Hot cross buns, traditionally only eaten on Good Friday, supposedly originated in a monastery where Father Rocliff (resident cook) served to the poor spiced buns marked with a cross along with the usual bowl of soup. Old-fashioned hot cross buns have the cross cut into the dough before baking, but you can form the cross out of frosting, if you prefer.
I have also included three other traditional Good Friday recipes: Spätzle, the traditional German dish served at dinner to break an all-day fast; Panini di Ramerino, our Hot Cross Bun's Italian cousin; and Saffron Buns, the Cornish version.
From Katherine Burton's Feast Day Cookbook
Hot Cross Buns I
1 yeast cake* 1 egg
1/4 c. lukewarm water 1/4 c. shredded citron*
1 c. milk 1/4 c. seedless raisins
1/2 c. sugar 3 c. flour
1/2 c. shortening 1/2 t. salt
Soften yeast in water. Scald milk, add sugar and shortening, and cool. Add the beaten egg, the yeast, citron, raisins, and flour sifted with salt. Knead and let rise to double its bulk. Shape into buns, place on greased baking sheet, and let rise until light. Brush with a little milk and bake at 375F for about twenty minutes. When done, cover with powdered sugar in the shape of a cross or do the same with a thin icing.
*One cake of yeast is 2 1/4 teaspoons. You can substitute zest of orange or lemon (fresh or candied) and a bit of ground cardamom for the citron.
From The Festival Breads of Easter via Celebrating the Church Year with Young Children:
Hot Cross Buns II
3 1/2-4 c. flour 1/4 c. melted butter
3/4 c. lukewarm milk 1/4 t. allspice
1/2 c. lukewarm water 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 pkg. active yeast 1/4 t. nutmeg
1 T. sugar 2 eggs
1/4 c. sugar 1/2 c. currants
1 t. salt 1/3 c. diced fruit peel egg glaze
Combine 1 cup of flour, the milk, water, yeast and 1 T. sugar. Beat well. Set in a warm place until frothy. Melt butter and cool. To the yeast mix, add remaining sugar, salt, melted butter, and spices. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add 1 cup of flour, and beat 5 minutes with a mixer. Gradually add remaining flour, currants and peel. Turn out and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes). Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top of the dough. Cover with towel and let rise until doubled. Punch down. Turn and knead lightly for 2 minutes. Divide into 24 equal portions and shape into buns. Place well apart on greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until almost doubled (30 minutes).
After cutting a cross into each bun with a sharp knife, brush with egg white beaten with 1 T. of water. Bake 375F for 15-20 minutes or until golden. When cool, you may ice.
Also from Burton's Feast Day Cookbook:
1 1/2 c. flour 1/2 c. milk
pinch of salt 1/2 c. water
2 eggs bread crumbs
1/4 lb. butter
Sift flour and salt together. Add eggs, milk and water. With a fork dipped in boiling water, cut the dough in small pieces into boiling water. Boil for a few minutes until they rise to the top. Cover with bread crumbs fried in butter. Serve with warm stewed prunes or other dried fruits.
Both from Vitz's A Continual Feast:
Panini di Ramerino (Rosemary Buns):
1pkg. dry yeast 4-4 1/2 c. sifted flour
1 1/4 c. warm water 3/4 c. golden raisins
2 t. sugar 3 T. rosemary leaves
1 t. salt
3/4 c. olive oil
Sprinkle yeast into warm water and add sugar. Let sit until frothy. Add the salt and 1/4 c. of oil. Gradually mix in 3 1/2 c. flour. Toss with raisins with 1/2 c. of flour and add them to the dough.
Knead the dough until smooth (about 10 minutes). Add more flour as necessary to make a stiff dough. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover with a towel and let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Saute the rosemary leaves in the remaining olive oil until golden brown. Return the risen dough to the lightly floured surface. Make a hole and pour into it the rosemary and oil. Knead for about 5 minutes. Cut the dough into 2 dozen buns and place them about 1 1/2 inches apart on a greased baking sheets. With a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of each bun. Cover lightly and let rise until doubled again.
If you want, sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375F and continue baking until the buns are golden browns.
Cornish Saffron Buns
1 pkg. dry yeast 4 c. flour
1/4 c. warm water 2 t. nutmeg
1 t. white or light brown sugar 2/3 c. dried currants
1 c. milk 1/4 t. saffron and 1 1/2 t. warm water
1/2 c. sweet butter 1/2 c. mixed candied fruit peel
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. salt
2 eggs, beaten
Stir yeast, water, and sugar together. Set until frothy. Scald the milk. Add the butter, sugar and salt. Stir until blended. Cool to lukewarm. Beat the eggs until light, and combine with the milk mixture. Add the yeast. Sift the 3 c. of flour with the spices. Steep saffron in warm water for 10 minutes. Make a well in the dough and pour in the yeast and saffron mixtures. Beat for 5 minutes. Toss the currants and fruit peel with the remaining flour and mix into the dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Let rise in a greased bowl until doubled (about 2 hours). Punch the dough down. Shape into 2 dozen buns. Place them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on a well-greased cookie sheet or in muffin pans. Allow to rise again until doubled, 30-45 minutes. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes.