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One-a-Penny Two-a-Penny Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns remind me of the nursery rhyme, but besides the song which is from English literature, there are more traditions wrapped around these raisin-spice buns than the stripes on top. Typically served during lent and especially on Good Friday, the origin is a mix of Christian and Pagan traditions. Aztecs and Incas considered the buns a sacred food of the gods; to other ancient cultures the cross represented four quarters of the moon; others believed the cross held supernatural healing powers. Christians interpreted the ‘cross’ of icing as the cross of Jesus, and in the 12th century it’s said an Anglican monk placed the sign of the cross on buns to honor Good Friday, which at that time was known as “Day of the Cross”. There’s even the tradition of some faithfuls that Hot Cross Buns were the only food one could eat on Good Friday.

Raisins or currants are characteristic to Hot Cross Buns, which set me to wondering about the history of raisins.  Since I create recipes for Sun-Maid, I checked with them. Their historical fact checking has found evidence of grape leaves in fossilized remains from roughly 12 million years ago, and earliest recorded mention of dried fruits on Mesopotamian tablets from 1700 BC. At that time dried fruits were used in breads and on spiced honey cakes for royalty.  So compared to the first dried fruits, hot cross buns in the 12th century are a relative new-comer!

For today’s baker, this Hot Cross Bun recipe is made with a dough you can let rise overnight in the refrigerator, then shape and bake in the morning. Or make ahead, freeze, and set out a couple hours before serving to come to room temperature for Good Friday and Easter gatherings.

Print This Recipe
Hot Cross Buns
Makes 24

1/2 cup warm water (110-115°F)
2 pkgs. (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
4 cups all-purpose flour, or 2 cups each all-purpose and whole wheat
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup Sun-Maid raisins
1 egg yolk
Glaze  
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Stir warm water and yeast in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl.
Heat milk and butter in a saucepan or microwave until 120°F, or very warm but not hot to the touch. Butter does not need to completely melt. Stir in sugar and salt.
Add milk mixture, egg, 2 cups flour, cinnamon and nutmeg to yeast. Beat until smooth.
Gradually mix in remaining flour. Stir in raisins. Dough will be soft and slightly sticky.
Cover and let rise in draft-free place for one hour until about doubled in bulk. Or, cover and refrigerate several hours or up to overnight.
Punch down dough and divide into 24 equal pieces. Roll into balls and place on greased or parchment lined baking sheet.
Mix egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water; brush on tops of dough balls. Let rise 30 minutes.
Bake in preheated 375°F oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Stir glaze ingredients to make a smooth frosting like consistency. Scoop into a zip-top plastic sandwich bag and snip one corner. Squeeze in a cross over cooled rolls.

Recipe from Sun-Maid Growers.  Photo by Kelly Burgoyne.

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