The Fascinating History of Hot Cross Buns

The history of the hot cross bun is interesting to say the least. What exactly are hot cross buns you ask? We make our hot cross buns with yeasted dough spiced with cardamom, nutmeg, orange zest, vanilla, and currants. Then the tops are egg washed, sprinkled with raw sugar, and marked with a cross made out of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar. Traditionally, these buns are served during Lent, which is the 40 day period before Easter.


There are several stories, legends and superstitions surrounding the hot cross bun, and versions of the buns have been found to appear as early as Ancient Greece. A 12th-century monk was the first to mark the bun with a cross. This monk baked the buns on Good Friday, in celebration of the upcoming Easter holiday. The buns soon gained popularity in England, and over time, became a symbol of the holiday weekend.

The first definite record of the hot cross buns comes from a London street cry during the 16th and 17th century:

"Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns."

Queen Elizabeth I was said to have issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, Good Friday, or at Christmas, because hot cross buns were just too special to be eaten any other day. As a result of this decree, and to get around the law, the buns were baked primarily in kitchens at home. Those that were caught were forced to give up all of their hot cross buns to the poor.

Legends & Superstitions

The English were very superstitious during that time period. Legend said that if you hung a hot cross bun from your kitchen rafters on Good Friday, your buns would remain fresh and mold-free throughout the entire year.

Other beliefs were that the blessed cross on top of the hot cross buns were supposed to protect against evil spirits, prevent kitchen fires, and would ensure that all breads baked that year would turn out perfectly.

Additional folktales told were that taking a hot cross bun on a sea voyage would protect the ship against shipwreck, and those who shared a bun with a loved one would enjoy a strong friendship and bond the next year. As the rhyme from the old lore once said, "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be."

Now, that's quite a history! Stop by a City Bakery location for a delicious hot cross bun today! Available daily, now through Easter Sunday, April 16th!

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