Over the last few days, bakeries across the city have had on display various Easter goodies such as marzipan and chocolate eggs, bunny-shaped cookies and baked sweetmeats shaped as nests. Alongside these attractive confections, albeit a tad less prominent, sit hot cross buns. Spicy and with raisins, they have baked strips of sweet dough forming a cross on the top.
Over the last few years, the traditional recipe of hot cross buns — ‘hot’ because of the spices that go into making them — has received a twist. Far more simple in the early days, with coriander seeds and only a hint of spice, the modern-day version is more the baker’s interpretation of the bun. For instance, Kainaz Messman of Theobroma has reduced the sweetness of the bun this year. “It’s so that the spices and raisins can be enjoyed when it’s smeared with butter and eaten,” she says.
Talking about the relevance of hot cross buns in Christian iconography, Father Warner, director of the Bombay Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Goregaon, says that originally, the buns were only one of the many food items sold on Maundy Thursday after the depiction of the Last Supper. “Sometimes, it is blessed by the priest and so is considered sacred. That’s where the concept originates from,” he says. Since olden times, people going to the church on Maundy Thursday buy cross buns and fruits to distribute it among the poor.
But children’s fondness for this sweet treat is also one of the reasons why hot cross buns have become an integral part of popular culture. “That has caught on and people from all faiths like to have hot cross buns, just as they enjoy other Easter goodies,” says Father Warner. Keeping this in mind, each bakery has its own variation of the classic with pricing to suit their patrons. Also, most bakeries now keep them through the week in the run up to Easter although traditionally, it is consumed only on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday, the day before Easter.
So, the buns available at La Pain Quotidian (LPQ), for instance, priced at Rs 59 a piece, are thick and doughy but sweeter than several others available in the market. Their marzipan strips that form the cross especially appeal to children. The ones at Indigo Deli, at Rs 71, however, are spicy but bland. Theobroma, apart from its regular version, is also doing an Easter Brioche cake this time, which is made by soaking hot cross buns in rum, which is then layered with chocolate custard and decorated with marzipan and an Easter chick.
At Kyani & Co at Dhobi Talao, one of the few surviving Iranis in the city, hot cross buns have been a part of their century-old legacy. “This neighbourhood was dominated by Christians and Parsis all along, so hot cross buns have been one of the Easter season specials. In fact, we started making Easter eggs and other goodies much later; the buns in contrast are a long-standing tradition,” says owner Farokh Shokri.
Kyani, however, likes to keep their hot cross buns simple. The only differentiating factor between their regular bun and the Easter variety is the incision or strips to form a cross on top with sugar crystals sprinkled on it. “The buns are bought on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday because it represents the crucifixion of Jesus, so it isn’t celebratory in nature. Also, people often buy it to give it to the poor. Keeping these factors in mind, we prefer to sell a simple and economical version, priced at Rs 6 a piece,” says Shokri.