Solving the Mystery of Hot Cross Buns with 5 Recipes

We take a look at the mystery behind the history of these religious treats… by eating them
Kate Whitaker

No matter what the history of hot cross buns is, they're still delicious.

Whether you’re religious or not, you’ve most likely heard of hot cross buns. The small, spiced buns flecked with dried fruits and marked with a cross have been around for centuries, and their origins have strong ties to religious and folk traditions. Whether they came about for religious reasons or superstitious ones, though, there’s one thing that everyone can agree upon when it comes to hot cross buns: their history is hazy.

Click here to see 5 Recipes for Hot Cross Buns

Written history suggests many different origins for the baked goods. While today they’re strongly tied to Christianity as an Easter tradition, some believe they started as a pagan tradition, where they were given as an offering to the goddess Eostre. Along with the pagans, it’s believed that the Saxons, Romans, and Greeks offered them as well. Although some say hot cross buns came about as offerings to the gods, others believe they were given to the poor by monks who visited their abbeys on Good Friday. Over time, though, the notion of the buns as an offering to Eostre developed and they became an English custom for Good Friday.

The confusion continues, though, because although a hot cross bun’s English connection to Easter and Good Friday is now a widely understand notion, some say they may not be so British after all; some reports claim they were banned by the Protestants when the Church of England took power because they were a Catholic tradition. According to some religious historians, the buns have a strong connection to Catholicism: the cross, the spices which Jesus was buried with, and the bread, which is offered as communion in services today.

In addition to the baked good’s religious roots, there are superstitious meanings behind it, as well. Some believed that if they were baked and hardened on Good Friday, they would protect the house from misfortunes over the next year. There are records that say the buns would accompany sailors on voyages to protect them from shipwrecks, and others believe they were baked and divided between people to reflect a strong tie in their relationship.

As one can see, trying to determine the exact origin or history of the tiny buns is quite a difficult task. Are they a pagan tradition or a Christian one? Are they meant to symbolize religion or folklore? Were they offerings to the gods or gifts to the poor? Determining why and how they became a part of Easter traditions becomes challenging, but when you take a step back, you realize that there’s one thing that keeps their tradition going strong: they’re delicious.

Fluffy and moist enough to pull apart, full of flavor from spices and dried fruits, and decadent with a drizzle of icing, hot cross buns make a delicious Easter treat. Rather than spin ourselves into circles over their history, we decided to solve the puzzle of the hot cross bun by exploring different recipes for how to make them. From versions with English roots and Irish roots to gluten-free varieties, these recipes don’t make you wonder about why they’re here, they help you celebrate the fact that they are. These recipes put aside the mystery of hot cross buns' origin, and easily make them a new part of your Easter tradition… for whatever reason that may be.  

Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce 

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