One-a-penny, two-a-penny no more: Where to buy hot cross buns in NJ and NY this Easter

·8 min read

One-a-penny, two-a-penny hot cross buns! Such a great nursery rhyme. And such a lousy business model.

Same item, two different price points? They don't teach you that at Wharton. Mother Goose seems to have left out some clarifying point. Perhaps a penny bought you either one large, or two small, buns. Whatever can be said about this rhyme, which first appeared in English around 1733, it's not a great lesson in retail.

Kathy Young, the co-owner of Varrelmann's Bake Shop in Rutherford, poses with a tray of hot cross buns in the bakery on Tuesday March 29, 2022.
Kathy Young, the co-owner of Varrelmann's Bake Shop in Rutherford, poses with a tray of hot cross buns in the bakery on Tuesday March 29, 2022.

Not that it matters, now. When you do find hot cross buns these days, you're not going to find them in anything like that price bracket.

"They're not a penny anymore," said Kathy Young, co-owner of Varrelmann's Bake Shop in Rutherford. At her place, they're $1.50 apiece — more or less the current market value.

And you may have trouble finding them, at any price.

Hot cross buns are not the commonplace they were a generation ago, said several of the bakers we talked to.

"For some reason they're not popular as they used to be," Young said. "Now we just make them on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday."

And only, of course, during the Easter season, when this "celebration bread," usually made with raisins or currants or dried fruit, and with a little cross etched on the top in icing, is supposed to be eaten.

"It's really an old-timer thing," said Dave Miller, co-owner of two Miller's Bakeries, one in Cliffside Park, and the other in Tenafly. He's a third-generation baker, all about tradition. But even he makes hot cross buns only on weekends, and only during the Easter season.

"There were these two old ladies who use to come to our place in Tenafly, and every year they would get 120 hot cross buns on Ash Wednesday," Miller said. "They were like clockwork. Then five years ago, it was down to one old lady. She never missed it. She ordered them three weeks in advance, and then, 6:05 a.m. Ash Wednesday, she was there. It was like my clue — I would look at the order and say, 'Here comes Lent.' It was nice.

"Then with COVID, it fell apart, and I haven't seen her since. "

They taste good, too

In addition to being a useful substitute for a calendar, hot cross buns are also good to eat.

"My favorite way is to cut it in half and slather it with butter," said Susan O'Keefe, owner of Baked by Susan in Croton-on-Hudson, She's been making hot cross buns ever since she began her business, 12 years ago.

Hot Cross Buns from Baked by Susan, Croton-on-Hudson (Courtesy @copperspooncollective)
Hot Cross Buns from Baked by Susan, Croton-on-Hudson (Courtesy @copperspooncollective)

"They're small enough that you can eat two and not feel like you're ruining your diet," she said. "They're sweet, not overly sweet, almost like a little dinner roll, studded with plump juicy raisins. We make every single thing from scratch. I make the glaze with sugar and milk, which I kind of drizzle on top to make the cross."

If hot cross buns, like so many good things, do go by the wayside, more's the pity. They have a fascinating cultural resonance — not least because of that nursery rhyme, which was actually an early advertising jingle.

"If you have no daughters give them to your sons, One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!"

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Centuries ago, before commercial advertising had sunk to "We are Farmers. Bum-ba-dum, bum bum bum bum," vendors used to crowd the streets of cities like London and Dublin, each with their own distinctive musical cry.

Some of them have been preserved in rhymes and folk songs. "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!" was one. Also "Cherry Ripe!" Or maybe you remember the street vendors in the musical "Oliver!" ("Who will buy my sweet red roses?") or the opera "Porgy and Bess" ("I'm talkin' about devil crabs!")

During the Lenten season, the cobblestones rang with the cries of peddlers singing "Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!"

That song — still known to almost every child — may be more familiar than the pastry, now.

Name that tune

"I sing it all the time, this time of year," said Andrea Nigro, manager of D'Orsi's Bakery in Port Reading.

She remembers, like many of us, learning it in music class: it's the kind of simple tune that's often used to teach beginning players. "When I was in first grade, we played it on the recorder in school," she said.

Hot cross buns, D'Orsi's Bakery, Port Redding (Courtesy: D'Orsi's Bakery)
Hot cross buns, D'Orsi's Bakery, Port Redding (Courtesy: D'Orsi's Bakery)

But her job as a baker has also made her familiar with the pastry itself.

