Signs of Spring in the 18th Century: Hot Cross Buns

Once they were one a penny, or two a penny, but that was two centuries ago. Given the passage of time, the price, now one for two dollars, sounds both dear, and quite reasonable.  And so every spring, the week or two before Easter,  we go looking for hot cross buns.

If we were in England, where the hot cross bun is said to have originated, this would be no challenge at all.  Right now British groceries are selling hot cross buns in seven varieties, including toffee, orange cranberry, and apple cinnamon, and carry three varieties the year around.  As if clotted cream weren’t reason enough for gustatory jealousy, now the British can have hot cross buns any day of the year.

Alas, we do not live in England.  And it seems nobody around here bakes the hot cross bun any more.  There were a few last year, snapped up as soon as they hit the counters so timing was of the essence, but nary a one this past weekend.

“Never heard of them,” claimed the young man manning the counter at the Trapp Family Lodge, looking blankly at us.  As an editorial remark I’d like to add this is the Trapp Family Lodge. That would be the Sound of Music Von Trapp family.. you know, the ones who had a priest as a music director and helped to build the Catholic church in the resort town of Stowe.  And their counter clerk has never heard of hot cross buns.  There are several members of that family likely rolling in their graves right now.

“We might do a few if people ask for them,” shrugged another baker dismissively.

Can you find hot cross buns at your local bakery?  If not, people, we need to start asking, nay, we need to start demanding, hot cross buns.

The miracle of loaves and fishes has nothing on the average serving size of a brownie, bar, or cookie in my town.  A pre-school could be fed on a single slab of the coconut dusted, graham cracker crusted, chocolate studded après ski snack sold down the road from me.  A single lemon muffin at the next shop is sufficient for two, if you remember to pack a knife so one person doesn’t get all the top glazed goodness.  Cupcakes can no longer rightly reference a “cup,” they are the size of a Parisian gâteau.  There’s a reason French women are slender and sophisticated.  They share those things with four of their equally slender and sophisticated friends.

Too sweet, too big, too much… we need to revive the lightly spicy bread roll, smelling of ginger and nutmeg, studded with currants and lemon, decorated with a quick sweet shot of icing, which is the hot cross bun.

The hot cross bun can trace its lineage back to the Romans, who scented and flavored small sweet leavened breads with caraway and other spices.  While the bun doesn’t get dubbed “hot” until 1733 (prior to that it is simply a “cross bun,” “Good Friday bun,” or “wigg,”) we do know, thanks to Samuel Pepy’s diary, the buns were traditional Lentin fare by the mid-1600s.

Creating the Hot Cross Bun.. (more)

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