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Hot Cross Buns // 1940s

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

"Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs! With one or two a penny hot cross buns!" was the call that would echo through the streets of London this time of year 200 or so years ago.
When it comes to traditional Easter treats hot cross buns are at the top of the list, at least 'round our part of town. Hot Cross Buns have been baked at this time of year, particularly on Good Friday, for centuries. This Easter we baked these beauties using this 1940s recipe from our copy of The Manual of Modern Cookery, pub. 1943. It’s the 2nd year running that we’ve baked them, with crosses made the traditional way using short crust pastry and the dough lightly spiced with cinnamon and ginger.
Original Recipes: 'Hot Cross Buns' and 'Short Pastry (02)' (Book 6, 1943)
Speed: 2 hours | Makes: 4-10 (depending on bun size)


For the Buns:

  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger

  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • 1 ½ oz / 42g raisins

  • ½ lb (227g) plain flour

  • ½ oz / 14g fresh yeast or half the amount of dried yeast

  • 1 oz / 28g sugar

  • About ¾ cupful of warm milk

  • 1 ½ oz / 42g fat (we used butter)

  • 1 large egg

For the short pastry:

Any shortcrust pastry scraps, or:

  • 2 oz / 57g plain flour

  • ½ oz / 14g margarine

  • ½ oz / 14g lard

  • A pinch of salt

  • A little cold water



To make the dough

1. Mix the flour, spices, salt and all but 1 tsp. of the sugar together in a bowl until fully combined. Then rub in the fat and mix in the raisins.

2. In a small bowl, cream the yeast with the sugar that you have reserved until it becomes liquid, or if using dried yeast just mix to combine.

3. In another bowl, beat up the egg and reserve a little of this in a small bowl for brushing over your buns later. Pour into the larger amount of egg the yeast mixture and half of the warm milk, and mix this together to combine.

4. Make a well in the spiced flour and pour in the egg mixture. Mix together a little to combine and place somewhere warm to sponge through. Ours took half an hour.

5. When sponged, mix in the rest of your warm milk and knead your dough to a light consistency. Form into a ball and put back into a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

6. Knead the dough once more and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out to about half an inch thick and cut into rounds. We cut ours into rounds of 3x3 inches and got 10 buns.

7. Place these on a greased baking tray and leave in a warm place once more to prove. In this time we made our shortcrust pastry as follows.

To make the shortcrust pastry crosses

If you have any shortcrust pastry scraps to hand, this is the perfect way to use them up! Alternatively, you can always use ready-made pastry. Having neither and wanting to stick to recipes from this decade (and book), we made ours according to the recipe 'Short Pastry (2)' as follows:

8. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and then rub in the lard and margarine with your fingertips until they're like breadcrumbs. Then mix in a little cold water until you can form it into quite a firm dough.

9. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out into an oblong quite thinly. Cut this into long, thin strips.

Back to the buns

10. Brush over the buns with the beaten egg that you reserved and then lay the pastry strips over the tops of them, making these into a cross and trimming off any excess. Brush over these once more with any egg you have left.

11. Bake in a moderate oven at 200°C / 180°C Fan for 10 minutes (12-15 if your buns are larger) until nicely golden. Serve hot, fresh out the oven, with butter.

Pictures from Easter 2020, below. We cut these ones a little larger and didn't do so well with the pastry, but they were still gorgeously photogenic - and delish! ;)


Original Recipe for 'Hot Cross Buns' and 'Short Pastry (02)'

BOOK 6: Manual of Modern Cookery, 7th Edition (1943) Author: Jessie Lindsay & V.H. Mottram Publisher: University of London Press Ltd. (War-Time Address: St. Hugh's School, Bickley, Kent, England, U.K.)

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