I love Liane Moriarty novels. I love the food (and drinks) that I have been able to make from her books. The Husband’s Secret is no exception; I loved this book. It can be summed up as a modern day take on the story of Pandora and her box. Only in this case the box is actually a letter written by Cecilia Fitzpatrick’s husband. The novel goes on to detail the lives of three women (Cecilia, Rachel and Tess) who are impacted by the murder of a teen girl that happened nearly thirty years ago. This novel illustrates how tiny decisions can change the scope of dozens of lives.
The story takes place around Easter so a main food component in the novel is Hot Cross Buns. In fact, the buns are all eaten by the characters on Good Friday the eating of the buns by the characters is interesting not only because it is a tradition to eat them on Good Friday but because it marks the convergence of all the individual story lines of the women into one final conclusion. It is the point where their individual experiences come together for the conclusion of the novel.
The scenarios in which the buns appear for each character also carry meaning in the story in regards to their individual situations. First there is Cecilia, who makes the buns for her family and upon getting ready to eat them discovers that she has forgotten butter to put on them. This is significant because it has been established in the novel that she is a very accomplished homemaker, the fact that she has forgotten a staple like butter is indicative of the effect her husband’s letter has had on her. It demonstrates her inability to focus on the everyday tasks because she is so taxed with John-Paul’s situation. Cecilia forgetting the butter for the hot cross buns shows how Cecilia is slowly starting to fall apart because of John Paul.
“How could that have happened? She never forgot a staple. Her system was foolproof. Her refrigerator and pantry were always perfectly stocked”. -Liane Moriarty
Next there is Tess, the hot cross buns are significant in her storyline because they represent her situation with her husband and with her lover. When she is on the phone with Connor she tells him that, “I’ll come over after Liam is asleep. I will bring hot cross buns”. However, later when she is imagining her conversation with Will she thinks to herself how she will withhold the buns from him and not let him have any even though he loves them.
“The thought of seeing Will filled her with almost unbearable confusion. Would she cry? Yell? Fall into his arms? Slap him across the face? Offer him a hot cross bun? He loved hot cross buns. Obviously he did not deserve one”. -Liane Moriarty
The buns are demonstrative of her feelings for each man. She wants to give them to Connor while she wants to deny them from Will. The buns represent the conflicts she feels in her love life and where she wants to direct her emotions.
Finally there is Rachel, the buns for her are indicative of the fact she exists outside of the family unit of her son. On Good Friday, Lauren is the one that makes the buns, this is to position her as the matriarch of the family, not Rachel. When Lauren brings the buns into the room Rachel offers to help and Lauren tells her no.
“” Let me help, “said Rachel. “Absolutely not,” said Lauren over her shoulder as she returned to the kitchen. “You never let me help at your place” …when you didn’t let a woman help, it was a way of keeping her at a distance, of letting her know she wasn’t family”. -Liane Moriarty
This whole scenario is an allusion to the fact that Rob, Lauren and their child are exclusive of Rachel. The buns in this scene serve as reminder of the fact they are leaving Rachel behind, they are moving and not including her in their plans just like Lauren does not include her in the serving of the buns.
It is on the day that all three ladies have their individual experiences with eating the hot cross buns that their stories unite and the novel concludes. With all the mentions of the buns smothered in butter I decided I was hungry for them. I have never made hot cross buns or eaten them but Easter is approaching so it seemed like a good time to try.
The Husband’s Secret takes place in Australia so I looked up a traditional Australian hot cross buns recipe to make them authentic to the novel. I lucked out and found one from The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine which is where I picture a woman like Cecilia getting her recipe from. You can find that recipe here.
I knew right away that I would have to find Americanized versions of some ingredients. I was able to get the currants no problem but I had trouble finding sultanas and used golden raisins. I also had to figure out the American equivalents to some of the measurements. Once I had all that figured out I was ready to get started.
While working through the recipe I felt strange putting the yeast into a room temperature liquid. However, I decided to just trust the recipe. It worked out fine. As far as the warm place to put the dough to rest I suggest a windowsill in sunlight, or on an open oven door, with the oven set at a low temperature, as the perfect place for yeast dough. Also when working with the original recipe I found the dough to be really wet and so I increased the amount of flour in mine to make it more manageable.
When the buns came out they smelled delicious. The glaze makes them look glorious, seriously don’t skip this step! I tried one loaded up with butter and it tasted delicious. The fruit adds just the right amount of sweetness and the butter gives them an indulgent taste and a great texture. I will definitely be making these again for Good Friday next year. To tie everything back to the novel, hot cross buns are an interesting device used in the novel to help signify different truths in each of the women’s situations. I think Moriarty did a fantastic job of using them to make subtle points in the stories of Cecilia, Tess and Rachel.
The Husband’s Secret: Hot Cross Buns
- 1 cup milk
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 5 Tbsp. Butter
- 1 cup apple at room temperature
- 1 packet of dried yeast
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp. orange zest
- 1/3 cup currants
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 5 3/4 cups bread flour (see tips)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp salt
For the Flour Paste:
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup cold water, approximately
For the Glaze:
- 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
- 1 tsp powdered gelatin
- 1 tbsp water
- Heat the milk until bubbly in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and add the honey and butter; stir until combined.
- Whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt.
- In a separate, large bowl, whisk the juice and yeast until dissolved. Whisk in the egg and orange zest until combined. Stir in the currants and raisins. Add the flour mixture, then milk mixture. Mix together until well combined. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Lightly knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 10 seconds. Return dough to the bowl, cover and stand in warm place for 1 hour or until risen by half.
- Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape into balls and place on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper in four rows of four. Cover and stand in a warm place for 30 minutes or until risen by half.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- To make flour paste: combine flour, sugar, and vanilla in small bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to form a smooth paste. Place mixture into a small piping bag fitted with a small plain tube. Pipe crosses on buns.
- Bake the buns for about 20 minutes until browned then leave to cool on the tray.
- To make glaze: combine all ingredients in small pan and stir over low heat, without boiling, until sugar and gelatin are dissolved.
- Transfer the buns to a wire rack and brush tops with the glaze. Serve warm with butter.