Yeasted, fruited, sugared and spiced, the humble hot cross bun is richer than you might think, especially if you try the luxury, extra buttery Bel Cafe variety. Easter chocolates steal the spotlight, but hot cross buns – the festive, holiday comfort food – deserve their moment under the brights.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, making today the ideal day to consider what makes the perfect hot cross bun. However you spend your long holiday weekend, hopefully you’ll have time to sample these limited edition wares from Vancouver bakeries.
Find out more about the history of this doughy treat, and what makes the perfect hot cross bun below.
History of the hot cross bun
The first Oxford English Dictionary reference to the hot cross bun can be traced to the nursery rhyme that appeared around 1733, although the British Easter variety of hot cross bun predates that. The English began perfecting sweet buns in the late 1600s when sugars and spices from the New World were available to an increasing middle class.
But according to The Guardian’s investigation of “HCB” history, Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Romans and Saxons traditionally baked loaves (or buns) to celebrate spring before Christianity’s arrival, marking them with symbols ranging from X’s to harvest tools.
Hot cross buns from Vancouver bakeries and patisseries
Bel Cafe, situated in the iconic Rosewood Hotel Georgia, has a luxurious version of the HCB on offer. Pastry Chef Wayne Kozinko has a special talent for making the traditional decadent and delicious. Bel Cafe imports a special butter from New Zealand that contains a higher fat level (84%) than your average pat. Bel’s hot cross buns are baked fresh, in-house every day and contain currants. They are $2.50 a piece and served with…more butter.
Terra Breads also bakes a lovely HCB, available at Terra Bread Cafes and Whole Foods. I’ve heard peers rave abut these soft but substantial, nicely spiced buns. Again, Terra sticks to currants, rather than innovating with chocolate chips. The icing cross adds just the right touch of sticky sweet.
If you need that chocolate fix, look no farther than Cobs. Made from scratch daily, Cobs Chocolate Chip HCBs contain more than 100 dark chocolate chips per bun. Cobs also bakes a basic, Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Bun spiced with a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Uprising Breads, who has been baking up a storm from Commercial Drive for the last 30 years and recently expanded to Kitsilano, has a budget-friendly bun at $5.25 for 6, or $1.25 each.
East Van’s East Village Bakery innovated the HCB, creating an irresistible sourdough variety.
Swiss Bakery, a Main Street favourite made legendary by their soft German pretzels, has an old-fashioned HCB that ticks all the spice, sweet, currant/dough ratio boxes.
What makes the perfect hot cross bun?
After tasting many, it seems to me that the perfect hot cross bun has a rich golden dough, that’s moist while still more bread-like than pastry. An ideal HCB should be light; if you chuck it at a colleague, it shouldn’t do any damage. The spice mix (ideally cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and saffron) should be present without being overpowering. Currants are a must – preferable to chocolate chips – although they shouldn’t be crowded. Bun tops should be sticky – whether the cross is iced on or scored into the dough.
Of course, the perfect HCB should stand up well to toasting. And finally, the perfect HCB should be so irresistible that you don’t notice you scarfed six until your family member asks where they went.
What’s your favourite Vancouver hot cross bun? Weigh in by commenting.