Historical Foods #1 Hot Cross Buns


From Kate Colquhoun’s book ‘Taste: The Story Of Britain Through Its Cooking

 “In honour of Eastre, goddess of spring and the dawn, [Anglo-Saxon] bread dough could be studded with dried fruits and baked into small loaves that, as Christianity spread, began to be marked with a cross by monks: the earliest form of hot-cross bun”.

For centuries past, marking baked goods (like breads, buns and cakes) with  the sign of a cross was a common thing for a baker to do  as the cross was said to ward off  evil spirits which could affect the bread and make it go mouldy or stale. However, it was during the 17th century that the Puritans condemned the practice of marking a cross  on baked goods as ‘Popish’. Thus, from the late 1600s, (after the English Civil War) only bread, cakes and buns made on Good Friday  were permitted o bear a cross in token of the Crucifixion.


The recipe and method given below is not a quick and simple recipe, like those found in a modern cookery book, but then this recipe is far, far better than that – these buns are made as if from an old fashioned, commercial artisan bakery.

LINK: http://historicalfoods.com/hot-cross-buns-recipe

Recipe Ingredients:

For The Ferment

  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 215ml warm milk (30C)
  • 20g active dried yeast – or 40g live fresh yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 50g strong white flour

For The Dough

  • 150g currants
  • 100g sultanas
  • 50g chopped mixed peel
  • 625g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 150g unsalted butter (or lard), softened
  • 100g natural brown sugar
  • grated zest of a lemon
Ingredients For The Hot Cross Buns And Ferment

For The Cross

  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp milk (add more if necessary)
  • 1 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp icing (powdered) sugar

For The Bun Glaze

  • 3 tbsp golden syrup (corn syrup) warmed
  • 1 tbsp hot water
Ingredients For The Cross And Bun Glaze

Recipe Method:

Prepare the ferment:

In a measuring jug combine the beaten egg with enough warm milk (30C) to give about 275ml of liquid. Whisk in the sugar, 50g of flour and then the yeast. Use a fork to break up any larger lumps which form. Pour this ferment into a large bowl so the yeast can expand – leave this ferment covered for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Prepare the main dough:

Sieve the main flour into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle in the spice and sea salt, rub in the butter (or lard) until the flour resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then make a well in the centre.

Mixing The Ferment Into The Flour And Spices

Put the sugar and grated lemon zest in the well and gently pour in the yeast ferment (after it has had 30 minutes). Gradually draw in the flour with a wooden spoon and mix vigorously until it forms a dough – finish it off by mixing it together with your fingers – add in a little extra flour if it needs it.

Then gently knead the plain dough on a lightly floured work surface until it becomes firm, smooth and elastic. If the dough is still a little wet add in a small amount of plain flour as you knead.

Kneading The Plain Dough On A Floured Work Surface

Once the dough is smooth and elastic work in the dried fruit (currants, sultanas, and mixed peel). Knead gently for a few more minutes to evenly distribute the dried fruit. Shape the dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl, cover over with a clean cloth and put to rise in a warm place for 90 to 120 minutes (2 hours).

After Kneading In The Dried Fruit The Dough Is Ready To Be Left To Rise

After 90 minutes turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead to knock any excess air out and get the dough back into an even texture once more. Shape the speckled dough back into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover over and leave somewhere warm for another 30 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it  into 6 or 9 equal pieces – depending on the size of bun you want to make. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten them slightly  into a ‘bun’ shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again  with the clean cloth and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Grease a baking tray with butter and carefully transfer the buns to the tray – before putting them on the tray use a very sharp knife and cut a shallow cross into the dough, from edge to edge. Cover and place  the baking tray somewhere warm – a good tip is to place the tray inside a large polythene bag. Tie or fold over the end of the bag and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to  rise.

Making The Cross On The Hot Cross Buns

Preheat the oven to 240C

Prepare the pastry cross:

In a small mixing bowl add the flour and rub in the butter until it forms fine breadcrumbs, sprinkle in the sugar and beat in the milk until a smooth moist pastry is formed which can be piped easily through a small piping bag.

