The season for hot cross buns, those big mildly spiced yeast rolls packed with currants or raisins and decorated with a cross of white icing, begins the first day of Lent and lasts until Easter. England seems to be where the buns were born, but just how and when these buns came to be is still something that is unresolved.
Today, hot cross buns commemorate Good Friday, the icing cross symbolizing Jesus's crucifixion. But in pagan times, which many scholars believe was when the buns first made their appearance, the cross may have signified the perfect balance at the time of the spring equinox.
One source, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, says, "The round bun represents the full moon, and the cross represents the four quarters of the moon. [The buns] were made in honor of Diana by the ancient Roman priests somewhere about the vernal equinox."
Whatever the buns' origin, they're good enough to bake year round. The dough is easy to make and handles well, and the buns are scrumptious. Feel free to substitute any dried fruits you like for the currants.
By Greg Patent, a food writer in Missoula, Mont.