Recipes courtesy of A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz
and The Bread Book by Betsy Oppenneer
A traditional Lenten food, Hot Cross Buns are a spicy yeast bread with candied fruit and an icing cross on top. I bake them every year during Holy Week. The recipe that I’ve used for years comes from A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz.
According to the author, Hot Cross Buns were originally eaten only on Good Friday. A monk, Father Rocliff, and the cook at St. Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire, England in 1361 made these special buns, marked with the sign of the cross, to give to the poor with a bowl of soup. The custom continued and they became very popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in England. Good Friday bread was considered blessed, and people believed it provided protection against disease and danger.
The recipe calls for candied orange peel. We weren’t always stationed where I could find good candied peel so I learned how to make my own. It is somewhat time-consuming, but the flavor is fantastic. I’m including the instructions from Betsy Oppenneer’s book for making the candied peel in case you would like to try making your own, or you can simply use orange zest. Enjoy!
Hot Cross Bun Ingredients
2 1/2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 100-110 degrees)
1 teaspoon white or light brown sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
4-4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon ( I like these buns spicy, so I always double the amounts of cinnamon to 2 teaspoons, and cloves, nutmeg and ginger to 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup dried currants (or raisins)
1/2 cup finely diced or julienned candied orange peel (or zest
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Teaspoon lemon juice
Hot Cross Bun Directions
1. Sprinkle the yeast into the lukewarm water.
2. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar, let sit until foamy.
3. Scald the milk. Add the butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until blended. Cool until lukewarm.
4. Beat the eggs until light, combine with the milk mixture, and add the yeast.
5. Sift 3 1/2 cups of the flour with the spices into a mixing bowl. Make a well and pour in the yeast mixture. Beat for 5 minutes.
6. Toss the raisins (currants), and orange peel, with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Mix into the dough.
7. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. The dough should be fairly firm, or else the cuts for the crosses will not hold up.
8. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover the dough with a towel and put it to rise in a draft-free scene until it is doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Punch down the dough and shape it into 2 dozen buns. Place them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on a well-greased cookie sheet, or in muffin pans. With a sharp knife, cut a cross on the top of each bun. Allow the buns to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350°F.
9. Bake the buns for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before piping the icing cross on top.
1. Mix together the sugar and lemon juice. Add water, a drop at a time, until the icing is of a loose enough consistency to pipe on the buns. It should be quite thick, though, or else it will run off the buns instead of making a cross.
2. Pour icing into a disposable sandwich bag, clip the corner with a pair of scissors, and push the icing out onto the buns, forming a cross on each bun.
Candied Fruit Peel Ingredients
4 large grapefruit (or 6 large navel oranges, or 10 tangerines, or 12 large lemons)
2 1/2 cups plus 1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
Candied Fruit Peel Directions
1. To remove any dirt or waxy preservative, wash the fruit with a dish cloth and mild detergent. Rinse well.
2. Remove the peel from the fruit. There are gadgets available that remove just the peel (and not the pith). If you don’t have one of these such gadgets; cut the fruit into fourths, separate the peel from the pulp and trim excess white pith. Peel should be about 1/4 inch thick. Chop the peel into 1/4 inch dice (If making this for a gift, or to snack on, do not cut the peel so small. Longer pieces look pretty in a jar). Rough-skinned citrus fruits have thicker peel and more white pith (very bitter-tasting) than smoother-skinned varieties. If there is too much white pith, trim the peel with a sharp knife so that the peel is only about 1/4 inch thick.
3. Put the peel into a heavy saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, simmer for 5 minutes, and strain through a sieve.
4. Return the peel to the saucepan and repeat step 3. Strain the peel.
5. Combine 2 1/2 cups sugar with the corn syrup in the saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. After the sugar dissolves, there is no need to stir.
6. Add the peel to the sugar mixture and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
7. Strain the mixture through a sieve (you can save the sugar mixture to use in tea, lemonade, etc.).
8. Pour the remaining 1 cup sugar into a plastic bag. Add the peel and shake the bag until the peel is completely coated with sugar. Separate the pieces of peel if they stick together.
9. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Spread the peel out on the paper to cool and air dry for 6 hours, or until it is completely dry. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
*You can skip the last step of coating the peel in sugar, and instead allow the peel to dry a bit before carefully separating the sticky peel and then allowing it to dry before using.*