Josna Rege

182. Hot Cross Buns

In 1980s, 2010s, Books, Britain, Family, Food, Inter/Transnational, Music, Stories, United States on March 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm
The Penguin Cookery Book

The Penguin Cookery Book

Mum has two English cookery books which she has carried with her wherever we have moved and has referred to all these years whenever she makes traditional dishes like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or scones, or cheese straws. The first one dates from the Second World War, when rationing was in effect and essential ingredients like butter and eggs were hard to come by. The second is a battered old edition of The Penguin Cookery Book by Bee Nilson, which was my source when, one Good Friday in my early thirties, I set out to make hot cross buns.

P1030107P1030108I am a confident cook when working on the stovetop, but baking is a hit-or-miss operation for me, and I always find the prospect of it rather daunting. Still, I copied out the recipe from Mum’s cookery book, gathered all the ingredients together, and found a warm spot in the draughty farm kitchen for the yeast to rise. A few hours later I emerged, covered in flour from head to toe but triumphantly bearing aloft a tray of piping-hot buns, which were almost instantly demolished by my perennially hungry housemates. I promised myself I’d make them again the following year, and that the next time I’d make a double batch while I was going to all that trouble. I can’t remember now whether or not I ever did go to the trouble again, although I like to think that I did.


Soon afterwards we moved to Amherst, where, after a few years, The Henion Bakery opened its doors, featuring—among its many specialities—jam doughnuts beyond compare, which sustained me through the long years of dissertation-writing. One year, as springtime came around, I visited Henion’s to find a large batch of hot cross buns on the counter, fresh from the oven and perfect in every way, and compared to which my painstaking attempts seemed pitiful. Then and there I ordered a batch, and have done so every year since, never looking back.

The eating of the buns must be heralded by the nursery rhyme, which we sing with glee as we pour the tea and prepare to tuck in; and since I have no daughters, my son has come into a goodly number of these doughy delicacies over the years.


I’m not generally a national chauvinist, but I insist on singing the English version of this song. Having lived in the States as long as I have, I’ve become accustomed to the American versions of many songs, even starting to prefer some of them. But to my ear the American version of “Hot Cross Buns” sounds heavy and plodding, while the English one springs up and down like a bouncing ball, full of life and energy in keeping with the season.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. Josna, the image of those hot-cross buns got me – got to get some. Somehow those of yours look far better than the ones we get here. I just envy the cultural diversity in your experience so much. It never ceases to amaze me.

    • You could try making them, Don (although I would recommend substituting butter for lard–you can tell it’s an old recipe)! If it wasn’t for that wonderful little bakery, we too would have a completely different kind of item masquerading as a hot cross bun–basically just a sweet, squashy roll with a heavy glaze and too much icing on top. All my years growing up I never had the real thing except perhaps once or twice when I was a student in England. I think it’s probably because we live so far away from both my parents’ home countries that these traditions take on such a mystique.

  2. Lovely article dear cussin – remember the jam doughnuts from Rumbolds at the terminus in Hampstead? Lovely bread too. Xx

    • Thank you, cussin! I certainly do remember Rumbolds and its heavenly jam doughnuts and bread! That summer we were staying in Gayton Crescent we went there all the time. I was so disappointed to find it gone the last time I was there. Still, it probably saved me from putting on a stone, the way I did when I lived on Albert Street! xxx

  3. The hot cross buns look and sound divine. Makes me want to make some soon. Jam doughnuts also sound good. Can you tell I’m hungry?

    Dropping by to wish you good luck with the A-to-Z!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

    • Thank you, Shannon. I’ve always enjoyed reading about food when I’m hungry! And thanks for the good wishes for the A-to-Z Challenge, which I am having serious doubts about being able to fit in this month. I’ll check back with your blog over the month to see what you’re posting. Cheers, J

  4. Good luck on the A-to-Z Challenge, I’m entered too, and I will be checking back to see your posts. I also nominated you for a Liebster Award, I hope you will do likewise for others. 🙂

    Nick Ortega

    • Thank very much, Nick, for your good wishes. I really appreciate your nomination, which is my first ever. I too will check back to read your posts during this A-to-Z Challenge month, and will consider making some nominations as soon as I’ve figured out how to do it. All the best, J

  5. You’re right, the English tune is much better than the plodding American one. As to Henion’s: They have many wonderful things, which is why I’m best off staying away from there!

    • Yes, Sarah, Henion’s in a dangerous place. Their Russian Tea Loaf is so thoroughly eatable that a few weeks ago four of us polished off the whole thing in one sitting. About the tunes, in general I notice that while the American version may be in 3/4 meter, the English one will be in 6/8. But then, the American tune is often the older one, preserved in the former colonies by the migrant community like those lovely old songs as they sing them in Appalachia.

  6. I never wait long enough to ice them so my crosses always slide and thin and look pretty pathetic. My children remember them fondly though.

    • I’m impressed that you make them at all! Traditionally (see the recipe on the index card in the photo) the cross was scored into the dough, so that would solve the problem of melting icing. Not that it would make any difference to the taste!

      • I haven’t made them in a few years but I plan to be ready for next Good Friday. I copied your recipes and will try the scoring method. Nothing like hot bread and better, icing or not!

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