According to ancient superstition, baking your own hot cross buns on Good Friday will help you win friends, influence people, protect against kitchen fires, and guarantee that all bread baked in your kitchen turns out perfectly.
It’s not as though we should need to be persuaded to tackle a bake like the hot cross bun (the home bakers’ “challenging-but-achievable” holy grail), but if I did then the list above would swing it for me every time.
There are tonnes of stories, superstitions, fables, bits of folklore and even a well-known song about hot cross buns, but my favourite part of their history is a certain decree passed by Queen Elizabeth in the 1500’s. Lizzie said that bakers could only sell hot cross buns on Good Friday and Christmas, which led to good home-bakers (and those who had enough money to buy in the spices and rich ingredients needed) to covertly bake them at home, and risk full-batch confiscation if busted by the hot cross bun cops.
Consider the uproar if our Royal Family today banned the baking of, say, doughnuts, cronuts or even our famous jammie biscuits – I like to think that late-night black-market baking clubs would spread amongst those with a big enough kitchen and black-out blinds.
Another of my favourite hot cross bun fables is the idea that the gifting of a hot cross bun guarantees ongoing friendship for the coming year. On a more general-baking level I can certainly attest to this one – I’ve managed to solve staffing problems, call in free meals, and even bribe delivery drivers through the use of a parcel of cookies still warm from the oven, and hot cross buns are no different. Being the world’s best pal might just be as easy as whipping up a batch of warm Easter treats as a present.
However, hot cross buns do have one slight flaw: the proper method is slightly time consuming, so you would be forgiven for questioning the point of taking the time and trouble to bake your own – especially when you can easily get cheap buns from supermarkets. However, your own buns will always be not only more satisfying but better than mass-produced versions, and the recipe really is that perfect balance of slightly tricky and totally achievable. Jamie’s hot cross bun recipe has a brilliant step-by-step guide to making your own, and the results will leave you feeling impossibly proud, and if the superstitions are to be believed, endlessly popular.
There are things you can do to take your homemade hot cross buns to the next level, and make sure they come out brilliantly every time. Here are my top tips:
Tips for perfect hot cross buns
- Use your baking muscles when making hot cross buns – no cheating with a dough hook on a mixer! Use your hands when mixing ingredients and engage your tummy muscles when kneading – I guarantee you’ll end up with a warm glow, a bit of a sweaty brow and you’ll absolutely deserve the treat of a hot bun fresh out of the oven.
- When your dough is rising, sit the baking tray on top of a big bowl of hot water, so the steam and heat will transfer to the dough and it’ll rise a bit quicker
- Try splitting your dough into two and using currants in one and cranberries in the other, or even dried cherries for a bit of a change
- To avoid dry buns, soak your dried fruit for about half an hour in hot water – this’ll make them swell and keep your buns satisfyingly plump for longer
- Try a few different recipes for the cross on top – some people use a standard water and flour bun wash, but you can also try a line of thinly rolled marzipan, or a little dotted line of candied peel, raisins or even poppy or chia seeds for a bit of a change
- Play around with different spices, such as cardamom or saffron, if you have some in the back of your cupboard
- Freeze any spare baked buns you have leftover – they’ll make a brilliant last minute treat if defrosted and toasted later in the year
- Finally, if you forget about your buns and they go a bit stale, consider baking a brilliant hot cross bun-stylee bread and butter pudding