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This ditty describes the ancient superstition of making a cross on the tops of baked goods to keep them fresh. According to recipe.co.uk, long before the medieval expansion of religion and ceremony into everyday life, bakers had been making a cross on breads, cakes and buns in the belief it would ward off the evil spirits that made things go mouldy.
Earlier names for the buns were Good Friday buns or, simply, cross buns. Good Friday buns were made and eaten on Good Friday. One might even be hung in the centre of the room to ward off those ubiquitous bad spirits.
Another good source, You Eat what You Are: People, Culture and Food Traditions, says that the idea of a roundish bun made this time of year and divided on top with a cross goes back even further, to pagan times. The round bun represented the sun; the cross divided the bun into four sections representing the four seasons.
So there you go. Like most good things, hot cross buns transcend religious and cultural boundaries. Christians and non-Christians alike can get excited about hot cross buns, however they're made. And recipes do vary.
The Irish at Easter traditionally made Easter biscuits with currants, grated lemon rind and egg yolks. In historic England, you had everything from simple, ale-yeast dough made with eggs and caraway seeds coated in sugar to more complex recipes with currants and cinnamon. One recipe even used saffron.
Today in Sea to Sky corridor you can find many variations, all trying to please us fussy customers with as many varied tastes as there are recipes.
"What people want is what they grew up with," says Paula Lamming, co-owner of Purebread Bakery in Function Junction. (Bet you can't wait for their new location in Olympic Plaza in Whistler Village to open up this summer.)
Paula hates to disappoint, so they do up a more traditional hot cross bun with traditional spices and dried fruits — currants and citrus — interpreted in their own Purebread style, with the bakers even rolling and tediously placing the crosses by hand when they must. But Purebread's also known for breaking out of the box, so they do up a chocolate sour cherry version that combines the best of Easter treats.
Up in Pemberton, Raven Burns, who co-owns Blackbird Bakery, has adapted a simple, traditional recipe from Alton Brown of Food Network fame.
"It had a great sweetness, and it was a soft dough but it wasn't squishy soft, where it felt like you were eating white bread," she says. Spices are traditional — a lovely, fragrant mix, from coriander to cloves — and the cross is made with whipping cream and confectioner's sugar. Another unique touch: the amazing butter from grass-fed cows in New Zealand they have shipped in in 25-pound blocks.