Hot cross buns

I had always believed that hot cross buns had come from our ii. English, Christian roots, and that may be so as far as Australia is concerned, but in the big, wide, wonderful world, ’twas not always so.

In the very old days, it was common to mark a cross on bread or bun dough, not as a cross might be considered in these Christian times, but as a mark of the four quarters of the moon – thus honouring various gods and goddesses. The mark of the cross could well have been intended to ward off evil spirits that could stop the bread from rising.

Hell on earth. It seems like a good idea for those of us who have been befuddled with non-rising loaves.

One thing’s for sure. Hot cross buns these days have as much to do with Good Friday as they do with the first Tuesday in November. They now are no more than the tradition left over from old truly Christian times, multiplied a thousandfold by the need for bakers to make a quid. You can also mark down the recipe for any time of the year. Buns made at home are worth a million of those from the shops. This recipe makes twenty.

1 cup sultanas, or currants, or both — Don’t use chopped peel, unless it’s your own.

750g unbleached plain bread flour — You will need strong flour for this.

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

a little salt

100g brown sugar

100g unsalted butter, not soft, not firm

2 cups tepid water

1 egg yolk

3 teaspoons dried yeast


some caster sugar

a little water

a little plain flour

1 egg yolk, beaten, and a little milk, mixed together


Mix the sultanas through the flour and then work through the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt and sugar.


Rub the butter through the flour, as you would if making a crumble, or some pastry. It should blend in easily.


Mix the water, egg yolk and yeast in the bowl of a mixer, and add the flour.


Using the dough hook on the mixer, mix rapidly until it all comes together, forming a ball. This can be done by hand, of course, but it is a million times easier with the machine. Mix it for a few minutes, until it is well worked, and the sultanas start to pop through the dough. Leave, covered, to rise until double in size – about 2-3 hours, depending on the warmth of the day.


Once doubled, punch down and knead by hand for a couple of minutes. The mix will be smooth and glossy.


Cut in half and freeze half for another day. Half of the dough will make ten buns.


Divide the dough into pieces about as large as a squash ball. Rub them in your palms until they form rough balls, and place into a greased baking dish, about 2 cm apart. Leave to rise for about an hour, until doubled. The individual buns should have expanded to meet one another.


While the dough is rising, mix the sugar, water and plain flour into a paste, and paint the top of the buns with a cross. This can also be done with a very rough pastry.


Paint the tops with the beaten egg yolk-milk mix and bake in a 200°C oven for about 25 minutes. Remove from the tray and return to the oven for another 5–10 minutes.


Serve buttered, with your best coffee and best goodwill.