Originally added to the website April 2017, added again now - it's that time of year again, we're thinking hot cross buns again...
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns! So starts the old English nursery rhyme, on the sweet bun we all know as a hot cross bun. It’s a real seasonal food, eaten around now, the Easter season, here and in many other countries. But what’s the New Zealand take on these buns?
A traditional hot cross bun is a yeasted and spiced sweet bun. It's made with raisins or currants, then marked on top with a cross that's either piped on or etched into the dough.
There isn't one clear explanation for why they appear around Easter. Of course there’s some pretty clear Christian symbolism - bread (for communion), cross (for the crucifixion of Jesus), and spices (for the spices used to embalm at his burial).
But there are several stories, or tall tales, about them. They have a long history. And the legends and superstitions have grown, over time.
A monk and a cross
One story has hot cross buns going back as far as the 12th century. A monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross, in honour of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and became a symbol of Easter weekend.
But the first definite record comes from a 17th century text. "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns.” Here’s where the nursery rhyme begins.
And not for every day
Some say the buns should only be eaten for a limited time. Some say just Good Friday.
Back in the day, Elizabeth I decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials - too special to be eaten any other day, or too many superstitions. People believed the buns carried medicinal or magical powers, and feared them being abused.
To beat the law, people baked the buns in their own kitchens. If caught, they had to give up all their illegal buns to the poor. And that’s not all…
Plenty of superstition
One tale is that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday, and hung from the rafters, ward off evil spirits for the next year. They're said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out. Better still, this will ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly.
Another tale is that taking the buns on sea travels protects the boat from shipwreck.
And we like the one that those who share a hot cross bun will enjoy a strong friendship for the next year. An old Irish rhyme sums this up. "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.”
And here in New Zealand
It’s certainly easy to share them at the moment. There seem to be hot cross buns all around. They’re even worth driving a fair way for. Volare Breads in Hamilton is an award winner and is busy baking hot cross buns at the moment. They're damn good, we can tell you….
And they’re pretty fun to make too, just taking a bit of time for that yeast to do its thing and rise.
As to that New Zealand take on the buns….how about those chocolate buns? We’ve heard of UK variations, on the traditional recipe, such as toffee, orange-cranberry, and apple-cinnamon. And, apparently, in New Zealand (and Australia), we’ve popularised a chocolate version (and there's talk of a coffee version too). So it’s the same mixture of spices, but chocolate chips instead of currants.
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons. That’s how the rhyme goes on. How about we give them to all daughters and sons, they could even share a bun, chocolate or not, and make the most of this seasonal treat….