Hot Cross Buns:
As both Easter and Beltaine are just around the corner, here’s a recipe for hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are an ancient Pagan food incorporated into modern Christian Easter celebrations. The first recorded use of the term “hot cross buns’ was in 1733. The idea of buns with crosses on them was borrowed from the ancient Greeks, who decorated buns with a solar cross as offerings to the Gods for the Vernal Equinox. Two petrified loaves with crosses on them were found in the ruins of Herculaneum. The ancient Saxons also baked bread with crosses at this time of the year. The shape of the bun (round) probably represented the sun and the four portions divided out by the cross may have stood for the four seasons of the year. Hot cross buns are often used as the “cakes” in the cakes and wine ceremony included in Eostre celebrations by Wiccans.
Traditionally, hot cross buns were believed to have the power to cure dysentery, diarrhea, and whooping-cough. In fact, there is an old belief that a true hot cross bun never goes moldy. It was quite a common practice for several to be set aside, dried, and hung from the kitchen ceiling as a talisman against illness. When needed, a small quantity would be grated and mixed with milk as a curative. It was even administered to cattle as a curative.
Here’s how I make them:
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup warm (105 F – 115 F) whole milk
½ oz (1 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 ¼ sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
½ cup candied peel
1/3 cup raisins
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
In a small bowl, stir together the warm milk, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Sift the flour, salt, allspice and cinnamon and ½ cup granulated sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Lightly beat one whole egg with one egg yolk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture, fruit and lemon zest. Pour the yeast and milk mixture into the well in the flour mixture. Stir until dough is formed. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured board and divide into 12 pieces. Form each piece into a round ball and place on a greased baking sheet. Flatten tops slightly and make a deep cross with a knife. Let buns rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Brush buns with an egg glaze. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for approx. twenty minutes.
One variation for the making of the cross on the buns is to make a cross on the top of each bun with pastry dough. The finished buns can be glazed or decorated with icing (like I did here) or a sugar syrup. These buns can be made a week ahead and frozen.
You can find more recipes like this in my new cookbook: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens on Smashwords.com.