Easter is almost here and that means it’s time for Hot Cross Buns!
Hot Cross Buns are a symbolic baked treat, traditionally eaten throughout Lent and on Good Friday specifically. We don’t know who invented the bun first. Many cultures celebrate the Spring with fruit-studded buns and some include a small cross on the top. English folklore says that in 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliff, of St. Albans Abbey, created a yeasted-sweet bread with dried fruits and aromatic spices to feed to poor. Since it was Good Friday, he crossed the top of the bun with his knife. The buns were so popular, other bakers created imitations of the “Alban Bun” that they called “Hot Cross Buns.” Even if this is just folklore, we are quite sure that the Brits invented the name and modern conception of the Hot Cross Bun.
We can immediately see and smell its modern religious symbolism: The cross is obviously a very clear reminder of to Jesus’ crucifixion, and the smell of the exotic (at the time) spices relates to the spices brought to his burial.
Hot cross buns begin showing up in the stores in January around here, but that’s just too soon for me. I don’t make them until right around Easter. These buns are a great little baking project and make a really nice breakfast or brunch treat. They’re gently spiced, not very sweet, and are lovely toasted and spread with a little salted butter.
These buns are traditionally studded with sultanas (the UK term for golden raisins), raisins, or currants, and spiced with warm baking spices including orange zest. I’ve changed the dried fruit, but I want to maintaining those traditional spices including that lovely hint of orange. Instead of raisins, I used tart dried cherries and dark chocolate to add some richness.
There is no one Hot Cross Bun recipe. As with most ancient foods, we find variation all over the place. Some older UK recipes make the cross with a shortcrust pastry, but modern UK recipes use a traditional flour and water paste. American recipes pipe icing instead. To get some extra sweetness and add a lovely shine to the buns, the UK recipes brush the tops of freshly baked buns with a little warmed golden syrup, honey, or apricot jam. I love the shine this little step gives but only want a little sweetness, so I opt for a dash of golden syrup.
Bakers–including Bro. Thomas of St. Albans–probably didn’t know what “aromatic spices and perfumes” were used for Jesus’ burial. The Alban bun uses for cardamon and grains of paradise, for example, which are clearly not historically accurate. To conjure up an aroma of what those spices might smell like, modern UK recipes use a very aromatic mixture of spices very similar to a pumpkin spice blend called “mixed spice.” If you can’t find mixed spice, a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice works well.
If you haven’t had Hot Cross Buns, they’re a lovely treat with rich history and symbolism. This recipe uses dried cherries and chocolate to add a rich flavor to an already richly historic bread.
If you like these Hot Cross Buns with Dried Cherries & Dark Chocolate, you might also like:
Hot Cross Buns with Dried Cherries & Dark Chocolate
- 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar separated
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and slightly cooled
- 1/2 cup milk warmed to between 100*F-110*F
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 1/3 cup tart dried cherries
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate
For the cross & glaze
- 1 egg beaten
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon of honey or golden syrup warmed
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, sea salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. In a measuring cup stir together the milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over this mixture and give it a quick stir. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast begins to foam and bubble.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the milk/yeast mixture, then the butter, then the egg. Mix on low for about 1-2 minutes until every thing begins to come together. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Add in the orange zest, cherries, and chocolate and mix for another minute until it's all combined.
When the dough is done mixing turn it onto the counter and shape it into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into six roughly equal pieces. I tend to weigh the pieces to make sure they're similar sizes, but you can do either. Shape each piece into a ball. Place the buns in a greased baking dish, or on a greased sheet pan, about 1 inch apart from each other. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm, draft-free place for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the buns have doubled in size. At that point, the buns should be touching or almost touching. Preheat the oven to 375*F.
A few minutes before the buns are done proofing, mix together 1/4 cup flour and 1 tablespoon water until all the flour is absorbed. It should be a very thick paste. If it's too thick add a tiny bit more water at a time, stirring to combine. Place the paste in piping bag. When the buns are ready, brush them with the beaten egg and then pipe a cross on top of each bun.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden, rotating halfway through baking.
Remove from oven, brush with warmed honey (or golden syrup) and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on cooling rack for at least 10 minutes. Eat warm with butter now or reheat later. Enjoy!