She makes them every year — and they have a large fan base among the parishioners of nearby St. Anthony of Padua Church.

"That's the church across the street," Nigro said. "After service they come, and we normally get a line out the door. Hot cross buns are pretty popular this time of year. We have some regulars who come in and buy a dozen at a time."

Buns and church are connected, of course. For the faithful, hot cross buns are a seasonal reminder of the Easter miracle — and a pleasant compensation for all the self-denial of Lent.

"Christians in general, people who are celebrating Easter, are looking for those," said Donna Annunziata, bakery production manager at Delicious Orchards, a country food-market in Colts Neck with an in-house bakery. They've been making hot cross buns for decades, starting every Ash Wednesday.

"There are some local churches that look for them," Annunziata said. "A lot of times we can sell 100 a day, up to a thousand a week."

Dave Miller of Millers Bakery in Cliffside Park holds a tray of hot cross buns. The bakery makes the buns from Ash Wednesday through Easter.
Dave Miller of Millers Bakery in Cliffside Park holds a tray of hot cross buns. The bakery makes the buns from Ash Wednesday through Easter.

Putting crosses on baked goods seems to pre-date Christianity. Ancient Egyptians divided their small loaves into four equal sections, representing the four seasons. Later, medieval bakers would put crosses on their cakes, invoking the Lord to ensure rising and prevent mold.

Eventually, by the 12th century, crosses became restricted to special pastries, made for the Lenten period, as a reminder of the crucifixion.

The spices and dried fruits in the bun have been variously explained. Some say they are a token of luck and prosperity. Others that they represent the spices used to embalm Jesus (orange peel, with its bittersweet aftertaste, is exhibit A).

"We make them with currants, diced citrus fruit, diced orange, diced lemon, diced cherry," Miller said. "That's the way my father taught me."

The banning of the buns

Hot cross buns, considered idolatrous by the Puritans, were banned during the English Commonwealth period. Their return with the 1660 Restoration was apparently greeted with the same enthusiasm that later generations greeted the return of red M&Ms, or Coke original formula.

"If you grew up with hot cross buns, you like them," said Young of Varrelmann's Bake Shop. Their recipe, dating back 100 years to the original owners, calls for raisins. "It's a nice bun, with the raisins and the icing on top."

Hot cross buns at Varrelmann's Bake Shop in Rutherford shown on Tuesday March 29, 2022.
Hot cross buns at Varrelmann's Bake Shop in Rutherford shown on Tuesday March 29, 2022.

Given the cultural weight of hot cross buns, they have — naturally — given rise to some debate, when it comes to best practices.

In some countries, like England, they're available all year round. Others say they must only be eaten between Ash Wednesday and Easter. And still others insist that hot cross buns may only be eaten on Good Friday, and at no other time.

O'Keefe is having none of that.

"My mother told me you can only eat it them Good Friday," she said. "No way. The minute it feels like spring, I start making them."

Where to find them

Hot cross buns can be elusive quarry. Even bakers that make them, during the Easter season, sometimes offer them only on weekends, or while supplies last. We suggest you call ahead before visiting the following vendors:

Rudy's Pastry Shop, 23 Willet St, Bloomfield; 973-743-3768,

Natalie's Summit Bakery, 185 Broad St, Summit; 908-277-2074,

Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe, 159 South St, Morristown; 973-267-0092,

Vaccaro's Bakery, 20 Clarkton Dr., Clark; 732-381-8564,

B&W Bakery, 614 Main St., Hackensack; 201-342-5577,

Mueller's Bakery, 80 Bridge Ave,, Bay Head; 732-892-0442,

Delicious Orchards, 320 Route 34, Colts Neck. (732) 462-1989,

D'Orsi's Bakery, 479 Port Reading Ave., Port Reading. (732) 634-7994,

White Plains Bake Shoppe, 466 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains N.Y. (914) 997-8179,

Baked By Susan, 379 S Riverside Ave., Croton-On-Hudson, N.Y. (914) 862-0874,

Neri's Bakery, 31 Pearl St., Port Chester, N.Y. (914) 937-3235,

Varrelmann's Bake Shop, 60 Park Ave., Rutherford. (201) 939-0462,

Miller's Bakery, 716 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park. (201) 943-0400,

Miller's Bakery, 5 Washington St., Tenafly. (201) 871-4449,

Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for For unlimited access to his insightful reports about how you spend your leisure time, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


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This article originally appeared on Where to buy hot cross buns in NY and NJ this Easter season