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Bun appetit: A history of hot cross buns + royal family’s recipe

Is it even Christmas without someone complaining about the arrival of hot cross buns in the supermarkets? Controversially, I’d argue that the supply simply answers a very clear demand: we like our buns. Whether Queen Elizabeth I would approve is another matter entirely.

Is it even Christmas without someone complaining about the arrival of hot cross buns in the supermarkets? Controversially, I’d argue that the supply simply answers a very clear demand: we like our buns. Whether Queen Elizabeth I would approve is another matter entirely.

Despite ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Egyptians, making similar types of bread marked with crosses as an offering to their gods, it’s a 14th-century monk, Thomas Rocliffe, from St Albans Abbey in England, who is credited with making the precursor to what would become the hot cross buns we know and love today.

These special buns, filled with fruity goodness and marked with a cross, were given to those in need on Good Friday, the BBC reported. 

Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns

People loved the buns so much that soon everyone wanted to make them. There’s even a belief that Queen Elizabeth I said the buns were so special they could only be sold during important religious occasions like Christmas, Good Friday, or for burials. This led to the superstition that sharing hot cross buns outside of these occasions could lead to bad luck. Take heed.

If you’re in St Albans during Lent and in the lead up to Easter, Redbournbury Watermill bakery keeps the bun tradition alive by sticking pretty close to the original recipe. Coles’ Vegemite version or its Pizza Shapes homage probably wouldn’t go down too well.

As a devout hater of said hot cross buns, no matter the variation (fruit-filled, fruit-less, chocolate or even Vegemite), I had to go elsewhere for a hot cross bun recipe. And there are lots of them, but why not go straight to the top? 

Below, you’ll find the recipe for the hot cross buns eaten by our royals

hot cross buns

Royal Pastry Chefs’ Hot Cross Buns Recipe

INGREDIENTS

1.5 free-range eggs
25g (1/8 cup) fresh yeast
375g (3 cups) strong flour
2 tablespoons unrefined caster sugar
60g (¼ cup) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
a generous pinch of salt
130ml (½ cup) tepid water
2 tablespoons candied mixed peel
2 tablespoons golden sultanas
2 tablespoons raisins
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice

For the piping paste
4 tablespoons plain white flour
1 tablespoon unrefined caster sugar
1 tablespoon cold water

For the sugar syrup
100ml (½ cup) water
200g (1 cup) unrefined caster sugar

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF, gas mark 7).
  • Disperse the yeast in the tepid water. Sieve the flour, salt, sugar and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl.
  • Make a well in the centre of the mixture. Place the eggs and dispersed yeast into a small bowl and mix together before pouring into the well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Mix together to form a soft pliable dough and work in the butter.
  • Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and carefully incorporate the dried fruit into the dough. Knead the dough for a further 5 minutes, or until it feels smooth and elastic. 
  • Divide the dough into evenly sized buns – this recipe will make about 15.
  • You can weigh them on a set of scales to ensure consistent sizes; you will need about 50 grams of dough per bun.
  • Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on to a lined baking tray and cover with cling film and leave to prove for 30-45 minutes – they should double in size.
  • While you are waiting, mix together the ingredients for the piping paste to form a paste with a consistency that will allow you to pipe a cross on to each bun.
  • Once the buns have finished their prove, pipe the crosses, then place the buns on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 8–12 minutes, or until they turn a pale golden brown.
  • Whilst they bake, boil together the sugar and water to make the sugar syrup. As soon as you remove the hot cross buns from the oven, brush them with the warm sugar syrup and set aside to cool on a wire rack.

Have a good break! And if you’re inundated with chocolate eggs this weekend, here’s a guide to what you can do with the ones you can’t eat.