It's almost Easter, and there's only two things that I associate with this time of year: Easter Eggs & Hot Cross Buns! Although let's be honest, we've all been secretly buying and eating the things since Boxing Day.
But I bet many of you didn't know, St Albans has a direct link to the history of hot cross buns.
Let's start with the basics, what exactly are hot cross buns?
Hot cross buns are a traditional Easter treat with a history dating back as far as ancient pagan celebrations. In England, hot cross buns became popular in the 16th century and were traditionally baked on Good Friday to celebrate the end of Lent.
The buns are made with a sweet, spiced dough and marked with a cross on the top, which is meant to symbolize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Over time, the buns became associated with various superstitions, including the belief that they would stay fresh for a year if baked on Good Friday.
Hot Cross Buns & their link to St Albans
But how does this link to St Albans? According to local legend, a baker named Thomas Rocliffe began selling hot cross buns in St Albans in the early 19th century. Rocliffe became famous for his buns, which were said to be so delicious that he was able to sell them all year round.
In 1821, Rocliffe was invited to London to demonstrate his freshly baked hot cross buns to the king, and he even brought along a batch of buns that were baked on Good Friday the previous year to prove their never ending freshness. And so they gained national repute as food ‘fit for a king’.
Today, the St Albans Bun is still sold from various St Albans bakeries, and a ceremony is held each year on Good Friday to bless the buns before they are sold to the public.
Modern twists on the classic Hot X Bun
Over the years many different regional variations of hot cross bun have developed, each with their own unique takes on hot cross buns, with variations in ingredients, shape, and decoration.
The most popular variations (and my personal favourites marked with a star) include:
Fruit and nut hot cross buns: incorporating a mix of the normal dried fruits such as raisins and currants, but adding nuts such as chopped almonds, to add texture and flavor.
Citrus hot cross buns: these feature the addition of fresh orange or lemon zest, adding a tangy note to the spiced dough, but also a splash of spring time colour.
⭐ Apple and cinnamon hot cross buns: to achieve more of an autumnal flavour, this variation includes chopped apple pieces and cinnamon, for maximum warming comfort.
⭐ Chocolate chip hot cross buns: I mean wow. These buns feature chocolate chips or chunks, which make them a rich and indulgent treat, and a twist to the classic recipe perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
Red velvet hot cross buns: a unique variation which has become more popular in recent years. These feature the signature bright red color of red velvet cake, along with a sweet cream cheese glaze, often flavored with cocoa powder or vanilla
Savory hot cross buns: For those who prefer a more savory flavor, hot cross buns can also be made with ingredients such as cheese, bacon, or herbs like rosemary or thyme.
Other famous food from St Albans
So we've milked the Easter favourite hot cross buns to death a little (😬), but is also known for several other foods and drinks which are associated with the town’s history and traditions.
St Albans Pork Sausages
These sausages are made with a recipe dating back to the 19th century and are still made by local butchers in St Albans. The sausages are made with lean pork and a blend of herbs and spices, giving them a unique and delicious flavor. Some great local butchers have food stalls at the regular St Albans farmers market, so pop by and take a look.
St Albans Plums
These plums are a local variety that are known for their sweet, juicy flavor. They were first cultivated in St Albans in the 19th century and are still grown in the area today.
St Albans Cake
This is a type of fruitcake that is made with dried fruit, spices, and brandy. Very similar to the traditional Christmas cake it is said to have been a favorite of Queen Victoria. Perfect if you’re looking to enjoy Afternoon Tea in St Albans!
St Albans Ale
The town has a long history of brewing, and St Albans Ale was once one of the most famous beers in England. In fact, St Albans has more pubs per square mile than any other town in the country (or so they say)!
When is the St Albans Beer & Cider Festival?
27th - 30th September 2023
Plus watch this space, because at some point in the future we’re looking to launch a St Albans pub trail, the perfect way to combine a walking pub tour with a treasure hunt around St Albans. In the mean time though, you can give our traditional Text Trails a go, and explore more in this great city.
One of the most popular food-related events in the town is the annual St Albans Food festival, which celebrates the town's diverse culinary scene. Featuring food and drink stalls, cooking demonstrations, and workshops, and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
When is the St Albans Food & Drink Festival?
2nd - 4th June 2023.
St Albans has a thriving cafe culture, a wide range of independent coffee shops and cafes serving up everything from artisanal coffee to vegan cakes and pastries. The town also has a diverse restaurant scene, with options ranging from traditional British pub food to contemporary fusion cuisine.
Hot Cross Bun Trivia
I’ll bet you didn't know all these facts about Hot Cross Buns! Let us know how many surprised you in the comments section below!!
In 2019, a baker in the UK created the world's largest hot cross bun, weighing in at over 200 pounds.
In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I issued a decree that hot cross buns could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas, and for burials. This law wasn’t abolished until the 19th century.
According to superstition, hot cross buns baked on Good Friday are said to have special powers, such as the ability to protect against evil spirits and prevent fires.
In Australia and New Zealand, hot cross buns are a popular treat year-round, not just during the Easter season (I know right? Odd.)
According to some buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the next 12 months year
Superstitious people will encourage you to keep a bun in the kitchen at all times for medicinal purposes (but not to eat, that would be too sensible, just to have there on the side as a precaution)
If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck
If hung in the kitchen, hot cross buns are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly
Wrapping this up (because I’m starting to make myself hungry), hot cross buns are a beloved treat with a rich history and much cultural significance which links back to Hertfordshire. Whether you enjoy them as a symbol of Easter or simply as a tasty treat, there's no denying their appeal. From their humble origins to their modern-day variations, hot cross buns continue to be a staple of baking traditions around the world.
So why not try making your own hot cross buns at home, or explore some of the regional variations to discover new and exciting flavours? Share your favourite hot cross bun flavours or serving suggestions with us in the comments below!
Whether you're eating a hot cross bun, hunting for Easter Eggs, or hunting for a clue as you complete one of our St Albans trails, we hope you enjoy the long bank holiday weekend!
Happy Hunting!! 🔎