Make the Hot Cross Buns:

When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bag. Spoon the flour mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on  each bun into the cross indentation left by the shallow cut which will have widened as the buns rise in a warm place. Smooth down the pastry cross with a finger, working it into the cut.

Transfer the buns on the baking tray to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until pale  golden-brown. As soon as you remove the Hot Cross Buns from the oven, brush them  with 3 tbsp of warm runny golden syrup (corn syrup) mixed with 1 tbsp of hot water, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.

Brushing On The Bun -Glazed Hot Cross Buns Straight From The Oven

Bon Apetit!!!



The Murder Act included the provision “for better preventing the horrid crime of murder that some further terror and peculiar mark of infamy be added to the punishment and that in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried” by mandating either public dissection or “hanging in chains” of the cadaver. The act also stipulated that a person found guilty of murder should be executed two days after being sentenced unless the third day was a Sunday, in which case the execution would take place on the following Monday.


Skeletal remains in Jibbet

After the hanging, the body of the the executed would be stripped and dipped into molten pitch or tar. After colling, it would be re-dressed and placed into an iron cage that surrounded the head, torso and upper legs. The cage was riveted together and then suspended from either the original gallows or a purpose built gibbet. The body was then displayed in the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds, etc.  

Gibbets were typically erected either in prominent places such as crossroads or hill tops at or near the site of the crime. The first recorded hanging in chains in Scotland was in March 1637 when a man called McGregor, who was a robber and murderer, was ordered to stay on “the gallowlee till his corpse rot”.

In cases of drawing and quartering (the horrendous sentence for treason) the body of the criminal was cut into four or five portions, with each part often gibbeted in different places. The most common locations for such gruesome exhibitions were often next to public highways frequently at crossroads and city gates and waterways. Although the intention was to deter violent crime by shocking the public, many expressed disgust at the practice. There was also Christian objection that persecution of criminals should end with their death and that the sight and smell of decaying corpses was “pestilential” and a threat to public health.


In March 1743 in the town of Rye, Allen Grebell was murdered by John Breads. Breads was imprisoned in the Ypres Tower and then hanged, after which his body was left to rot for more than 20 years in an iron cage on Gibbet Marsh. The cage and Breads’ skull are still kept in the Town Hall.

Oliver Cromwell was gibbeted after the monarchists disinterred his body during the restoration of the monarchy On 30 January 1661, the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.  After exhuming the body from Westminster Abbey, it was posthumously executed for treason with his body hanged in chains at Tyburn. His severed head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685 before finally thrown into a pit. 

(I guess  dying once was not enough!)


All in a day’s work – theft of human hair, counterfeiting, pocket-picking and bigamy!

20 September 1718  (from The Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer):

 When the Sessions ended last week at the Old-Baily, the following persons receiv’d sentence of death:

John Brown, and William Greenwood, of Istleworth, for horse-stealing.

John Wood, for feloniously stealing 4 watch-movements, value 4l. 17s.
Robert Foot for counterfeiting the current coyn of this Kingdom.
John Hill, for stealing wet linnen.
Francis Lloyd, for stealing 4 pounds-weight of human hair, value 30l.
Charles Campbell, was convicted upon two indictments one for stealing a cloth coat, pair of pistols, and pair of silver spurs, out of the coach-house of John Mendez de Costa, at Highgate; and the other for stealing a cloth coat and seat-cloth, the property of the Bishop of  London.

William Shaw, for stealing several pieces of diaper, value 30l. from his master Sir John Lock.
Joseph Dod, Henry May, John Brown, and Samuel Cole for house-breaking.

And John Filewood, alias Violet, convicted upon two indictments of snatching pockets from womens sides.

** Note this last mentioned malefactor has deserv’d hanging ever since he was breech’d.


Ordered for transportation 41 persons.

Burnt in the hand, John Horton, for marrying two wives; namely, Katherine Newcomb, and Mary Angel, Spinster.

Order’d to be whipt, Joseph Clement, for stealing a silver spoon.