Hot Cross Buns have a mixed history. Some say they were part of pagan spring festivals and later given the cross by monks wanting to give Christian meaning to the the tradition. Other accounts speak of an English widow, whose son went off to sea and she vowed to bake him a bun every Good Friday. When he didn't return she continued to bake a hot cross bun for him each year and hung it in the bakery window in good faith that he would some day return to her. The English people kept the tradition for her even after she passed away.
Holiday traditions often have pagan, as well as Christian roots and many times the symbolism has been changed over time to adapt to those using it in their celebrations. I have found that what really matters is what value the tradition has in our own families, and our own communities.
From the Grand Union Cook Book, copyright 1902, comes this recipe for Hot Cross Buns:
Make a thin batter with two ounces of yeast, half a pint of flour, one-quarter pound of white sugar and a quart of milk. Great care must be taken to prevent the flour from becoming lumpy. Let the mixture stand for an hour, then add four pounds of flour, half a pound of sugar and two teaspoonfuls of mixed spice. Make the mass into a smooth dough, cut and mold the buns and set them in a warm place where they may rise like bread. Bake in an oven such as is required for bread. This recipe makes 24 buns.
However, if you would like an up to date recipe that will be much easier to follow, the one below will work just fine!
Hot Cross Buns
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
4 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup currants
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cold water
1. Scald milk in a small saucepan, add salt sugar and shortening; cool to lukewarm.
2. Sprinkle yeast on top of the warm water; stir to dissolve. Add eggs, yeast mixture, 1 cup flour and cinnamon to milk mixture; beat with electric mixer at medium speed about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.
3. Stir in currants and enough remaining flour, a little at a time, to make a soft dough that is easy to handle. Beat well.
4. Place in lightly greased bowl and turn dough over to grease top as well. Cover and let rise until just about doubled. This will take about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough. Turn onto lightly-floured board.
5. Roll or pat to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut in rounds with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter or bottom of a glass. Pat the shapes to a bun like shape. Place about 1 1/2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Allow to rise until almost doubled for about 1 hour.
6. With a very sharp knife (serrated works well) cut a cross into the surface of each bun. Brush tops with unbeaten egg white mixed with cold water. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on racks for about 5 minutes. With a tip of a butter knife or a small spoon, fill in crosses with white frosting. Makes about 18 buns.
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, softened
1-2 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all ingredients and mix well until smooth.
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