The first bun

21 March 2014

THE tradition is that the first hot cross bun was the creation of Br Thomas Rocliffe, of St Albans Abbey, who, in 1381, "caused a quantity of small spiced cakes, marked with a cross, to be made; then he directed them to be given away to persons who applied at the door of the refectory on Good Friday, in addition to the customary basin of sack.

"These cakes so pleased the palates of the people who were the recipients that they became talked about, and various were the attempts to imitate the cakes of Br Thomas all over the country, but the recipe of which was kept within the walls of the abbey."

The original full recipe is still a closely guarded secret but the ingredients include flour, eggs, fresh yeast, currants, and grains of paradise or cardamom. Today, the buns are produced by Redbournbury Mill, once owned by St Albans Abbey, where the baker stays, he says, close to the original recipe, with the slight addition of some extra fruit.

The buns are hand-formed; so they are more irregular in shape than more commercial buns, and the cross on top is formed with two slices of a knife, instead of being piped.

The Alban buns, which arrive fresh-baked every day throughout Lent and until Easter Monday, are available from the Abbot's Kitchen at the Abbey. They are made this year, says the miller at Redbournbury, Justin James, from wheat grown at Hammonds End Farm, at Harpenden. "The historic links between mill and abbey", he says, "are echoed in this truly local product that sees a traditional partnership between farm, mill, bakery, and abbey."

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