Hot Cross buns are a traditional Easter favorite. These spiced buns are filled with dried fruit, candied peel and warm spices. These are best served warm and truth be told a loaf never lasts any longer!
Hot cross buns are soft buns full of dried fruit, warm spices, and citrus peel. We love these spiced-filled buns with or without the icing. The centuries of history, religion, and superstition attached to these are intriguing as well. Whether you believe the stories or not these are perfect with a cup of coffee/tea.
An Easter Tradition
Christians in many parts of the world make hot cross buns for Good Friday. The buns made on Good Friday are believed to stay fresh for the whole year! I don’t have a clue if it is true. You see these buns never last longer than 2 days in our household – that too when I make a double batch.
These buns have become symbolic of life and resurrection, as in the dormant yeast multiplying and raising the bread. The cross on top is an added Christian symbol. No matter where you stand on religion, you have to agree that the traditional hot cross buns are hands down delicious.
We bake a few batches every March. Spring and the agreeable temperatures make it ideal for us to enjoy a sip of tea and an occasional breakfast in the backyard, and guess what, these buns are perfect for that!
What are Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns are yeasted buns that are lightly sweetened, spiced, and filled with all sorts of dried fruit and citrus. These are usually marked with a cross on top either made with dough or a simple white icing – signifying the name. The spiced fruit-filled buns are made all around the year, but it is during Easter that these sport the cross.
Hot Cross Buns – A baker’s Must Make
If you are a baker try this from scratch at least once. The dough for these buns is like any other enriched dough, and the results are absolutely lovely. There is butter, sugar, fruits, and spices and you can get a delicious bun even if you are a beginner baker, just don’t try to rush things.
Ingredients for Hot Cross Buns
It is essentially bread and the usual ingredients for bread are used here. There is flour, salt, yeast, sugar milk, butter, spices, and dried fruit. Each ingredient has a part to play and as explained below. Choose the best ingredients you can find.
As with any other bread dough, high protein flour is the best to use here. If you have bread flour use it, but many times here in the US one can find high protein all purpose flour (12-14% protein). So that will work as well. Use unbleached, unbromated flour preferably organic if possible.
This dough is kneaded using milk rather than water. Where fresh milk is not available I have seen recipes call for water and milk powder. Essentially you are reconstituting milk here. I use whole milk, but low fat or skim milk will work as well. Use nut milks – cashew or almond if you are looking for a nondairy version
This is a treat so do not skimp on the butter. That said if are allergic to dairy use baking substitutes or opt for oil.
One egg and a yolk are added to each batch of the recipe. These make the buns extra soft and tender and make them rise better. If you want to substitute, just leave it out and add 1 or tbsp more butter. Keep in mind that you may have to add more liquid ingredients (milk/water) as you knead.
Traditionally these are made with currants or raisins. My personal favorite is currants. But the rest of the family prefers raisins, one especially because he hates both and raisins are easier to pick out than currants 😊. That said almost any dried fruit will work – dried apples, apricots, dried plum, dried cranberries, etc.
Soaking the raisins in rum or apple or orange juice gives it an extra kick
A variety of spices are used in this recipe and can be mixed and matched. Often I use cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Other popular options are allspice, a pinch of cardamom, or a pinch of cloves. Nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves are all very potent. So use these sparingly. At any rate, adding more than 1 tsp of spices tends to overpower the recipe (as in 1 batch). Mix and match and find your flavor.
When I have fresh organic oranges or mandarins I prefer to zest and use them, otherwise, candied orange peel is a good option. The peel that I find in the stores is usually sticky and overly sweetened. So I rinse and dry it before use.
The Cross on Top
The cross on top is made with sugar icing or pastry dough or a paste made with flour and water. The cross does not alter the taste unless of course, you choose to cover half the bun with sugar paste! Which type of cross you choose is entirely up to you. Personally, I prefer the icing cross on top rather than the flour one that you bake in.
Making the Buns
These buns do not take long to bake, 20 minutes in a 275F oven is usually enough. But these take longer to rise as all the spices, sugar and butter tend to slow down the yeast. So keep that in mind when you plan to bake these.
Activate the yeast
The first thing to do is to activate the yeast, assuming you are using active dry yeast. If using quick-acting/instant yeast just add it to the flour. For this, we start by warming half the required quantity of milk to 110°F or just warm to touch. Mix a little sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes till the yeast become active and bubbly.
