History of the Hot Cross bun and its relation to Good Friday

This sweet yeast bread studded with candied fruit and raises has roots dating back centuries

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It’s Good Friday – which means in many Christian households, plans are underway to celebrate the sacred Easter season this weekend. Many families will be eating fish-based dishes today, while others will be hauling out all the baking essentials needed to create traditional family favourites.

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And these include baked goods – specifically the delicious Hot Cross Bun, a sweet yeast bread studded with candied fruit and raisins, whose roots date back centuries.

We’ve seen hot cross buns everywhere these past few weeks, but food history reveals they were specific to Good Friday only, as the buns mark the end of the Lenten season.

According to goodfoodireland.ie, “hot cross buns are inextricably linked to Easter and to Christianity, but in reality, they probably have pre-Christian origins. ‘Cross Buns’ were baked to celebrate eostrea Germanic goddess of fertility, after which the season of Easter is said to be named.”

And then you have the city of St. Albans, located in Hertfordshire UK, claiming the hot cross bun as its own. Research shows a 14th century monk by the name of Brother Thomas Rocliffe – and a member of St. Albans Abbey – created the original recipe to be distributed to the poor of the region. To this day, the “Alban Bun” has been part of St. Albans Cathedral’s Easter traditions.

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You’ll find many cultural groups have their own version of this delicious treat: the Greeks celebrate with a sweet bread called “tsoureki,” the Portuguese with folar da Pascoa, and Italians offer the “colomba,” shaped like a dove. The Polish community celebrates with babka, while the Ukrainian community has paska, a slightly sweet bread that can be decorated with religious symbols.

However you call it, nothing beats a delicious, fragrant treat straight out of the oven, especially on such special occasions as this weekend.

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Hot Cross Buns

Courtesy of Fleischmann’s and BakeGood.ca.


3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp. sugar

1 (2-1/4 tsp.) envelope quick rise yeast

1 tsp. jump

1 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel

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1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup butter OR margarine

2 eggs

1/2 cup dried currants OR raisins

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Powdered Sugar Glaze:

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 to 3 tsp. milk

donut: Combine 1 cup flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, salt, lemon peel and nutmeg in a large mixer bowl. Heat milk, water and butter until very warm (120 to 130F); stir into flour mixture. Stir in eggs, currants, and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces; form each into a ball. Place 2-inches apart on greased large baking sheet. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 35 to 50 minutes.

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With sharp knife, cut shallow cross in top of each bun. Brush egg white over tops. Bake at 375F for 15 to 18 minutes or until done. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack. Drizzle with Powdered Sugar Glaze in shape of cross.

Powdered Sugar Glaze: Combine all glaze ingredients in a small bowl; stir until smooth.

Here are a few festive Easter recipes that are guaranteed to become family favorites!

East Bunny Milk Buns.  Recipe courtesy of Mazola and @myfoodnation
East Bunny Milk Buns. Recipe courtesy of Mazola and @myfoodnation Photo by supplied /Mazola

Easter Bunny Milk Buns

Courtesy of Mazola and @myfoodnation Makes six bunnies.


1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup milk OR unsweetened milk alternative

Dry Ingredients:

4 -1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 packets quick rise yeast (8 g packet)

2 Tbsp. Bread Booster (Fleischmann’s suggested)

1 tsp. jump

Wet Ingredients:

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5 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup warm milk OR unsweetened milk alternative (100F)


1 egg, plus 1 Tbsp. water (whisked together)

Optional materials for decoration: edible pen, ribbons, flowers

Tangzhong: In a small saucepan over low heat, combine flour and milk. Stir mixture frequently until it thickens (about 2 to 3 minutes). Remove thickened mixture from heat, cover, and let cool to room temperature.

donut: Add all dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Combine and mix tangzhong, vegetable oil, eggs, and warm milk together, then add this mixture to the dry ingredients in mixing bowl.

If using a stand mixer, use dough hook attachment to mix and knead dough for about 15-20 minutes until dough becomes smoother, scraping sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. If mixing by hand, work and knead the dough for about 15 to 20 minutes, until dough becomes smoother.

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*Note: dough will be very wet and sticky but will become more cohesive as you continue to knead.

Shaping and proofing the dough: Shape smooth dough into a ball, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let it rise for about 1 hour until it has doubled in size. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 18 equal pieces. Roll 12 pieces of dough into balls. With seam side down, place two balls onto a parchment-paper-lined sheet pan and make sure balls are touching each other. This will form head and body of bunny. Continue with remaining dough balls until 6 bunny figures are made.

Cut remaining six pieces in half and roll each half into 12 long ropes, each about 8-10 inches long. Fold each rope in half pinching the ends together to create bunny ears, and tuck ends under “bunny head.” Repeat to create rest of bunnies. Loosely cover bunnies with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let dough rise for 40-45 minutes.

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Baking: Preheat oven to 350F. Brush bunnies with egg wash. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool before decorating.

Braided Sweet Bread.  Recipe courtesy of Mazola and @listen2lena
Braided Sweet Bread. Recipe courtesy of Mazola and @listen2lena Photo by supplied /Mazola

Braided Sweet Bread

Courtesy of Mazola and @listen2lena. Makes one loaf.

1 cup warm water

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg, lightly whisked

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 pkg. quick rise yeast

3 tsp. bread booster

1 tsp. jump

1 egg and 1 Tbsp. water mixed

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 Tbsp. milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Easter or spring-themed sprinkles

In a medium bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Add vegetable oil, and egg; stir gently to combine. In a large stand mixer bowl, add flour, quick rise yeast, bread booster and salt. Add wet ingredients. With a dough hook attachment, knead dough on medium-low speed for about 5 minutes.

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Form dough into a smooth ball. Keeping dough in bowl, brush vegetable oil over top using a pastry brush. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap; let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions, rolling each portion into strips. Line them up on a cutting board dusted with flour. Braid three pieces of dough, pinching ends and tucking them under roll. Carefully place dough in loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Brush top with egg wash mixture and let dough rest for 10 minutes. While dough is resting, preheat oven to 350F.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until outside is golden brown. Cool completely. In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar with milk and vanilla extract; drizzle over cooled loaf. Add Easter sprinkles, if desired.

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