It is just an English tradition. I made these adapting this BBC recipe, which seemed more realistically British with this vegan recipe.
I was interested to read in the introduction to this recipe that the cross on the bun is a fertility symbol not a religious one. Another case of the Christian church adopting a symbol already in use. If you click on the top photo it will take you to wikipedia where you can read more about this ancient English tradition.
Here is another photo of mine:
There were many different ways of emphasizing the cross, they all cut the cross before baking but one recipe added a lemon glace afterwards. Two used a flour- water mix with one rolling out the arms as a pastry and sticking them in the gaps and the other piped in a flour-water mixture before cooking. I just cut the buns with a knife and left them plain. They were glazed with maple syrup after baking.
I do not honestly remember if hot cross buns were that significant with my family. We were too excited about chocolate Easter Eggs. I made them this time after my boss [at the bookstore] talked about them – his grandmother was from England and he has lots of memories of the different foods she prepared. I was going to go up to Trader Joe’s and see if they had them, but it was too far to go and baking them was fun, if not a little nerve wracking as the dough was less elastic and didn’t rise a much as I expected. I’ll get a chance to make them more successfully next year!
Hot Cross Bun Recipe
1 cup soy milk (warmed)
1 tbs or packet dried bakers yeast
1 tsp sugar
31/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
2 tps allspice
1/3 cup butter (about 2/3 of a stick?)
1/2 cups sugar
Zest of one lemon (I peeled mine with a peeler and cut up the strips with scissors – it was actually easier than grating)
3/4 cups currants (use raisins if you cannot find currants) (currants are NOT the same as black currants or red currants)
Hot maple syrup or honey
Mix the soy milk, tsp of sugar and yeast together and set aside to ferment.
Mix the flours, spices, sugar, lemon zest together in a large bowl.
Cut the butter into the flour mix – keep cutting with a table or pastry knife until it is really mixed in flour. Mix the finally bits with your hands as if making pastry.
Stir the yeast-soy milk into the flour and mix to make a dough.
Knead your dough. If it is too dry or too tough add more soy milk or water.
Add the currants – I rolled out the dough and sprinkled about 1/3 of the currants into the middle and rolled up the dough and kneaded it a few times. I did this three times in total.
Roll the dough into a ball and leave covered until doubled (1 h or more).
Punch down and leave again (40 mins or more).
Divide the dough into 16 pieces [this is easier than 12!] and roll into balls. Place balls into parchment paper and flatten slightly. With a sharp knife cut two thirds of the way through to make the cross. Place in a clean plastic bag for 40 mins [not sure why].
Bake in a preheated oven at 475 oF for 10 -15 mins. They should be golden brown on the top.
Remove from oven and glaze with hot maple syrup or honey.
Serve warm (you can heat them in microwave or toast them) on Good Friday with butter.