Hot cross buns are traditionally more of an English Easter tradition than an Irish one but the tasty sticky bread treats are just as popular in the Emerald Isle as they are across the Irish Sea. Hot cross buns are perhaps the strangest of the Lenten food customs as they are sweet rolls that are traditionally eaten on the most important fast of all, Good Friday. 

The origins of this very English custom are not entirely clear.  It has been suggested that hot cross buns originated in the pagan cult that preceded Christianity in Britain.  But the earliest historical mention of them is traced to a 12th century English monk who is said to have marked buns with the sign of the cross in honor of Good Friday.  A 14th-century record tells how a monk of St. Albans distributed spiced cakes to the needy on Good Friday, inaugurating an annual tradition, though he carefully guarded his recipe.

There are superstitions in Ireland related to hot cross buns and Good Friday, for example:

Hot cross buns made on Good Friday have magical powers. If you keep a hot cross bun from one year to the next, your house will be protected from fire.

Hot cross buns were eaten after sundown to break the Good Friday fast. In the Middle Ages, they were believed to have powers of protection and healing.  People would hang a hot cross bun from the rafters of their homes for protection through the coming year.  And if someone was sick, some of the dried buns would be ground into powder and mixed with water for the sick person to drink.

All kinds of beliefs prevail as to the curative properties of the Good Friday buns. Unlike common bread, they are supposed not to grow moldy when kept and stale buns are retained for all kinds of purposes - for grating into medicines, as charms against shipwreck, as a means of keeping rats out of corn, and as a general "good luck" talisman for the household, to be hung from the ceiling on a string.

In the reign of Elizabeth I, when Roman Catholicism was banned, making the sign of the cross on the buns was regarded as popery and the practice was banned.  But neither Church nor State could suppress the popular custom, so legislation was enacted to limit consumption of hot cross buns to legitimate religious occasions such as Christmas, Easter, and funerals. 

The familiar nursery rhyme, "Hot cross buns," derives from the call of the street vendors who sold them:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
If you haven't any daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
If you haven't got a penny
A ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Well God bless you. 

Hot cross buns

Ingredients

2 cups scalded milk
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cakes yeast, dissolved in 1/3 cups lukewarm water
2 eggs
8 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups currants {or raisins}
1 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg

Method

Pour scalded milk over butter and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Cool to lukewarm. Add the yeast mixture and eggs. Mix well. Gradually add the flour and salt, reserving a small amount of flour to dust raisins.

Add spice and floured raisins to the dough and knead in thoroughly. Place in buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured board. Shape dough into 30 buns and place on buttered cookie sheets.

Cover and let rise 30 minutes, then very carefully press the shape of a cross into each bun, using a spatula or the back of a knife. Bake in a 375°F oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until buns are browned, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Frost either the entire bun or just the shape of the cross.

White frosting:

1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice, vanilla or almond extract
Confectioners' sugar

Beat egg white until stiff, adding confectioners' sugar until mixture is thick. Add flavoring. If frosting is too thin, add more confectioners' sugar.

AND FINALLY… 

What do you get when you drop boiling water down a rabbit hole?

Hot cross bunnies.

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Hot cross buns. Chef Gilligan