Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

When I was a child, we’d go to church first thing on Good Friday, and then the entire congregation would descend on Dawn’s house. Dawn had been up since the crack of, well, dawn, making hot cross buns for a hundred people. Endless steaming trays came out of the oven; then the buns were slathered in butter and passed around. I’d normally knock off six or seven – I have never met a hot cross bun the equal of Dawn’s and there were always more than enough.

Sometime during the Easter festival, my family also dyed eggs, drawing on them with wax crayons then dipping them in bright Greek egg dye. But very early one Easter morning, I had an idea. I’d read how you could dye eggs by boiling them in onion skins, and decorate them with the image of parsley by tying a sprig tightly against the egg with a stocking. My parents were still sleeping; my sister and I were bored; so we found some old stockings, picked parsley from the garden, then peeled all the onions in the pantry. We tied the parsley against the eggs, and set them to boil in a small saucepan with the brown onion skins.

Being children, we left the ends of the stockings dangling out and so, of course, they eventually touched the gas flame and caught alight. After flapping our hands around for a while, I thought to turn off the gas, and happily for everyone the flames soon went out.

When everything had cooled down, we fished the eggs out, and they were so pretty. But the ends of the stockings had melted to the saucepan and when my parents finally woke, we got into Deep Trouble. It is one of the times that I felt that I had done something terribly, terribly stupid.

Now I am an adult and developing traditions of my own. When it comes to eggs, I can’t be bothered fiddling around with stockings and onion skins. Well, I can be bothered but that memory of fire at six o’clock in the morning is enough to make me a bit anxious even now, and so I have gone back to using the Greek dyes when we meet with friends every Good Friday to dye eggs and make hot cross buns.

Meanwhile, I have engaged on a decade-long search for buns as good as the ones from my childhood. This year I tried Nigella Lawson’s recipe from Feast. The buns are scented with orange peel and cardamom, making kneading the dough a heady exercise as fragrant wisps of cardamom curl up with every push. They were delicious, not quite as good as Dawn’s perhaps – but then, I suspect a thirty year old memory will always taste better than reality. The recipe is available here.

Our kids breathlessly anticipate Easter. Between dyeing eggs, baking buns and staying up for Saturday night’s church service – which is followed by champagne and a midnight feast – there’s lots for them to think about. I hope that one day they will look back fondly on their Easter traditions and tell stories about them, too. Feast: Food that celebrates life


  1. Oooo they look absolutely delicious. I have never made hot cross buns... Or dyed eggs! I sometimes have good intentions but the holidays get in the way. Maybe next year.

  2. we never go away until after Easter, so these are good school holiday activities - it's all a bit harder if one is already away!