Friday, March 26, 2010

One a Penny, Two a Penny

Hot cross buns! Do you remember the old nursery rhyme? Nineteenth century young ladies and lads would have heard versions of it shouted in the streets in the week leading up to Good Friday, the Friday before Easter. Yes, I know, technically that’s NEXT Friday, but I wanted to give you time to plan in case you wanted to cook up a batch.

Cross buns were generally round buns made of sweetened dough, spices like cinnamon and allspice, and currants. The cross on top was to remind people of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Today the cross is piped on with pastry or icing; then it was more often incised with a knife. Knowing the tradition of eating the little buns on Good Friday, bakers sent out armies of street vendors in the days preceding to hawk their wares, hence the song. You picked up a dozen or two and took them home to eat hot for breakfast. Yum!

Besides street vendors, one of the most popular places to buy hot cross buns until 1839 was the Old Chelsea Bun House outside London. Legend has it that both King George II and King George III patronized the place. Supposedly up to a quarter million buns were sold on Good Friday, with over 50,000 people served!

Of course, you could always make them yourself. Below is a traditional recipe for hot cross buns, simplified for today’s kitchen:

A Dozen Hot Cross Buns
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
½ cup raisins (or currants if you have them)
1 oz yeast
½ cup sugar
1 cup warm milk

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift the flour, salt, and allspice into a large bowl. Cut in the butter. Add raisins. In a separate bowl, cream the yeast and sugar together and add warm milk. Leave for 10 minutes until the batter is sponge-like. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and combine to form a dough. Leave to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled. Turn onto a floured surface and knead well then cut into twelve pieces. Flatten each piece into a circle and use a knife to mark each circle deeply with a cross. Allow the lot to rest again for 10 minutes, then bake on a cookie sheet in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Glaze with icing if desired.

And while you’re munching on these, don’t forget that the Young Bluestockings Book Club will be discussing Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer on April 23 right here on Nineteenteen! Get a copy and be ready to join us.

So, what’s on your menu for Easter?


QNPoohBear said...

Thanks for the recipe! I was in England for a spring semester and I didn't try a Hot Cross Bun. I don't like raisins so I probably chose not to waste my money. Now I can make them at home and skip the raisins.

I think lamb and eggs, macaroni and cheese and ice cream are on the menu. I know young ladies in the 19th century enjoyed macaroni and cheese as much as we do today!

Regina Scott said...

Lovely menu! What a shame we can't share. :-)

vonze said...

Wow, cross buns look so yummy! I'll have to make some!

Rachel said...

(sigh) I miss hot cross buns! I was in England for my grad studies for a year. American cross buns don't compare to yummy British ones!

Thanks for the recipe ;)

I think we're having a ham, fresh green beans, and some sort of potato dish. Haven't decided on the dessert.

Gale Bates said...

I thought I'd order the Bloody Jack book from Amazon. They had 1 copy for sale at $102.95!!

Regina Scott said...

Gale--Yikes! I just checked Amazon, and they are showing four new copies left at $12.24 and a bunch of new and used for less. Barnes and Noble is showing similar costs. In fact, it looks like a new paperback edition was just published on 4/10.

I know some online booksellers seem to have high opinions of their wares. One of my older books, which originally retailed for $4.99, was recently offered for over $50. Word to the wise--don't buy it at that!