Battle of the buns
- Credit: Becky Alexander
St Albans is the home of the original hot cross bun, the Alban bun, and I look forward to them appearing each year at the Cathedral. But we have many great bakeries in the area, so I thought I would buy as many hot cross buns as I could, and try them all, and report back on which was the best bun.
Is it the Alban bun, the mother of them all? Or is there a newcomer ready to steal the crown? It has been a tough job, readers, but I have devoted myself to the task.
My criteria was to buy hot cross buns made by indies, rather than the supermarkets. Some indies have not started baking them yet, staying true to Easter traditions, but I have eaten as many as I could in the time I had. So here are my findings so far:
Most of us live within short distance of a Simmons, the Hertfordshire family-run bakery. You can buy four buns for £2.50 and they are baked fresh each day.
Simmons buns are soft and fluffy, with a delicate amount of spicing and plenty of fruit. Quite thin when you try to cut them in half, but they toast very well. You can also buy cranberry hot cross buns for a change and these a lovely too. A fantastic, everyday bun. Ideal for breakfast.
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Loafing in Wheathamstead is a postcard-perfect village bakery, with a pretty window to draw you in, and freshly baked bread and cakes on display. Their Easter bunny iced biscuits are very cute, but I stayed focused on my task and picked up four buns, for 80p each.
Fat and glossy with perfect crosses piped on top. They are baked each morning by Daniel, following their own special recipe. I ate one spread with butter, and it was super-fresh and light, with delicious spicing and a good level of fruit. I think the gloss comes from a honey glaze, which was sticky, just like good buns should be.
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Toasted, the bun was also very good, and held its shape well. An excellent bun, at a very good price.
I picked up a pack of Redbournbury Mill buns from Carpenters Farm Shop at £3.99 for four. A classic bun, with good piping and nice spicing. Quite small compared to some of the other buns for the price. But still very nice with a cup of tea.
Brown’s Bread have the market stall in St Albans city centre and they do a great range of loaves and cakes, as well as hot cross buns. These were one of my favourites, with perhaps a little wholemeal flour in the mix for a more substantial texture which held up perfectly to toasting. Delicious spicing and plenty of fruit. A very good bun, sold in paper bags too, so no plastic here.
Sean’s in Redbourn village is a new addition to the bun scene, with a pop-up bakery this year. At slightly more than average at £1.50 a bun (4 for £5), was it worth the extra? Yes it was. An excellent bun. Fat and glossy, with generous fruit and a delicate, hand-piped cross. These buns held up very well to toasting. A favourite with the teens in the house.
Alban buns are being baked at the Cathedral for the first time in 10 years. You need to pre-order them on the Monday (www.stalbanscathedral.org) for collection on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday from the Abbot’s Kitchen inside the cathedral. A pack of four is £4.99 making these one of the more expensive buns.
They have a unique appearance as the cross is cut, rather than piped. A secret recipe with a hint of grains of paradise, Alban buns have warmer spice notes than most buns, which is very pleasant, but might surprise some. A very good bun, with a taste of history.
Gail’s is not a small independent (they have 60 branches) but their display of hot cross buns looked very appealing so I bought those as well. At £1.80 each or four for £6.50 these were easily the most expensive buns. A lovely flavour and a good dense texture.
Hot cross buns will also be available soon from The Pudding Stop and Parker & Vine, and from memory those are very good too, so do check them out nearer to Easter.
So, to conclude. Which is the best? Hmm, tricky, and a bit like choosing between your children. I would happily eat any of these buns, any day of the week, for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
But this year’s best bun award of 2021, for great flavour at a great price, is shared between Loafing and Sean’s in Redbourn! Do feel free to buy them all and try for yourself!