One theory is that the Hot Cross Bun originates from St Albans, in England, where Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a 14th-century monk at St Albans Abbey, developed a similar recipe called an 'Alban Bun' and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361.
In the time of Elizabeth I of England (1592), the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. The punishment for transgressing the decree was forfeiture of all the forbidden product to the poor. (Woolworths take note). As a result of this decree, hot cross buns at the time were primarily made in domestic kitchens. Further attempts to suppress the sale of these items took place during the reign of James I of England (1603–1625).
The first definite record of hot cross buns comes from a London street cry: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns", which appeared in Poor Robin's Almanac for 1733. Food historian Ivan Day states, "The buns were made in London during the 18th century.
English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year.
Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone ill is said to help them recover. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.
Of course we are going to do none of that. A toasted HCB and a cuppa is the best way to use it.
Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
This recipe makes traditional hot cross buns, medium spiced with a balanced amount of fruit. Of course you can vary the fruit and spice and jazz them up however you like.
Traditionally the buns contained no dairy products or eggs - intentionally lean during the period of Lent. We've decided that you can give up something else for lent and make these with some egg and butter for flavour and texture.
NB: Most dried fruit is sold in packets that contain Sulphur Dioxide as a preservative. This will kill the culture in the dough and stop fermentation. Rinse the fruit through and soak in orange juice for 1 hour before baking.
100g Raisins or currants
Juice of 2 oranges
200g Motherdough, refreshed
240g Full cream milk
2 large Eggs
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla paste
75g Treacle Sugar
Zest of 2 Oranges
450 Cake flour (Eureka works best for this recipe)
5g Cinnamon, ground
3g Ginger, ground
1g Nutmeg, ground
10g Sea salt
90g Salted butter, soft but still slightly firm in 2cm chunks
50g Icing sugar
50g Cake flour
25g Rice flour
Rise fruit throughly in fast running water. This works best in a sieve.
Place fruit in orange juice for 1 hour. After 1 hour drain fruit, strain and reserve orange juice.
Place Motherdough, egg, milk, sugar and vanilla in a blender and blitz to a smooth paste.
Please dry ingredients (excluding the Salt) in a bowl and stir through with a whisk to distribute ingredients evenly.
Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and combine to a shaggy mass. Leave to autolyse for 30 minutes.
Knead in a machine with dough hook attachment on a low speed for 1 minute to incorporate the salt.
Turn up the speed and knead on medium high until the dough forms a very elastic dough that comes away for the sides and clears the bottom. This will take about 10-15 minutes usually. The dough should pass the window pane test.
On a medium high speed, add the butter 1 block at a time. Knead until 90% incorporated and add the next block until all the butter is incorporated.
When all butter is in knead for a further 2 minutes and then add the drained fruit to incorporate.
Transfer to an oiled container and do 2 sets of coil folds to settle the dough. Leave out until increased about 30% in volume, 1 to 3 hours.
Refrigerate overnight at 6 deg C.
Remove from fridge and leave to stand for 1 hour to warm up. Weigh out into 100g balls and place into a butter baking tray. Allow to prove lightly covered with a plastic sheet until double in size.
Preheat oven to 200g C fan on.
Brush the proofed buns gently with milk or an egg wash.
Mix the flour, rice flour and water into a paste. Use a piping bag to pipe crosses onto your buns. It works best to do long lines across the buns and not one bun at a time.
Mix the icing sugar with the reserved orange juice to make a very light runny syrup. You may need to add a little extra orange juice.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the bun is nice coloured and springy. Internal temperature should be 96 deg C or more.
When the buns come our the oven, brush generously with the orange juice / icing sugar mixture. Allow the buns to cool before serving.
This recipe produces a firm traditionally texture bun. For a slightly lighter bun, add 5g baking powder to the dry ingredients.
You can also use lemon zest, chocolate drops instead of raisins etc. Use your imagination and get creative.