busted halo annual campaign
Busted Halo
blog

Follow along as Busted Halo writers explore some of the food traditions associated with the season of Lent that can deepen our faith experience and help us draw closer to God.

Click this banner to see the entire section.

April 2nd, 2012

One Ha’ Penny, Two Ha’ Penny, Hot Cross Buns

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

My first ever homemade batch of hot cross buns
© 2012 Phil Fox Rose

Every year, I bring hot cross buns to an Easter brunch gathering of family and friends. Sharing food has always been sacred to me, all the more so when it’s around a spiritual event. I don’t know why I started bringing hot cross buns. We didn’t do it when I was growing up; maybe it’s my British roots, but it just seems the thing to do. (Good Friday is the traditional day, but Sunday is when we gather.) This year, for the first time ever, I am making my own, inspired in part by a recent spirituality of bread baking workshop at my church. Based on the test batch, I think it will work out fine.

The hot cross bun is not complicated to make. At its simplest, it’s spiced bread. Flavor and ingredient-wise, its noteworthy for a few reasons. First, traditionally it’s made with currants, an ingredient unknown in America except in its fellow British baked good, the scone. Second, it sometimes includes bits of candied fruit — the same atrocity that afflicts fruitcake and makes it wildly unpopular. (I prefer mine without, if you hadn’t guessed.) Third, it’s only lightly sweetened, which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your tastes.

And of course, most obviously, there’s a big honkin’ cross on the top of it, usually made of white icing.

A pagan past

Behind the description, the hot cross bun carries a surprising amount of intrigue. Even to start to tell its history lands you in controversy. We know one thing: it began in England. When and why, though, is its first mystery. While some disagree, the hot cross bun probably was a tribute to the Saxon goddess Eostre, after whom this Christian holiday got its English name. Eostre was the goddess of light, and her name was given to the month of April, which marked the return of the dominance of light, as well as of birth and new growth. Eostre ties back to the German goddess of the dawn, Hausos, who is also linked to rabbits and eggs. While the specifics of Eostre are based on an account from St. Bede which scholars dispute, the link between the German goddess Hausos, the Saxon Eostre, and the later English name and customs of Easter seems obvious.

(While the English language uses the name Easter and modern German retains Ostern, all the Romance languages and many others use a name based on the Latin Pascha, or the original Hebrew Pesach. In other word, the Christian name for Easter in most languages is Passover. Chew on that one for a minute. A few others use a name based on the Greek Anastasia, which means resurrection. Slavic and Sami languages use other words, though Russian uses Paskha.)

The cross on the bun began as an ancient Gaelic symbol depicting either the four quarters of the moon or the intersection of earth (the horizontal line) and Heaven (the vertical line), the human and divine, the physical and the spiritual. These meanings for the cross don’t contradict its other meaning, they enrich it, and you find them in Christianity, especially Celtic Christianity, sometimes too.

The bun that couldn’t be squashed

Despite its pagan roots, the hot cross bun became so entrenched as a symbol of English Catholicness that when the Protestants took power they actually banned the bun. As with most government attempts to forbid something people want, however, it didn’t last long. A compromise was struck by Queen Elizabeth I, allowing them to be sold, but only during Christmas and Easter.

The fact that the buns are not very sweet — just enough to balance the favors but not enough to taste sugary — is seen as appropriate for Lent. The use of currents rather than raisins, though an accident of location rather than something intentional, furthers this, since currents are less sweet and less juicy. It’s possible that hot cross buns were sometimes made with the same flour used for communion wafers, though this might have been propaganda from the anti-Catholics. I was excited to learn that in Australia they sometimes substitute chocolate chips for the currants, so I made some that way too. (I don’t abstain from chocolate during Lent.) I must say, it felt wrong. Even though the overall effect, despite the milk chocolate chips, was still not sweet, chocolate just seems too… decadent.

There’s a superstuition that you can cement a friendship for the coming year by sharing a hot cross bun, saying, "Half for you and half for me, between us two shall good will be." If you ask me, I’d say that’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. But by all means, share hot cross buns with your friends this Holy Week, and consider those friendships holy and protected for the year ahead! If you’re inspired to try home-cooked buns, I’ve included the recipe I used. Have a blessed Easter.

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
See more articles by (92).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Angel

    Laughing Out Loud!!! Yes, indeed catch it in the reeatps. Those Hot Cross buns look really good! I remember them from childhood, but haven’t had them in donkey’s years.We had a non-traditional Easter dinner,- shrimp stir-fry and whole-grain rice that I fried just enough to toast the grains a little (for that nutty flavour). Korean side-dishes included grated veggies fried in an egg batter, marinated lotus root and garlic, plus spinach salad (with a dressing of lemon juice and sesame oil).Great and Healthy Springtime to you!Hugs, ~ Sil

  • Emily

    I appreciate your history of this Holy Friday treat. One of the Joyful Simplicities of April from the book Simple Abundance is to make Hot Cross Buns. I’m making these now!

  • Mary Ann Rowe

    I am motivated to try this recipe this year. I will have my in-laws and possibly other guests for Easter and this would be an appropriate treat to serve.
    Thank you for the recipe and the background story.

powered by the Paulists