This Is Why We Make Hot Cross Buns for Easter

Nicole Austin

Have you ever wondered about the history of hot cross buns? And what are hot cross buns anyway? Find out plus get our easy recipe!

Did you know that Hot Cross Buns isn’t just the first song you learned on the recorder in elementary school, but also a traditional recipe for sweet rolls that has been around for centuries?

If you did know, maybe you’ve wondered why and how hot cross buns have become a staple on Easter morning, because I was wondering the same thing.

So where do hot cross buns come from and what's so special about them? Beyond their delicious flavor, hot cross buns are an Easter tradition your family will grow to love.

Hot Cross Buns Photo

What Are Hot Cross Buns?

Hot cross buns are a beloved Easter recipe for sweet buns that are made with yeast and often filled with spices and dried fruit such as currants, raisins or candied citrus.

Marking the end of lent and the beginning of the Easter celebration, hot cross buns are decorated with a cross on top of each bun to represent the crucifix.

Some bakers choose to mark the soft dough before baking, while others mark a sign of the cross on the tops of the buns using white icing.

The History of Hot Cross Buns

Bread has long been symbolic in religious and cultural observations, as it is one of the simplest and oldest staples for sustenance and survival.

In the case of hot cross buns, as the story goes, a 12th century monk baked buns on Good Friday and marked them with the symbol of the cross to honor the upcoming Easter holiday, creating a centuries-long tradition.

However, the practice of crossing buns actually predates Christianity and the symbolism of Jesus’s crucifixion, with historical ties to Ancient Egypt, Greeks, and Romans.

During the Middle Ages, bakers marked loaves with crosses before baking, believing that this would ensure a successful bake and ward off evil spirits that would prevent the bread from rising.

he superstitious powers of hot cross buns then evolved over many years when people began hanging them in the home to ward off demonic entities and illness.

There they would hang until the following Good Friday, when they would once again be replaced. As it was told, the bread did not spoil or mold for the entire year.

This particular tradition is believed to have started in the 12th century, eventually gaining more and more traction with Christians as time went on.

In time, Good Friday, otherwise known as the Day of the Cross, started to mark the tradition of baking and eat hot cross buns in honor of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Hot Cross Buns Image

When making traditional hot cross buns, some people carved into the dough, while others made a paste or frosting to paint on top of the buns in commemoration of the occasion.

As more people participated in baking these buns, often adding fruit and spices to represent health and prosperity, new rules were mandated by Queen Elizabeth I.

Accordingly, the beloved hot cross buns were entirely banned in England except for Good Friday, Christmas, or for burials.

It is said that many feared that the power of these buns would be abused. People who were caught baking these buns on other days were forced to give up all illegal buns to the poor.

As you might imagine, this law soon became too difficult to enforce and was ultimately rescinded.

Is it possible that the buns had secret powers? While they certainly hold special, sentimental meaning for those who celebrate Easter, there are no true indications throughout history that the buns have performed any known miracles.

The tradition lives on to this day, however, with recipes such as our traditional hot cross bun recipe and fun twists on the old favorite like our chocolate caramel hot cross buns recipe.

Hot Cross Buns Picture

To Make Hot Cross Buns You Will Need:

  • Flour - Unbleached all-purpose flour is commonly used to make hot cross buns, although some bakers prefer to use bread flour.
  • Sugar - Granulated sugar provides hot cross buns with their signature sweetness.
  • Salt - All sweet baked goods need a good pinch of salt for balance.
  • Instant yeast - Our easy hot cross bun recipes for these famous yeasted buns uses instant yeast to make them airy and fluffy on the inside. (Other recipes use active dry yeast instead, but note that the rise times are different based on the kind of yeast your recipe calls for.)
  • Spices - Cinnamon, nutmeg, Allspice and ground cloves are the signature warm spices that lend hot cross buns their unique flavor.
  • Eggs - You need two large eggs to make most hot cross bun recipes, with many calling for an egg wash made of egg yolk to brush the tops.
  • Buttermilk - If you don't have buttermilk on hand, vinegar added to milk will give you a similar acidity.
  • Butter - Unsalted butter is melted and kneaded into the sticky dough.
  • Citrus zest - Orange zest or lemon zest is commonly used to brighten up the flavor of these sweet buns
  • Water - A bit of warm water helps the dough to form while kneading, bringing it all together.
  • Raisins - It's traditional to use raisins in hot cross buns, but sometimes other dried fruits are used such as currants.
  • Powdered sugar - If you are piping icing on top, often powdered sugar is used as the basis for the signature white icing. Some people also make a glaze to brush on top once the buns are baked.

Get our hot cross buns recipe!

Hot Cross Buns Pic

How To Make Hot Cross Buns

  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine all of the dough ingredients until a dough ball forms and knead for 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Add the raisins or dried fruit of your choice to the bowl of your stand mixer and knead for another few minutes at low speed until combined.
  3. Remove the soft dough from the bowl, being sure there's no dough stuck to the sides of the bowl - it should be a nicely formed large ball.
  4. Transfer to an oiled bowl - a large mixing bowl lightly coated with oil works well.
  5. Turn the dough ball in the bowl a few times to coat it all over with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and it set in warm spot at room temperature.
  6. Let the hot cross bun dough rise until roughly doubled in size - it will take approximately 60 to 90 minutes for the first rise.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a prepared work surface and divide dough into 12 equal pieces of dough, rolling each into a small ball.
  8. Place the balls of dough in a prepared baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and move to a warm space to rise again for an additional 60 minutes.
  9. Make your icing, then use a piping bag to pipe a cross pattern onto the top of the dough for each bun before baking in a preheated oven until golden brown.
  10. Remove from the oven carefully, transfer to a wire rack and brush with sweet sugar syrup glaze if you prefer!

More Easter Sunday Favorites

Not only do we love an easy recipe for hot cross buns in our family, but we're also big fans of Easter brunch in general!

(But really you should know - I think you should enjoy hot cross buns any time of year. You don't need a special occasion these days!)

If you're looking for ideas for delicious brunch cocktails, here are 9 brunch cocktails to consider for your Easter brunch menu.

If your family is like mine and you serve deviled eggs on Easter, these deviled egg recipes will get your gathering started in delicious fashion.

You'll also want to check out our carrot cake pancakes and our popular ham steak recipe with a delicious ham glaze.

If scones are more your speed, our carrot cake scones or ham and asapargus scones will be a hit on Easter Sunday!

Planning a dinner party and need some inspiration?

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We’re chatting cooking techniques, dessert ideas, and everything in between. If you’re already a member, invite your friends to join us too!

Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.

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