Food Critic Jay Rayner Visits St Albans Cathedral to Find Out About the Alban Bun
Fri, 15 March 2013
Jay Rayner made a visit to St Albans Cathedral this week to find out all about the Alban Bun. In a feature to be shown on BBC One Show on Good Friday, the food critic looks at the origin of the Hot Cross Bun and why in St Albans, we have 'The Alban Bun'.
The Hot Cross Bun is said to originate in St Albans, Hertfordshire, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk attached to the refectory at St Albans Monastery, developed an original recipe and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1381.
For nearly seven hundred years, the Alban Bun has been a part of the Easter tradition at St Albans Cathedral.
The buns themselves are hand-formed, so they are a less regular shape. The cross on the top is formed with two slices of a knife – there isn’t a piped cross on top. The bun has a distinctive, spicy taste. It can be toasted or not and served with or without butter
The original full recipe is a closely guarded secret but ingredients include: flour, eggs, fresh yeast, currants and grains of paradise, or cardamom as it is commonly known. We have kept faithful to the original 14th century recipe with the exception of the flour, which was probably slightly less refined in those days, and we have added some peel. Oranges are thought to have been introduced to Britain in the 1200s, so they pre-date Brother Rocliffe’s invention and in that sense it isn’t a cheat. The only fruit in the original recipe was the currant. Otherwise, the recipe is entirely faithful.
Some people have questioned whether cardamom would have been available in the 14th century in Britain. The Normans brought cardamom to Britain in the 11th century. Another type of cardamom, known as grains of paradise or Aftramomum melegueta, was introduced at the time. It has a strong flavour and is often mentioned in medieval and Tudor recipes.
The original source of the Alban Bun is still being researched. An article in the Herts Advertiser of 1862 report it as follows:
It is said that in a copy of 'Ye Booke of Saint Albans' it was reported that; "In the year of Our Lord 1381 Thomas Rocliffe, a monk attached to the refectory at St Albans Monastery, caused a quantity of small sweet spiced cakes, marked with a cross, to be made; then he directed them to be given away to persons who applied at the door of the refectory on Good Friday in addition to the customary basin of sack (wine). These cakes so pleased the palates of the people who were the recipients that they became talked about, and various were the attempts to imitate the cakes of Father Rocliffe all over the country, but the recipe of which was kept within the walls of the Abbey." The time honoured custom has therefore been observed over the centuries, and will undoubtedly continue into posterity, bearing with it the religious remembrance it is intended to convey,
The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans said “Recently we’ve lost touch with the significance of the bun, and its link to Holy Week and the Cross. These days it’s possible to buy Hot Cross Buns throughout the year. Whilst any reminder of the importance of Easter is welcomed, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Alban Bun might be a way of reaffirming the significance of the bun as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection.’
The Alban Bun will be on sale in the Abbot’s Kitchen restaurant at St Albans Cathedral from Monday 25th March. We do not intend to offer them for sale outside of the season of Lent, the time of preparation for Easter.