This is important as the spices, and sugar tends to retard (slow down) yeast. Go give it a head start before introducing it to the dry ingredients.
Make the dough
In a large mixing bowl mix the flour, spices, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in the yeast liquid. Separate one egg into white and yolk, reserving the egg white. Add the yolk and the remaining egg to the yeast mixture. Gently mix everything with a spatula, or by hand (or skip all this and use a mixer set on low ). Once the egg is mixed in, and the softened butter and a little more milk to the flour and mix till almost all the flour is moistened. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes.
At this point knead gently for about 10 minutes (3 minutes in the stand mixer) adding more of the remaining milk if necessary. At the end of the kneading time, the dough comes together as a soft mass. It should be soft and pliable, but not sticky.
Add in the dried fruit and citrus and knead for another 30 seconds to 1 minute until all the fruit is distributed evenly. I would recommend doing this by hand and not in the stand mixer. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm place until doubled.
Since this is an enriched dough it takes longer to rise than a standard dough. 1.5 hours is quite common in a warm kitchen.
Punch down the risen dough and divide it into 12 equal-sized portions. Form each into a ball and arrange them side by side on a baking dish. Leave a little space around each bun so it can expand properly. Cover and let it rise till almost doubled – about 30 minutes. These buns fit perfectly in a 11 X 9 tin, but use baking sheets/tins that you have.
Mix the reserved egg white with a teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash. If making a flour cross, make a thick paste with the ingredients for marking the cross. Place the paste in a plastic bag and pipe a cross over the buns. Transfer to a preheated oven and bake at 375℉ for 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack, and cool completely. If making icing sugar cross, mix the icing sugar, vanilla essence, and enough water/milk/lemon juice to form a thick paste. Pour the icing into a piping bag and pipe the crosses over the cooled buns. The crosses above are made with icing sugar.
- For an interesting variation add chocolate chips instead of currants.
- The volume measurements provided are only approximate. If possible, weigh the ingredients.
- Remember it takes longer to rise, wait for the dough to double.
Hot Cross Buns
- 3 C AP Flour/ Bread Flour (350g)
- 1 pkt Active Dry Yeast (7g)
- 1 Tsp Fine Salt (7g)
- 2 Eggs Large
- 3/4 C Milk, Full fat (180g)
- 3 Tbsp Butter, Unsalted (45g)
- 3 Tbsp Sugar (40g)
- 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
- 1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
- 1/4 Tsp Ginger
- 1/2 C Dried Fruit
- 2 Tbsp Mixed Peel Optional
For Flour Cross
- 2 Tbsp Flour
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 – 2 Tbsp Water
For Icing Cross
- 1/2 C Icing Sugar
- 1 – 2 Drops Vanilla Extract
- 1 – 2 Tbsp Water/Milk/Lemon Juice
- Warm 3/4 C milk to 110°F or just warm to touch. Mix half of the milk with 1 teaspoon sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top to activate. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Take the flour in a large mixing bowl add the spice powders, sugar, and salt. Mix well. Make a well in the center and pour the activated yeast mix followed by one egg and one yolk. Reserve the extra egg white. Using a wooden spoon break the egg into the yeast mixture.
- Add the softened butter and stir everything together, slowly adding enough of the remaining milk till all the flour is just moistened. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes till the dough becomes smooth and pliable. I takes about 3 minutes in the stand mixer.
- Add the dry fruits and citrus (if using) and knead gently for a few times to incorporate evenly. Form the dough into a smooth ball. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise till doubled, about 1.5 hours.
- Lightly oil a 11" X 9" tray or line the tin you are using for baking with parchment paper. Punch down the dough. Divide it into 12 equal portions and form each portion into a smooth ball. Arrange the balls in the tray leaving enough space (about 1/2") between them so it can expand. Cover and let rise till almost doubled – about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Keep the oven rack in the middle. Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tsp water or milk to make the egg wash. Dip a pastry brush in the egg wash and generously brush the tops of the buns.
- If making a flour cross, mix the ingredients for the cross together into a thick paste. Draw a cross on the top of the buns with the flour paste.
- Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are browned nicely. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
- If making the icing cross, Mix the icing sugar and vanilla extract. Add milk/water/lemon juice little by little to the icing sugar to make a thick paste. Transfer the paste to a piping bag and pipe the crosses over the cooled buns.
- Use bread flour or flour with high protein content.
- The most common dry fruits used are raisins and currants. Other options are dried apricots, apple, cherries, cranberries, blueberries or a combination of these.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.