The majority of CBA’s members believe hot cross buns will fly off the shelves this year, with 73% expecting to sell between 500 and 5,000 individual units, while a further 3% even boast they will sell more than a million of the spiced sweet treats.
The traditional bun typically sports a flour/water paste cross on top, theorised to have originated in England in the 12th century to distribute to the poor on Good Friday (the day on which Christians annually observe the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ).
The first record of the buns’ popularity appears in Poor Robin's Almanac for 1733, with an old woman ‘running’ to get her treat for one or two a penny. A 19th century version goes on to describe how a little boy also ‘runs’ to buy a bun for himself, despite his sister’s apron being laden with the delights.
However, hot cross buns didn’t always enjoy such acceptance, and during the reign of Elizabeth I (late 1500s) – and again under James 1 (1600s) – their sales were forbidden at any other time other than at burials, on Good Friday or at Christmas.
While the cross represents the crucifixion, the spices are thought to signify those used to embalm Christ, while the orange peel reflects the bitterness of his death. Today, however, hot cross buns come in many guises, and CBA’s survey revealed a growing trend toward alternative flavours, including dark chocolate (35%), apple & cinnamon (28%), toffee (14%) and coffee or mocha (7%).
“Hot cross buns have always been an obvious choice for customers at Easter and we expect this popularity to continue,” said Daniel Carr from Warings Bakery in Reading.
“Alternative flavours are proving particularly popular, which is why in addition to our traditional hot cross bun, this year, for the first time in our history, we are offering two new flavours – apple & cinnamon and caramel & chocolate chip.”
Savoury versions are also starting to make their mark, with 7% of CBA’s bakers gearing up to produce cheesy versions. Another 14% are hoping to repeat last year’s success with sourdough buns – an indication of the growing excitement around sourdough, first identified in a 2021 CBA survey that found that almost half its members were planning to introduce a sourdough offering.
Thankfully the restrictions around its sales are long gone, and hot cross buns start dominating shelf space weeks ahead of Easter. In fact, 45% of bakers started selling hot cross buns in March, while a quarter of CBA’s members have had them on sale since February. Some bakers (12%) even offer hot cross buns all year round.