Hot cross buns served up with myth and mystical pricing

Hot cross buns for Easter
Getty Image: Hot cross buns for Easter

Every year at Easter I think about which hot cross buns to get - and how much they might cost.

You might have heard that they were once “one-a-penny”. I mean at that price who would have left the bakery after just one?

Early on hot cross buns were given away

The story is that Christian monks first made hot cross buns in the 1300s and distributed them to feed the poor.

Among the generous bakers were the brothers at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire in England. Brother Thomas Rocliffe is said to have developed an original recipe and from 1361, he would hand out the buns to the needy on Good Friday.

A couple of centuries later, England went bun mad with many people believing the sweet little snacks had magical powers. But the initial mystique of the hot cross bun is hard to pinpoint because some sources even date them back to the ancient Egyptians who used small round breads topped with crosses to celebrate the gods.

Don’t forget the Greeks and Romans, never ones to skip a good origin story, who were said to offer similar sweetened rolls in tribute to the heavens.

Baked in - high cost of inflation

For our purposes here, better money habits, hot cross buns might just be an excellent marker of household costs in a high-cost world. Consider that fairly affordable buns can be found in supermarkets, middle of the road prices are often served at your local cafe or corner shop, while for those with bagfuls of pennies, high-end buns can be found at fancy boutique bakeries. 

The price variation is important here because we’re essentially talking about the same ingredients with only slight tweaks - it's usually flour, sugar, yeast, milk, eggs - bread! And as we know, bread is one of the most inflated of food items on the Aussie consumer price index - up 8.3% as of January, as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

If you think sugar and spice can be magical, nothing is really quite as potent as the spell of inflation.

How much for six buns at Easter?

A little Googling reminds us that just a few years ago a supermarket six-pack of hot cross buns was around $3.50.

And yet a standard supermarket six-pack might now set you back $4, while some more ‘luxurious’ supermarket versions can even go for $5. 

Bakers Delight used to do a sixer for around $7 but that’s now $9, and a cafe-level pack appears to have jumped from around $8.50 to $10 or $12 in many cases.

In light of these 2024 price points, $20 for six at highly regarded gourmet shops like Bourke Street Bakery or Sonoma Bakery seem reasonable.  

Don't get cross - it's about the flavour

Indeed cost alone isn’t everything - the best buns are about bang for buck. The price of your Easter buns won’t matter so much if they deliver on flavour and according to leading taste buds - the judges for the Victoria Baking Show among them - North End Bakehouse in Shepparton crosses all the boxes (and buns). 

These hungry aficionados sampled entries from 130 bakeries across NSW, Victoria and South Australia before hitting on a winner, so we’ll take it on good faith that they know what they’re doing.

Like many bakeries, North End cooks up a number of bun varieties and perhaps in the interest of a more egalitarian Easter, offer a range of price points, too. Last I checked, their packs were $8 without fruit, $8.50 with Vegemite, $9.50 for a traditional pack and $16 for vanilla hot cross buns.

Failing that you could simply nab some more Easter eggs. After all, the CPI on dairy and related products only climbed 6.1% in January. Bargain. 

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