday were also credited to have healing powers. Not only were these light doughy buns, made from white flour, (when most people lived on coarse wholemeal breads) considered a delicacy, they were used in to treat illnesses. Eaten in powdered form it was believed that the mixture could heal the sick.

Hanging a hot cross bun from the kitchen ceiling was also thought to ward off the presence of evil in the coming year, until a fresh batch was made the following Easter.

For many British, the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns wafting through the kitchen at Easter time is unmistakable. With their aromatic spices, tasty dried fruit filling and soft sweet dough, the humble hot cross bun provides a tasty teatime snack or a delicious breakfast food, to be enjoyed particularly on Good Friday.

Recipe: Hot Cross Buns - Make this Lenten Bread for Good Friday

Learn how to make this easy recipe.

An old nursery rhyme goes:

Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross Buns
If ye have no daughters,
Give them to your sons,
Hot Cross Buns.
This chant probably comes from Old English street vendors who used to “hawk” or chant loudly what their wares were trying to sell them. And sell them in the streets, they did!

Hot cross buns are traditionally baked eaten on Good Friday during Lent or around the whole time of Lent (40 days and nights before Easter). They are identified by a cross of icing that appears on the top giving them their name.

There is evidence of Hot Cross Buns in the 12th century where a monk is said to have baked a batch of buns and placed a cross on them to honor Good Friday or the Day of the Cross. This was the only thing allowed to be eaten during that day.

Another legend tells of an English widow who sent her son off to sea and vowed to bake him a bun every Good Friday. He never returned but she did bake hot cross buns for him and hung them in the bakery window in faith that he would come back. When she died the villagers kept the tradition going for her.

Others date the favorite yeast buns back to pagan traditions with the cross representing the four quarters of the moon.

During the 16th century the Church of England took over and being Catholic was condemned. Yet, hot cross buns still found their way into the Lenten diet.

A hot cross bun is made from a yeast dough containing milk, flour, sugar, butter, eggs, currants, and cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. It is said that if they are made on Good Friday they will never get moldy.

Here is a recipe for Hot Cross Buns that are flaking and moist and the icing on top is sweet and delicious. You have to let this overnight in the refrigerator so make the dough on Maundy Thursday and bake on Good Friday. You won’t have to worry about them moldy because they won’t be around long enough.


  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, melt then cool
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 – ½ cup currants or raisins
  • 1 egg white


  • 1 – 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped orange or lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk


  1. In a small saucepan heat milk to warm (about 110 degrees).
  2. Pour into a large bowl and sprinkle yeast over. If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast.
  3. Dissolve and let sit for about 5 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl combine sugar, salt, melted butter, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and eggs.
  5. Pour this gradually into yeast mixture stirring constantly.
  6. Now gradually add the flour. The dough will be very sticky. Stir with wooden spoon until you can’t stir anymore, then used buttered hands.
  7. Once everything is incorporated knead dough until smooth and elastic (this will take about 3 to 5 minutes)
  8. Try not to over-knead or your bread will come out hard like a stone.
  9. Cover with a clean towel and let rise 45 minutes.
  10. Take out of bowl and knead on a floured surface about 3 more minutes.
  11. Add currants and knead until well mixed. The dough will still be wet and sticky.
  12. Shape dough in a ball and place in a buttered bowl.
  13. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.
  14. Next morning take out of refrigerator and let sit until room temperature or ½ hour.
  15. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.
  16. Divide dough in 24 pieces and shape into a ball. Place on cookie sheet about ½ inch apart.
  17. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place another 1-1/2 hours.
  18. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  19. When buns have raised brush with egg white to make them shiny and bake for 10 minutes.
  20. Reduce heat to 350 and bake another 15 minutes or until brown.
  21. Move to a wire rack to cool.
  22. Right after taking them out of the oven mix in a small bowl the ingredients for the glaze. It is easier to put the glaze in a parchment cone with a cake decorating tip on it and pipe the glaze in a cross on top of the bun.
  23. Serve warm or cool.
You can use raisins or golden raisins instead of currants if you wish and you can also add about 1 teaspoon orange peel to the dough and 1/2 teaspoon orange juice into the icing ingredients if you would like.

Enjoy your Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday or any time of the year.

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