When we think of spring and the goddess Eostre, we probably don’t immediately think of hot cross buns. Many people are surprised to learn the history of these sweet treats and how they relate to the spring Goddess of fertility. In celebration of the beginning of spring, I’m going to tell you all about why eating hot cross buns is a great way to celebrate Ostara and share a scrumptious recipe so you can try them for yourself.
Who is the Spring Goddess?
Ostara takes its name from the Germanic spring goddess, Eostre/Ostara. She was traditionally honored and celebrated during the month of April with feasts and celebrations similar to today’s Easter celebrations. These celebrations focused on fertility, new beginnings and rebirth… all the things associated with springtime.
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What Does the Spring Goddess Have to Do With Hot Cross Buns?
Eostra, Goddess of spring, is also associated with the cycles of the moon and natural places. Her priestesses were called “wudu-maer” or “Wood Mothers” and during Spring rites it was customary to offer them bread, dumplings, and buns.
These breads were often symbolically woven and braided, and sometimes filled with magical eggs and blessed with sacred symbols. The symbols and markings on these cakes included the crosses and sun wheels which Saxons believed symbolized the cosmic balance of heaven and earth at the Spring Equinox. Some scholars believe the four-quarter markings were associated with the lunar cycle, which seems plausible as Easter is still set by the lunar calendar and always follows the first full moon after the spring equinox.
It is said that the name for the Christian holy day Easter is derived from the spring goddess Eostre and the pagan celebration Ostara and was established around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The word “Eostre” became “Easter,” and the mark dividing her bread into four equal parts became the symbol of the cross.
These buns are still made today, and their descendants include modern challahs and babkas—special loaves of bread often served during spring.
For Christians and non-Christians alike, hot cross buns are a sweet treat to enjoy at this time of year. Making some yourself is a fun way to honor this ancient tradition.
What are Hot Cross Buns?
The hot cross buns of yore may have been plain and less sweet than today’s versions, but the old-time tradition of baking treasured hot cross buns remains a ritual for many families. They can best be described as a sweet doughy bun baked with raisins, currents, or sultanas, and flavored with many spices such as allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and candied orange peels.
Hot Cross Buns Recipe
- instant dry yeast
- sultanas or raisins
Part 1 – The Dough
Put all the dough ingredients in a bowl, then mix on speed 2 for 5 minutes OR knead by hand for about 10 minutes.
Your dough is ready when it is smooth and elastic.
Part 2 – Rise
Once the dough is smooth, place it in a greased bowl and cover it with a clean towel. Leave it in a warm place until it doubles in size. I use my oven. Preheat oven on lowest temperature for 1-2 minutes to get it nice and toasty, then turn it off. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then put it inside the oven and let rise until doubled (about 45-60 minutes).
Part 3 – Form Dough Into Balls
To form the balls for your hot cross buns, I find the best method is as follows:
Shape dough into log, cut into 12 equal pieces.
Take a piece, then bundle it up like a moneybag – this will stretch one side into a smooth round dome.
roll/press/shape into a neat ball. Place the ball (smooth side up) on parchment lined baking pan.
Part 4 – Rise a Second Time
Spray cling wrap with oil, then loosely drape over the buns. Leave for 40 minutes until they almost double in size – about 75% is enough.
Part 5 – Making the Crosses on Top
The crosses on top is a simple mix of water and flour. The trick is ensuring it is the right consistency. Too thin, and it will run everywhere when it’s in the oven. Too thick, and you end up with stiff, hard shapes on the surface of your soft buns!
Part 6 – Bake
Bake for 22 minutes or until the buns are a lovely golden brown.
Part 7 – Gloss!
To achieve the shiny finish on Hot Cross Buns mix a bit of warmed apricot jam with a touch of water. Just microwave to heat, mix until smooth then lightly brush onto the surface. Other clear jams work equally well. I have used dandelion jelly warmed (without water mixed in) and it worked wonderfully.
Substitute with other jams, honey, or maple syrup.
Hot Cross Buns
- 3 teaspoons instant or rapid rise yeast 1 packet
- 1/2 cup 110g caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- 1 1/2 cups 375ml milk, warm, full fat or low fat
- 4 1/4 cups 640g bread flour (or plain / all purpose) see note
- 2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 2 tsp All Spice OR Mixed Spice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups 210g sultanas or raisins
- 1 - 2 oranges zest only - I used dehydrated orange slices that I ground finely into a powder.
- 50 g / 3.5 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 1 egg at room temperature
EXTRA FLOUR FOR DOUGH:
- 1/4 cup 35g Extra bread flour
- 1/2 cup 75g flour (any white flour)
- 5 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp apricot jam see note
- 2 tsp water
- Place flour, yeast, sugar, all spice, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Briefly mix with stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
- Add butter, milk, egg, sultanas and zest.
- Standmixer: Mix until a smooth elastic dough forms - 5 minutes on Speed 2 of standmixer. After 1 minute, add extra flour if required, just enough so dough comes away from side of bowl when mixing and doesn't stick terribly to your fingers. (Note 5).
- Hand kneading: Alternatively, dust a work surface with flour and knead by hand for 10 minutes.
- Dough is kneaded enough when it's smooth and does not break when stretched.
- Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with cling wrap, and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. This will take anywhere between 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on how warm it is.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Dust work surface with flour, place dough on work surface, shape into a log - this will deflate the air. Cut into 12 equal pieces.
- Take one piece and press down with palm, then use your fingers to gather into a ball, then roll the dough briefly to form a ball. This stretches the dough on one side and that's how I get a nice smooth surface.
- Place the ball with the smooth side up on the tray. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Spray a piece of cling wrap lightly with oil (any), then loosely place over the tray.
- Return tray to warm place and leaver 30 - 45 minutes, until the dough has risen by about 75% (less than double in size).
- Partway through Rise #2, preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (all oven types).
- Mix flour and water until a thick (yet spreadable) paste forms.
- Spoon into a round 3 mm piping bag or small ziplock bag then snip corner.
- Remove the cling wrap and pipe crosses onto the buns. Go slow so it hugs the curves.
- Bake for 22 minutes, or until the surface is a deep golden brown.
- Meanwhile, place jam and water in a bowl, microwave for 15 seconds. Stir to combine.
- Remove buns from oven. Cool on a cooling rack.
- Brush with jam mixture while still warm. Serve warm and enjoy!
- Breads are fluffier and more tender if made with bread flour rather than normal flour. However, this recipe works great with normal white flour too.
- Dough rises best in a warm place. I use my oven. Preheat oven to lowest temperature for 1-2 minutes to get it nice and toasty, then turn it off. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or clean towel, then put it inside the oven and let rise until doubled (about 45-60 minutes). With this method, the dough will rise in about an hour.
- Jam - sub with any clear(ish) colored jam OR use honey.
- Do Rise #1 then follow steps to form the balls per the recipe and place on a parchment-lined tray.
- Put the tray in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, remove from the fridge and put it in a very warm place. Once the fridge chill is gone and the dough is back at room temperature, it will then start Rise #2 as per the recipe. It takes 2.5 - 3.5 hrs to finish Rise #2 after taking it out of the fridge.
- Then bake per recipe!
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