food holidays

Hot Cross Buns (A Lenten Tradition)

March 13, 2017

Lent is not a time for rejoicing in food. In my tradition (Episcopal) we often think of Lenten discipline and things that we give up for Lent (as opposed to the things we look forward to eating). In our heavily Catholic area, meat is not served on Fridays during this season in many homes. Restaurants usually have a fish or vegetarian option. When we went for ashes on Good Friday, the priest remarked that there were 6 Fridays this year as opposed to the typical seven Fridays.

In fact, my local paper celebrated the fact that the local Catholic Bishop gave permission for meat to be consumed on St. Patrick’s Day (a Friday this year). I read a terrific article on Lenten discipline written my a Lutheran minister but it applies to Lent as observed by most liturgical congregations.

But every year, I look forward to one major Lenten food…Hot Cross Buns! I begin scouring the markets right after Ash Wednesday looking for them. They are fairly easy to find here in the Lehigh Valley but when I lived in other places (like Texas), I could never find them and had to make my own. We like ours heavy on the fruit but the recipe is adaptable depending on personal tastes.

Hot cross buns hearken to our European past, especially the British Isles. Different parts of the hot cross bun have a certain meaning, including the cross representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm him at his burial. In this region, they show up after Ash Wednesday and you can buy them until Easter in most markets. Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article on the myths of the hot cross bun

Here is the recipe I use:

Hot Cross Buns

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  • 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon instant powdered milk
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups dried currants
  • 1/2 cup mixed peel
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons milk


  1. Put warm water, yeast and sugar in dish to proof. Once the yeast is foamy, add the flour, salt, butter and milk powder to the yeast mixture. You will have a sticky dough. Add in the currants and dried mixed peel. Place in an oiled bowl, turn to coast and let rise in a warm place, covered with a towel until doubled in size. After dough has doubled, punch it down and reshape the dough into balls. Place the dough balls next to each other (but not touching) in a square 9x9 pan. Let rise again for about 30 minutes or until the gaps have filled in between the balls. Brush with egg yolk mixed with water. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool completely in pan. Mix icing ingredients while buns are cooling. Using a sandwich or pastry bag with snipped corner, pipe icing in a cross or X shape unto buns.

I started by preparing my peel, after a hugely unsuccessful attempt to find candied peel (or candied fruit) anywhere. I used this recipe. I had lemons, limes oranges and grapefruit so that is what I used, but you can use any citrus fruit to your taste.

Once the peel dried, I chopped it up in fine little bits.

Then I started my dough.

I made the dough before adding all the fruit (remember you can add as much or as little as you like)

Let your dough double in size before punching it down and sectioning it into balls. Then there will be a second rise before popping the entire thing into the oven.

Here is the finished product. I like my icing on the thicker side but you can adjust it as you like it. Enjoy your buns! As we are currently experiencing snowmageddon here on the East Coast complete with blizzard warning, I suspect these won’t make it through tomorrow morning!


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3 Comments on "Hot Cross Buns (A Lenten Tradition)"

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I see these sold in the grocery store but they don’t look as full of fruit as yours do. These look much much better.


I do like golden raisins but I have currants too. Just made soda bread. I have candied peel too but your homemade is probably 100 times better than the store bought.

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