Hot Cross Buns - Toes y Groes

As we run through Lent and up to Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Resurrection Sunday, I thought it would be fitting to make authentic Hot Cross Buns. 

In Welsh, we call them Toes y Groes - 'Dough of the Cross'

Like any good bread product, the Hot Cross Bun is blessed with a fair amount of social history. 

The concept of marking cakes with the sign of the cross dates back to as early as the 6th century Greeks. The Anglo-Saxons studded their own bread with fruit and marked it with a cross to help it rise when being baked. 

However, we can safely say, through documented evidence, that the Hot Cross Bun, as we know it, was first produced by Brother Thomas Rodcliffe a monk at St. Alban's Abbey, 25 miles north-west of Westminster Abbey, London. 

The winter of 1360 had been remarkably cold. In fact, the pattern of winters in the first half of the 1300's had been so harsh as to have been worthy of record. In 1351, on Easter Sunday, hailstones had killed both horses and men in the army of Edward III. 

In anticipation of an equally cold Easter of 1361, Brother Thomas took the liberty of adding warming spice to the fruited 'Alban Bun', which were distributed to the poor along with a 'basin of sack' outside of the Abbey on Good Friday. 

At the time, buns made during Lent, between Shrove Tuesday and up to midday on Good Friday, had to be made without dairy products. The 'Alban Bun' of the 1300s was marked with the sign of the cross as a way of blessing the bread but also because it was believed that it took on the power to ward off evil spirits and also prevented the bun from going mouldy. 

By the times of Elizabeth I and James I of England, hot cross buns and other spiced breads could only be sold and eaten on Good Friday, at Christmas or at funerals. As a result, they were not often made commercially but tended to be the product of domestic kitchens. 

In Poor Robin's Almanac of 1733, we come across the first recorded street cry of the Hot Cross Bun seller 'Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny, hot cross buns". It's not until the 18th century, that we start to see actual recipes for the 'Alban Bun' which, by then, was known as the 'Good Friday Bun'. 

English folklore is always surprising. The hot cross bun found its way aboard ship where it was said to protect against shipwreck. Housewives hung a bun up in the kitchen to protect the house against fires and to ensure successful bakes throughout the year. The bun would be changed annually.

If you buy mazanec in Slovakia or the Czech Republic, or the 'Not-Cross Bun' in Sydney, Australia, you may think you're having a similar product. But there is only one genuine Hot Cross Bun. And here it is....

INGREDIENTS

This will make 12 buns

500 gms strong white bread flour

300 mls milk

1 egg (beaten)

200 gms sultanas

50 gms candied mixed peel

75 gms caster sugar

2 teaspoon mixed spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 lemon - zest only - finely grated

10 gms sea salt

10 gms fast action yeast

40 gms unsalted butter

for the topping

75 gms plain all-purpose flour

100 mls cold water

2 tablespoons golden syrup (for glazing)

In addition you'll need a piping bag and a 3mm nozzle. 

METHOD

Making

  1. Into a large mixing bowl add the flour, sugar, lemon zest and spices. Mix well together.
  2. Add the salt and mix well.
  3. Add the yeast and mix well. Put the bowl to one side.
  4. Melt the butter in a small pan. 
  5. Warm the milk in a separate pan. 
  6. Add half of the milk to the butter and stir. Add this to the dry ingredients.
  7. Add the egg to the mixture, bringing all the flour into the mix. 
  8. Slowly add the rest of the milk until you have a pliable dough. You may not need all the milk. It will depend on your flour and the vagaries of the season. 
  9. Tip the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. 
  10. Knead by hand, incorporatng the sultanas and the peel into the dough. 
  11. Gently knead for 10 minutes until you have a silky and elastic dough ball. 
  12. Tip the dough into a light-oiled bowl, cover with cling film or a shower cap and leave it to rest for 90 minutes or until it has doubled in size. Resting temperature should be between 20 - 23 degrees C.


Once it's doubled in size
  1. Tip out the dough and weigh it. 
  2. Divide it into 12 equal portions
  3. Line your baking trays (you may need one or two depending on their size). Roll each portion of dough into a ball and place on the tray. Flatten the top with your hand. Place them close together so that they will touch when they expand - this is referred to as 'batching'. 
  4. Cover each tray with cling film or parchment paper and leave at room temperature (approximately 20⁰C) for 40 - 60 minutes until they have doubled in size. 




Baking

You can see why I bake.....and I don't do 'sugarcraft'!

  1. Preheat the oven to 200⁰C
  2. In a small bowl, mix 100 mls water with 75 gms of plain flour unti you have a paste. 
  3. Spoon the paste into an icing bag fitted with a 3mm nozzle. 
  4. Pipe a cross on the top of each bun 
  5. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown.
  6. Meanwhile, melt the golden syrup in a pan.
  7. Remove the buns from the oven and, whilst they are still warm, brush the buns with the golden syrup to give them a good shine. 
  8. Cool on a wire rack. 
Toes y Groes - Hot Cross Buns - Good Friday Buns - Alban Buns


I love Hot Cross Buns toasted for breakfast, smothered in best salted butter. Or, serve them buttered and sliced with a mature Cheddar cheese. 

Cheese and fruity, spiced bread is a marriage made in Heaven. 

The buns will freeze. 

Happy baking....Happy Easter!

Pob Hwyl gyda'r Pobi....Pasg hapus!....


POSTSCRIPT

The dough for these buns can be made by machine. 

If you're using a machine, add the flour and the salt to the pan and cover with the liquid. Leave to autolyse for fifteen minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients (except the sultanas and the peel) and choose a Basic Dough Raisin programme (2hrs 20 minutes). The machine will 'beep' when it's time to add the raisins and peel. Then proceed to the next stage. 






Comments

  1. Taking you back earlier than 6th century Greeks. The earliest record of cross–embellished "Easter" buns is from 4000 BC — a celebration of the death and resurrection of the Babylonian man/god Tammuz, who gets a mention in the Old Testament in Ezekiel and has a Hebrew month named after him.

    His virgin mother Semiramis fell from the moon in an egg. Tammuz was apparently very fond of rabbits, and his followers made spicy buns marked with a cross to remember his death and resurrection.

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