CHENNAI: They’re not called ‘hot’ cross buns for nothing. With Good Friday fast approaching, bakeries in the city both big and small are gearing up to pull early morning shifts and double their oven duty through the day.
“We’ve assigned 12 people from our baking staff exclusively to handle the preparation of hot cross buns,” says Padmanabha Rao, who handles the production units of McRennetts that cater to 40 outlets across the city. Good Friday for the uninitiated, is the day that commemorates the crucifixion of Christ, hence the significance of the cross on the bun.
Expecting to sell 10,000 hot cross buns this weekend, about 20% more than their sales last year — McRennett’s is easily the largest provider of these traditional favourites in the city. Baked in multiple batches through the day, Rao shares that over the decades his staff has perfected the process of baking, cooling and packing, in massive quantities. All in a day’s work. With raisins and a spice mix of cinnamon and nutmeg, the recipe, unlike the ever evolving Easter Egg is never altered, and despite remaining the same, the demand seems to grow year after year.
“Five years ago, we sold about 300 packets of hot cross buns. Today we have upped that number to 2,000,” says pastry chef Boopesh P of French Loaf. And the same feeling is resonated by the folks at the Old Madras Baking Company, that only set up shop nearly two ago.
Of course, the biggest challenge for these kitchens is to whip out such large batches of buns within a high pressure four days — usually starting on Maundy Thursday and finishing on Easter Sunday.
“And the buns have to be ‘fresh’ so they are always sold the same day,” adds chef Boopesh. He adds, “While most people think our highest sale of hot cross buns is on Good Friday, because that’s when it is meant to be eaten traditionally, our highest sale is actually a day before.”
This way, those who are fasting on Good Friday don’t need to muster up the energy to venture out, or the resolve to stay clear of tempting Easter treats on the shelves.
(Hot Cross Buns are priced as low as `10 to `50 per piece, but are usually sold in group packs for families and Church congregations.)
Heard of the ‘Not Cross’ Bun?
In the UK, the major supermarkets produce variations of traditional recipe such as toffee, orange-cranberry, and apple-cinnamon. In Australia and New Zealand, a chocolate version of the bun has become popular; coffee-flavoured buns are also sold in some Australian bakeries. The not cross bun is a variation that uses the same ingredients but instead of a ‘cross’ on top, it has a smiley showing ‘not cross’ (not angry).
Buns in a 14th Century Monastery
Some historians date the origin of ‘Hot Cross Buns’ as an Easter Tradition back to the 12th Century. In 1361, an Anglican monk named Father Thomas Rocliffe, was recorded to have made small spiced cakes stamped with the sign of the cross, to be distributed to the poor visiting his monastery. According to the scholar Harrowven, the idea was so popular that he made the buns every year, carefully keeping his bun recipe secret. Clearly, from its popularity today, that secret got out!