Two-a-penny – something that is in plentiful supply, and therefore very cheap. Possibly from the old nursery rhyme “Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a-penny, two a-penny, hot cross buns”
Note: there’s a reason why Kate was named Nicer Kate. Two-a-penny is a useful idiom at all times, whereas the expression I had suggested, namely to have a bun in the oven, is not. Having a bun in the oven is rather a horrible way of saying someone is pregnant. And actually, it’s not very useful. If indeed you went up to anyone and said: “So, have you got a bun in the oven?” I am pretty sure they wouldn’t like it. They might even punch. I asked a few people if and when they’d use it, and they mostly said never, unless it was about a woman they didn’t like much, and she wasn’t listening. Nicer Kate’s choice, therefore, is much much…nicer.
Hot Cross Buns have been around for rather a long time, especially as there is evidence of cake-baking pagan women making buns marked with a cross-like symbol to celebrate the spring equinox and the festival of the northern goddess Eostre. Spot the similarity. When the church first arrived on this island, all this pagan stuff got them a bit cross (hoho), before, I suppose they realised it might be easier not to ban the cakes, but suddenly pretend the cross made them Christian, and so to steal the idea altogether. They did it with eggs, and rabbits too, and all this ancient pagan symbolism stays with us today, but disguised as Christianity…and this is why we sometimes get confused about what the Easter Bunny has to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As you can see by the recipe, they are a very simple sweet dough, with added fruit, and a cross made of flour and water across the top. When I was a kid, my mother would ONLY let us eat them on Good Friday. Nowadays, I buy them in November and try not to feel guilty. I’ve eaten two today already. I’m trying not to feel guilty about that too.
HOT CROSS BUNS
For the dough
- 450g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 x 7g sachets yeast
- 50g caster sugar
- 150ml warm milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 50g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
- oil, for greasing
The spices and dried fruit
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- 100g currants
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- Put the flour, yeast, caster sugar and 1 tsp salt into a large mixing bowl with the spices and dried fruit and mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour in the warm milk, 50ml warm water, the beaten egg and the melted butter. Mix everything together to form a dough – start with a wooden spoon and finish with your hands. If the dough is too dry, add a little more warm water; if it’s too wet, add more flour.
- Knead in the bowl or on a floured surface until the dough becomes smooth and springy. Transfer to a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with a clean, damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise until roughly doubled in size – this will take about 1 hr depending on how warm the room is.
- Tip the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly, then divide into 12 even portions – I roll my dough into a large round, then quarter and divide each quarter into 3 pieces. Shape each portion into a smooth round and place on a baking sheet greased with butter, leaving some room between each bun for it to rise.
- Use a small, sharp knife to score a cross on the top of each bun, then cover with the damp tea towel again and leave in a warm place to prove for 20 mins until almost doubled in size again. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
- When the buns are ready to bake, mix the plain flour with just enough water to give you a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag (or into a plastic food bag and snip the corner off) and pipe a white cross into the crosses you cut earlier.
- Bake for 12-15 mins until the buns are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. While still warm, warm the apricot jam in a small pan, then brush over the buns.
(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights