Whenever I think of hot cross buns I always think of two things. The first is the obvious song “Hot Cross Buns” which I learnt to play on the recorder and memoirs of a time gone by that can only be relived in my mind. But, that sometimes is good enough…..
The Bread Van
The second, is the “bread van” that visited our community every evening …or was it Monday, Wednesday and Friday? – I can’t remember but what I do know was it visited us. The common sound of the horn alerted us to its coming, and every child would be eager to see what the “bread man” had at the back of his Suzuki Carry van. As soon as the side door opened the aroma of fresh baked goodies hit our nostrils. There was always on sale currants roll, coconut turnovers, coconut sweet bread, jam tarts, butter bread, biscuit cake (sometimes), hops bread and on Holy Week there was Hot Cross Buns.
Ah! hot cross buns I can taste it now. The hard outer crust gave way to a moist, soft, interior that would have your taste buds craving for more, but by then it would be too late because the “bread van” was long gone. So, you would either have to do without or remember to buy two or three when the van came next time.
The Traditions of Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns is also a traditional Good Friday Bread here in Trinidad and Tobago. These sweet spiced buns made with currants or raisins are very popular around this time. At the top of the buns there is always a cross marked on top or made with icing. These buns are more popular than the hard-boiled Easter egg hunt.
The origins of hot cross buns dates back centuries ago. Many Christians today see hot cross buns as an imitation of the unleavened bread eaten during passover. However, others can date the origin to the era of the Egyptians and Greeks who also had small loaves for their religious devotions and worship to their gods.
The Egyptians and Greeks considered the shape of the loaf to represent the moon. However, the Romans believed the cross symbol represented the four quarters or phases of the moon. Later, the Christian church reinterpreted the icing cross as a symbol of the crucifixion.
The popularity of the hot cross buns grew when a monk named Father Thomas Rockcliffe began the tradtion of giving hot cross buns to the poor of St. Albans, England, in 1361. The Protestants considered this a Catholic tradition and attempted to stop the practice.
However, the traditon was further solidified when Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them only on festivals such as Easter and Christmas. So by 1733, the popular hot cross buns had its own song that could be heard by street vendors selling hot cross buns: “Hot cross buns! hot cross buns! one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.”
Now, here is the original recipe for hot cross buns.
Hot Cross Buns Recipe
This recipe is surprisingly easy to make. You can even make the buns with your children. They can help shape the buns for you. Therefore, show them how to roll it into a ball using the palm of their hand. And when it is done, you can draw the cross on top of the bun.
Hot Cross Buns
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening, soft
1/2 oz. active dry yeast
1 cup warm evaporated milk
1 egg, beaten
4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 lb. currant or raisins
Glaze and frosting:
1 egg white
1/4 tsp. cold water
white frosting (sugar icing and evaporated milk)
sugar and water
The cooking time for this recipe is 15 to 20 minutes. The preparation time is about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Sift the flour. Add the yeast, sugar, salt and cinnamon to the flour.
Mix well and set aside.
Note: If you wish for a softer bun, use 3 1/2 cups of sifted flour, setting aside the 1/2 cup of flour for dusting. i.e. ( 3 for kneading + 1/2 for dusting )
Scald milk in a small pan until warm.
Scald the milk.
Beat the egg and set aside. The egg is then added to the milk. Mix well.
Cut the shortening into the flour.
Add the scalded milk and egg mixture…
…and mix well with a fork or wooden spatula.
Note: Make sure you wash them before adding.
Add the raisins. Mix well.
Scrape the sides and dust with the balance of flour. Set aside.
Knead well on a floured board.
Knead and stretch the dough continually for about 10 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball.
Note: It is best to leave the dough to rest in a warm bowl.
You can do this by pouring hot water in the bowl making sure the water touches the sides. Then pour out the water. Dry the bowl and grease.
Cover and leave the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest.
Test the dough to see if it has risen enough. This is done by poking the middle of the dough with your index finger. If the indentation remains when you remove your finger, you are ready for the next step.
Cut the dough and shape into round 2 1/2 inch buns.
Place the buns 3 inches apart on a greased baking sheet.
Cover and leave to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Next, mark a cross on the top with a sharp razor blade. Just lightly slit the surfaces of the bun.
Note: This cut should not be no more than 1 1/2 inches long and 1/8 inch deep.
Extra Note:Earlier on I also made hot cross buns without raisins and they were just as delicious.Here you can better see how the razor cuts looks.
Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F and bake the buns at 225 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and place on a rack to cool. If you wish, you can fill crosses with white frosting when the buns cool.
Here is how to make the white frosting for the buns:
Mix icing sugar and milk.
Mix well. Keep adding icing sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth. It should not be runny.
By the way here is how the hot cross buns look without the raisins came out. These were brushed with melted sugar.
By the way while you’re at it don’t forget to sing the song “hot cross Buns” while you prepare these tasty buns.