Family & Education

The halachah of hot cross buns

Pesach is coming, but first Zelda Leon has to deal with her husband's ban on Easter baked goods


It’s that time of year again. Nothing remains of the hamantaschen but their unpleasantly lingering memory. We finally admitted that none of us actually likes them, whereupon we got great satisfaction in hurling them into the garden for the birds. I’m sure I saw a pigeon carefully circumnavigating one on the lawn.

Pesach will soon be here and, more to the point to my chocaholic Inner Shiksa, Easter. It has been pointed out to me that I write about food even when I’m supposed to be writing about something else — an accusation to which I can only hold my hands up (a slice of toast in each) and confess that this is true.

The Husband, as well as being kosher-ish — definitely no treif — can’t even sit within earshot of people crunching their way through a platter of fruits de mer, but piles parmesan on his Spaghetti Bolognese as if aiming for a record, has very strong feelings about hot cross buns.

I can’t understand the practice of displaying a crucifix on your sitting-room wall as part of the décor (a representation of someone being slowly tortured to death — just what kind of interior scheme does that really go with?) but I find it hard to drum up any serious level of antagonism towards a bun.

I only discovered his antipathy towards hot cross buns when I brought some home one day.

“Oh,”says Ben, coming into the kitchen. “Hot cross buns.”

“Mmm,” (already halfway through my first). “Do you prefer as is or toasted?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t bring them into the house really.”

“You’re kidding?” I could possibly live on these. Actually, if it were a toss-up between saving them in a fire or saving the Husband, I’d leave him to make his own way out.

“No, seriously. They’ve got a cross on them.”

I rotate a bun by 45 degrees .

“But look – now it’s a kiss!” I say. “Or a multiplication symbol. Take your pick.”

He rotates it again to its original position.

“But we know it’s really a cross, don’t we?”

“But they’re from Franklin’s.” This is a very good bakery that, unusually, is Jewish but not kosher. It’s the only one near us that sells hot cross buns and they’re excellent: very shiny and sticky on the top, perfect balance of sultanas and mixed spice and peel.

“Maybe you could make some with Magen Davids on them,” says The Husband, as that’s what I do with mince pies to “Jewy” them up a bit.

I love baking but there are limits and I fear bread and buns are not my forte. I have twice had a go at making challah and both times, my chief thought was not “this is a mitzvah. I feel blessed,” but: “Why, after all that work, is it still nothing like as good as one from the bakery?”

I cross-check with best friend, Elana, whose husband is properly kosher (she’s the one who has to roam the streets, furtively scoffing her sausage roll out of the paper bag like a drunk with a can of cider because she’s not allowed to eat it at home).

“Will he let hot cross buns past the mezuzah?” I ask.

“He loves them. They’re absolutely allowed in the house, unless it’s Pesach of course. And they must be vegetarian.”

I’m intrigued to know how a hot cross bun could possibly have carnivorous tendencies but I don’t want to reveal just how ignorant I am in these matters because it might be a thing that any proper Jew would know already.

I mention the bun thing to my sister on the phone. We frequently call to swap stories about how annoying our husbands are, especially as everyone else seems to think that they are perfect. She tells me that, shortly after our uncle died (dad’s older brother), she went to visit his widow who, like our mother, wasn’t Jewish.

Like me, my sister rarely goes anywhere without a small stash of baked goods and, on this occasion, she happened to take hot cross buns.

Our aunt, never the most sunny-tempered of persons even on a good day, went into a complete meltdown that my sister had dared to bring these Christian symbols into their flat and my sister had to leave them outside in the communal hallway.

That reminds me of the Husband’s anecdote about the occasion he invited his then girlfriend to join him for the first time at a Seder night at his parents. She wasn’t Jewish and, as he opened the door to let her in, she said, “I hope I’ve got this right – it is all about bread, isn’t it?” And she peeled back some tissue to reveal an enormous, artisan-made loaf in the shape of a wheatsheaf. They had to leave it outside on the front step.

What I love most about that story is that the Husband once dated someone who was even more of a clueless shiksa than I am. Even I know that if you’re taking a fancy loaf to someone on Seder night, it should be in the shape of a lamb shankbone, not a wheatsheaf…


Zelda Leon is half-Jewish by birth then did half a conversion course as an adult (half-measures in all things…) to affirm her Jewish status before a rabbinical board. She is a member of a Reform synagogue. Zelda Leon is a pseudonym.

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