At 103, Moncton woman still bakes hot cross buns for Good Friday

·3 min read
Mai Gosselin and her daughter, Pierrette McKnight, with a fresh batch of hot cross buns. The Moncton family has been baking them for decades. (Submitted by Pierrette McKnight - image credit)
Mai Gosselin and her daughter, Pierrette McKnight, with a fresh batch of hot cross buns. The Moncton family has been baking them for decades. (Submitted by Pierrette McKnight - image credit)

If you ask Mai Gosselin about hot cross buns, the 103-year-old will start to list the ingredients and instructions — completely from memory.

The Moncton senior has been baking on Good Friday for decades and never bothered to write down her family recipe. Now, her seven children are learning to continue the tradition.

"We like them," Gosselin said.

Her daughter, 63-year-old Pierrette McKnight, remembers the smell of hot cross buns drifting through the house before every Easter weekend.

"When we were younger the neighbours used to come over," she said. "They knew it was hot cross buns day on Friday and they all lined up at the door."

Hot cross buns are marked with a cross on the top and traditionally eaten on Good Friday. They are typically made with dried fruit.

Mai Gosselin, 103, still remembers the ingredients for hot cross buns from memory.
Mai Gosselin, 103, still remembers the ingredients for hot cross buns from memory.(Submitted by Pierrette McKnight)

"In Montreal, they always made them and I watched them," Gosselin said.

When her seven daughters were growing up, she would wake up early to make the buns before the family would go to church. After fasting the whole day for the holiday, they would eat the buns at the end of the day.

Preserving a tradition

McKnight decided to learn how to make the buns as her mother grew older. The quantities were all in her head so it made the instructions more difficult to record.

"I'd put the cup under the flour and I'd measure, so I wrote down the recipe," she said.

Pierrette McKnight and her mother, Mai Gosselin, add icing to a fresh batch of hot cross buns on Good Friday.
Pierrette McKnight and her mother, Mai Gosselin, add icing to a fresh batch of hot cross buns on Good Friday.(Submitted by Pierrette McKnight)

The recipe became handy when Gosselin reached her 90s and began to forget some parts. Her daughter started to help more with the baking.

"At times she would make a batch and right beside her, I would make a batch," McKnight said. "And then we would compare who would make the best hot cross buns."

Recipe: Mai Gosselin's Hot Cross Buns

The family recipe includes a quarter cup of oil or shortening, a third cup of white sugar, a tablespoon of salt, two tablespoons of cinnamon, three cups of boiling water, three cups of hot to cold water, three to five cups of flour, two beaten eggs, two tablespoons of yeast, and a 375 gram bag of raisins.

Add more flour until the dough reaches a bread consistency.

The dough needs to rise for an hour before being placed in the pan. Then it needs to rise for an hour. The buns are baked for 10 minutes minutes at 400 F, followed by 35 minutes at 350 F.

The family tradition was cancelled last year shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Brunswick. Her mother lives in a care home and couldn't leave under visitor restrictions.

The dough for hot cross buns rises before going into the oven on Good Friday.
The dough for hot cross buns rises before going into the oven on Good Friday.(Submitted by Pierrette McKnight)

This Good Friday, the whole family was back in the kitchen, stirring the mix and kneading the dough together. A second batch will go to friends.

"It makes her happy that she can still do that at 103 years old," McKnight said.

"It's really special for us."