Hot cross buns, hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny,
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Does this popular nursery rhyme ring a bell? This street cry-turned-rhyme is said to have been sung in London in the early 1700s, while selling freshly baked hot rolls. Some say it was a baker’s child who sang it outside his father’s bakery; while his father worked tirelessly to meet the needs of customers seduced by the warm aroma of currants and spices, during the annual Easter rush. However, this story is very little about rhyme, and more about the mushy, fruity, spicy yet sweet bun in the song.
Hot cross buns are distinguished from their baked counterparts by a noticeable cross – engraved or piped with icing – on their surface. Traditionally eaten during Lent, especially the week before Easter, these baked rolls are an absolute delight.
Although a staple in every Christian home at Easter, these buns were once a topic of debate, a means to ward off evil, and the last resort for those who couldn’t afford a meal throughout the year. Gulf News Food took a quick history lesson on these popular baked buns and here’s what we found out.
A well-kept 14th century secret
Many claim that these sourdough buns originated in Greece in 6 AD, however, no record of this has been found. Another story says that it was a 12th century Anglican monk, who baked these buns for the poor on Good Friday and also gave him the distinctive cross; but again there is no record to date of this discovery.
However, it was in the 14th century that hot buns finally took shape, thanks to Thomas Rocliffe, a priest at St Alban’s Cathedral in the UK. Mentions of these bakery products can be found in Ye Booke of St Albans, a gentleman’s guide to peddling, hunting and heraldry. It is believed that Rocliffe created the original and modern recipe in 1361 to distribute to the poor on Good Friday.
According to stalbanscathedral.orgthe cathedral’s official website, “The original recipe remains a closely guarded secret, but the ingredients include flour, eggs, fresh yeast, currants and seeds of paradise or cardamom. The baker remains today true to the original 14th century recipe with only a slight addition of a few extra fruits.The buns are distinctive in appearance due to their lack of a piped cross.Instead, the baker cuts the cross out of the top of the bread with a knife.
Word eventually spread about these unique buns, so much so that everyone in London wanted to try them. They soon began making these buns in large quantities, believing they had the power to ward off evil and last the whole year without going stale.
A resistance movement with delicious benefits
Eventually, in 1592, Elizabeth I of England issued an Order from the Clerk of the London Markets, prohibiting the sale of spiced bread, which included the famous hot rolls. The spices were considered a rarity and were called precious, and she felt it was “too special to eat on an ordinary day”. Anyone found in violation of this law would have these doughy, fruit-topped buns confiscated and redistributed to the poor.
However, the English were superstitious and believed that these buns had medicinal properties in addition to their other beliefs. People feared that not baking hot buns was tantamount to disobeying the power they held. Additionally, it was the belief that these buns could never go stale, which prompted people to buy and stock up for the year in case they couldn’t afford a meal on certain days.
And so they resisted the law by baking more and more hot buns, thus removing the decree once and for all.
A tasty talisman
Over time, the bun has also evolved. According to food52.com, a popular US-based food website, “Victorian recipes suggest various glazes to top the bread after baking, including molasses or honey with turmeric. The rolls had also become spicier, with the addition of mace, caraway seeds and even coriander. Most notably, hot cross buns were now decorated with crosses made from flour and water dough, rather than cut with crosses before baking.
Soon after, people started using these hot cross buns as a talisman that rid their homes and shops of evil spirits, by hanging these hot cross buns on window panes on Good Friday. Sailors also carried these hot buns before a voyage, as they believed it would protect them from sinking. A testament to this belief can be found at ‘The Widow’s Son’ at 75 Devons Road in London.
Legend has it that the restaurant was named after a woman who lived in a cottage in the exact same location. It is claimed that she hung a bun in netting from her rafters and added to the collection each year to commemorate her son, a sailor lost at sea. After his death, his cottage was renovated and generations of owners and owners have carried on this tradition, still following it today.
He also believed that sharing a warm, freshly baked bun with a loved one cements friendships. But you wouldn’t know that unless you tried it, right? So here is a quick recipe for making hot buns at home.
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