Hot cross buns recently went on sale at Amy’s Bread, for $1.50 apiece, and will be sold through Easter Sunday.
The small-yeast risen rolls appear sometime during Lent, in the run-up to Good Friday. Each roll is crisscrossed with white icing, and ramified with candied fruit. The frosting is said to symbolize the cross on which Christ died.
The rolls first became known as hot cross buns in 1733, but by then already had an ecclesiastical context, though the origin of the rolls is said to be in pagan times. At various periods in their history, they’ve been banned, especially in England, as a throwback to papish times, when England was religiously ruled by Rome.
Queen Elizabeth made a decree that permanently permitted them to be sold in England, but only on religious holidays. This practice of selling them before Easter has persisted in the United States to this day.
Indeed, the buns seem like a throwback to a much earlier era, which is part of the pleasure of eating them. And, one wonders, who would want to have them all year long?
The Amy’s Bread Chelsea Market store.
The buns are popular in the Czech Republic and in Australia, where a chocolate version is often sold. The rolls also became the subject of a nursery rhyme, in which a street vendor offers the buns two for a penny. Sometimes the buns are said to have medicinal properties, and they are also used to symbolize friendship if you tear a bun along one of the stripes and share it with a friend.