Artisan bakers and confectioners are bringing out the big buns this Easter and putting their spin on the spice-laden, fruity bread synonymous with this time of year. While the bun police may frown upon choc chip and fruit-free offerings, if a bun fits into the bad-but-good category is it really such a crime?
It takes a steely resolve to hold out until Good Friday for your first butter-slathered bun – especially when some supermarket chains start stocking them a week after Christmas. The Dictionary of Food explains that traditionally "cross buns" can be eaten on Good Friday without breaking the Lenten fast. Superstition also has it that buns baked on this day don't go mouldy. To Christians, the cross symbolises Jesus's crucifixion, however crossed buns can be traced back to ancient civilisations. Saxons honoured the goddess Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter, according to The Oxford Companion to Food, and the ancient Egyptians and Greeks also scored baked religious offerings with a cross.
Nowadays, it seems there's no limit to bun experimentation, with Sydney publicans Mitchell Davis and Jamie Thomas duelling over hot cross bun burgers last Easter with their #hotcrosschallenge. Who knew a simple fruit bun could be so fun? Here are some inventive interpretations spotted in bakeries, supermarkets and patisseries this year:
Hot cross doughnuts
In Melbourne, Tivoli Road Bakery's hot cross doughnuts have reappeared. They're available from the South Yarra bakery on weekends leading up to the holiday. Spices and orange-soaked currants, raisins and sultanas are added to a pastry cream filling. Baker Michael James says the dough itself is "freshened up" with lemon oil and zest, to replicate traditional peel pieces. Once filled, the plump doughy balls are rolled in cinnamon sugar for extra spice.
Details: $4 each, available weekends, Tivoli Road Bakery, 3 Tivoli Road, South Yarra, 03 9041 4345, tivoliroad.com.au
Hot cross eclairs?
In Sydney, Bondi sweet and savoury eclair patisserie La Maison de l'Eclair has developed an extravagantly decorated Easter egg themed eclair and they're working on a bun/chocolate egg/eclair hybrid, said to include "cinnamon and apple with calvados, chocolate crunch and easter egg". Stay tuned...
Details: La Maison de l'Eclair, 91 Bondi Road, Sydney, 02 9386 1265, lamaisondeleclair.com.au
Hot cross bun smash
The Gelato Messina team is developing another Easter-themed gelato, likely to feature smashed hot cross buns and a spiced gelato base. The festive flavour will be in stores from Easter Thursday. Previous incarnations included the cheekily titled "Lick my buns", a spiced egg custard gelato with buttered hot cross buns.
Details: Various stores, see gelatomessina.com
Hot cross macs
Albury-based patissier Geoffrey Michael's dainty hot cross macs embody sugar and spice and all things nice. A plumped-up vanilla syrup-soaked raisin dots the centre, sandwiched with a spiced buttercream and encased in a cute criss-crossed shell.
Details: $2.70 each, Geoffrey Michael Patissier, 669 Dean Street, Albury, 02 6021 6733, geoffreymichaelpatissier.com.au
Also try: Celebrity patissier Adriano Zumbo sells a seasonal hot cross "Zumbaron". See adrianozumbo.com for locations in Sydney and Melbourne.
Haigh's hot cross bun chocolates
These rich round balls of fruit, peel and spice-spiked chocolate fudge, covered in dark chocolate and drizzled with a white chocolate are an indulgent morsel for the chocoholic.
Details: $2.95 each or $22.50 for six, see haighschocolates.com.au for stockists and stores in South Australia, NSW and Victoria.
La Madre choc cherry buns
The Geelong-based bakery's dark and dense sourdough buns evoke a Black Forest gateau. Studded with sour Persian cherries and dark Belgian chocolate, these buns are a grown-up choc-chip version. Splash with a dash of kirsch for a boozy hit.
Details: $2.60 each or $15.90 for six, stockists include Thomas Dux, see lamadre.com.au.
Melbourne sweet purveyors Burch & Purchese are keeping it traditional. Darren Purchese concedes that the buns go against their usual "out of the box" approach. The plump yeasted buns' signature is a thinned "cross" solution, painted on in artistic swipes. "It's probably the only thing we sell in store that doesn't have chocolate," says Purchese.
Sydney's Bourke Street Bakery bakes round hot cross loaves each Easter. The yeasted dough features spices and peel, and comes complete with a large cross and glaze. Try it for toast, with a diameter of about 15cm, you'll get enough slices for three or four people.
Details: Burch & Purchese, $3 each or $15 for six, Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, South Yarra, 03 9827 7060, burchandpurchese.com
Details: Bourke Street Bakery, $6.50, available at all Bourke Street Bakery outlets, see bourkestreetbakery.com.
Big brand buns
Coles has brought in British chef Heston Blumenthal for their "hero" buns. Featuring a hint of native lemon myrtle, the uniformly circular buns are made with a buttery brioche dough.
Brumby's bakeries boast a white bread Nutella-centred bun. Bun purists will scoff, but the squat finger bun has a cross so surely it counts?
Bakers Delight's stable of chocolate chip stalwarts includes a mocha bun, promising more than 100 choc chips apiece.
Traditionalist or adventure lover: what side of the hot cross bun fence do you fall? Let us know in the comments below. And if you've spotted any HCB's with a twist this year, we'd love to hear about them too.