They’re one of the best loved Easter treats but where did the idea of hot cross buns come from? Did you know they were once banned? Or that it is believed that they were invented by a monk?

Well, we’re here to tell you the history of hot cross buns and how to make your own this Easter.

While today we enjoy hot cross buns from around January until the end of Easter, traditionally, they are only to be eaten on Good Friday in Christian communities and are symbolic of the crucifixion. Despite this, hot cross buns actually pre-dates Christianity. Sweet buns featuring a cross on the top were baked to celebrate Eostre, a pre Christian festival which acknowledged the Goddess of Fertility. We get the word Easter from her and she is often depicted surrounded by spring flowers and baby animals. Buns were baked for Eostre, with the cross to separate into four quarters to represent the phases of the moon.

Similar buns were baked in Ancient Egypt. They would create small round shaped bread that was topped with crosses to celebrate the Gods and later, Greek and Roman communities would offer sweetened bread to Eos, the Goddess of morning. The English word “bun” even comes from the Greek word, boun, which means ceremonial cake and bread.

Back then, these ceremonial buns were eaten hot and dipped in honey – which is where the glaze comes from on the buns we have today

So, hot cross buns, it turns out are a lot older than Christianity itself!

The concept of hot cross buns as we know them really started in the Middle Ages. Bakers would mark their loaves with crosses before cooking them, as they believed that adding a cross would ensure a successful bake and ward off any evil spirits which might stop the bread from rising. This superstition fell out of fashion apart from on Good Friday, when buns would be made with crosses on and then hung from the ceiling. It was believed that buns baked on Good Friday would never mould and would offer protection for the home until the following year, when the process would start again. It wasn’t just Christians following this practice either – Jewish homes were known to hang bread and containers of water from the ceiling to ward against cholera.

The hot cross bun that most resembles those we have today is the Alban Bun, which was created in 1361 in St Albans by Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk. He would make a sweet, fruity bread with a cross on the top which would then be handed out to the local poor on Good Friday. It was so well received that Brother Thomas was inundated with requests, as were other monasteries across the UK. By the 19th century, these buns were commonly eaten on Good Friday as a way to finish off Lent.

The traditional Alban bun was slightly different in that the cross on the top was scoured with a knife rather than being piped on with flour paste. Although the original recipe remains secret, judging by what was available at the time, they would have contained flour, eggs, yeast, currents and if they were feeling bougie, spices. Today, the traditional Alban bun is still being made by a bakery close to the original monastery and is made to Brother Thomas’ recipe – they are only available during Lent and Holy Week though!

These spiced buns continued to be popular until the Reformation. When England broke away from the Catholic Church, the buns were banned and didn’t reappear again until Queen Elizabeth I – even then though, they weren’t widely available. Because they were seen as being special, it was decreed that hot cross buns could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas Day and to mark the burial of a loved one. If anyone was caught baking them at any other time, they were confiscated and given to the poor. It wouldn’t be until the 18th Century when hot cross buns became available for the whole of the Easter period. It was in the Georgian era when the famous rhyme – Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns! One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns,” became popular. It is believed that it began in London as a way for bakers to entice customers in to purchase them. What we do know for certain is that the earliest recorded version was published in 1798.

By the early 19th century, the largest producer of hot cross buns was the Bun House of Chelsea, famous for the Chelsea Bun, and it remained so for over a century until the building was demolished.

So, hot cross buns existed before Christianity and have had quite the history, from being used as a way to ward off evil spirits, feed the poor and even being banned. One last thing before we tell you how you can make your own buns this Easter, the cross on the top – there continues to be some debate over how it is supposed to be made. The Alban buns and the earliest iterations were made by scouring a cross in the top of the bread, while later ones featured short crust pastry, icing or more modern ones even have chocolate! The most usual way to make the cross is by creating a flour paste and piping it over the top.

Fancy making your own?


400g strong white bread flour
7g dried yeast
50g golden caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
250ml warm milk
1 medium egg
50g butter
100g currents or raisins
50g plain flour.


In a mixing bowl, combine the strong flour, yeast, caster sugar and a tsp of salt, along with spices.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg and melt the butter, and then create a well in the centre of the flour and pour in, along with the milk and melted butter. Mix together until you end up with a sticky dough and then use your hands, kneading and stretching on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and springy.

Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with a clean, damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise until roughly doubled in size, this could take up to an hour. Once risen, tip onto a floured surface and flatten, scattering the raisins over the top and knead in. Divide into even sized portions and roll each into a smooth ball before covering with a tea towel again to prove for a further 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees/ 180C/ gas 6.

Mix the remaining plain flour with 1 tsp sugar and 4-5tbsp of hot water and mix together to create a thick paste. With a piping bag, pipe white lines in the shape of a cross over the top of each bun and then bake for 20 minutes until light brown. If you would like to glaze them, either gently heat marmalade and dip them in or create a lemon or honey glaze.




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