Dr Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, can always be counted on for a cutting opinion on theological matters, but he has now ventured into the realm of baked goods. The outbreak on supermarket shelves of a range of monstrous mutations named after that humble Good Friday edible, the hot cross bun, could be seen, he observed, as “the devil at work “.
From a purely culinary point of view, I totally agree. Searching in vain for a good natural HCB among the bewildering variety of flavors, each more disgusting than the other, it is not difficult to imagine the chef of Beelzebub tempting the legions of lost souls with a toast fork on which impales a pain au chocolat and salted butter caramel, mockingly marked with a pastry cross.
Dr. Ashenden’s objection to gummy or “luxury” buns appears to be twofold. On the one hand, the dissonance between the “delicacy” of brioches with exotic flavors and their decoration with the cross symbolizing the death and resurrection of Christ. On the other hand, he suggests that food companies profit from the appetites that Christian teaching advises us to fight against.
The hot cross bun isn’t the only candy to get a grotesque makeover lately. The rot set in with the fairy cakes: the childhood favorite of a small sponge cake decorated with a bit of frosting evolved into the cupcake – an adult “treat” of a garishly colored sponge topped with a swirl of sinister buttercream. This was followed by the cronut – a croissant-fried donut hybrid filled with flavored cream, hailed by Time magazine as one of the “25 Best Inventions of 2013” – and its more recent cousin, the cruffin, or muffin-croissant cross.
These confections have in common the oily mouthfeel and heart-rending sweetness that define “treats” for the modern palate. But even the “original” hot cross bun, that big ball of flour, sugar, yeast, lard, and mixed fruits and spices, has a complicated history, involving pagan origins and the commercial exploitation of appetites. venal.
Alan Davidson’s essential Oxford Companion to Food notes that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all baked symbolically decorated cupcakes as offerings to the gods. The Saxons offered rolls marked with a cross to the goddess of spring, Eostre, from whom the name “Easter” derives. In the 18th century, the Chelsea Bun House was besieged at Easter by throngs of customers whose eagerness to sample its hot cross buns was echoed centuries later by the long queues outside the New York bakery where the cronut was launched.
Even in the Bible, the spiritual significance of food is accompanied by a certain earthly pragmatism about the urgency of human hunger and the value of togetherness. The face of Christ has sometimes been seen on everyday foods like tortillas and slices of toast, so perhaps it is not impossible to imagine that the symbol of the cross, even when it is presented in a context as incongruous as that of a hot chocolate bun and ice cream sandwich, could mark the beginning of a spiritual awakening for someone.
In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on what happens to Simnel Cakes. A certain supermarket (which will remain unnamed) offered sponge cake imposters under the name of Simnel. Nothing is sacred?