Hot Cross Buns

From the recipe archive, in time for Good Friday! ~Elise

Have you ever made hot cross buns? They’re an Easter tradition, a soft, slightly sweet, spiced yeast roll speckled with currants and often candied citron. They’re marked with a cross on top (hence the name), signifying a crucifix, and are typically served on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday.

Hot cross buns are a rather old English tradition, dating back to the Saxons who marked buns with a cross in honor of the goddess Eostre, the goddess of light, whose day of celebration eventually became Easter.

Inspired by a nursery rhyme, Garrett McCord and I got together over the course of several weeks to try to come up with the best hot cross buns recipe we could make. Our first attempts were surprisingly bad—dry, hard, and tough. After several iterations (many eaten, many thrown out), and consultation with chefs, websites, and cookbooks (thank you Elizabeth David, Shirley Corriher, and Bernard Clayton), we finally hit gold with this one.

The trick was actually to reduce the amount of sugar and fat in the dough. I’m used to thinking that adding sugar or fat will make a baked product more moist, but when it comes to yeast doughs, both sugar and fat can have the opposite effect, making the result tough.

Regarding the nursery rhyme inspiration for this post, here’s what Garrett has to say about it: As a child I learned the nursery rhyme Hot Cross Buns as part of my elementary school’s music curriculum. The entire class was taught to play in synch – as well as thirty six-year olds with no musical ability can – for the eventual school concert where our parents would attend and hope that their ears wouldn’t bleed from the sound of an apocalyptic whistle choir. As a curious kid I however tried to decipher the lyrics: What were hot cross buns? How come sons only get them if there aren’t any daughters? And why are they priced one ‘ah penny, and two ‘ah penny? Who would just buy one when you can have two?!

Hot Cross Buns Recipe

  • Cook time: 3 hours
  • Yield: Makes 16 buns.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground spices (for example, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (if taking right out of the fridge, let sit in warm water for a few minutes to take the chill off before using)
  • 3/4 cup currants (can sub half of currants with chopped candied citrus peel)
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Glaze

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk

Frosting

  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp powdered sugar

Method

1 In a bowl, stir together 1/4 cup of the warmed milk and one teaspoon of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.

2 In a large bowl or the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, vigorously whisk together 3 cups of the flour (reserving additional flour for later step), the salt, spices, and 1/4 cup of sugar.

3 Create a well in the flour and add the foamy yeast, softened butter, and eggs, and the remaining milk. Using a wooden spoon or the paddle attachment of your mixer, mix the ingredients until well incorporated. The mixture should be shaggy and quite sticky. Add in the currants, candied peel, and orange zest.

4 If you are using a stand-up mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment and start to knead on low speed. (If not using a mixer, use your hands to knead.) Slowly sprinkle in additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition, until the flour is still slightly tacky, but is no longer completely sticking to your fingers when you work with it.

5 Form a ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit, covered, at room temperature (or in a warm spot) for 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

6 Press down on the dough to gently compress it. Roll the ball of dough into a log shape and cut it into two halves. Place one half back in the bowl while you work with the other half. Take the dough half you are working with and cut it into 8 equal pieces. The easiest way to do this is to roll it into a log, cut it in half, then roll those pieces into logs, cut them in half, and then do it again, roll those pieces into logs, and cut them in half.

Take the individual pieces and form them into mounds, placing them 1 1/2 inches apart from each other on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and then work the remaining dough into 8 equal pieces and place them in mounds on a baking sheet, again cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough mounds sit at room temperature (or warm place) to rise again, until the mounds have doubled in volume, about 30-40 minutes.

7 Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare egg wash by whisking together one egg and a tablespoon of milk. If you want, you can score the top of the buns with a knife in a cross pattern. You will want to make fairly deep cuts, for the pattern to be noticeable after they're done. Using a pasty brush, brush on the egg wash over the dough mounds. The egg wash will give them a shiny appearance when cooked.

8 Place in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the buns are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool.

9 To paint a cross on the top of the buns, wait until the buns have cooled (or the frosting will run). Whisk together the milk and the powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar until you get a thick consistency. Place in a plastic sandwich bag. Snip off a small piece from the corner of the bag and use the bag to pipe two lines of frosting across each bun to make a cross.

hot-crossed-buns-b.jpg

38 Comments

  1. Erin @ FarmhouseFoodie

    It’s a terrible pity I can’t abide by dried fruits in baked goods because those look great. Do you think these would be worth trying without the currants?

    Well, traditionally hot crossed buns are made with currants, but if you don’t like them, I would just leave them out. Don’t omit the orange zest though. ~Elise

  2. Vicki

    Ok, I have recently added this to my Yahoo! homepage, but so far have really enjoyed everything I’ve read. Maybe you can help me with another Easter tradition: the lamb cake. My sister and I have been enjoying lamb cake (a white cake shaped like a lamb, complete with frosting for wool, green coconut for grass, and jelly beans for eyes) for years – my grandma made them every Easter. Where did this tradition come from? My husband had never heard of it until he moved here.

    The lamb is supposed to be a symbol for Jesus, and lamb is often served at Easter as sort of an edible symbol. I would assume people soon moved to pastry and sugar since it was easier and cheaper to make. ~Garrett

  3. MARYBETH

    Do you have any experience making candied citrus peel. I had a lovely lunch with my mom and daughter when she was home from college – the slice of Lemon Tart we all split for dessert had a few shreds of candied lemon peel on top – it was both beautiful and a very nice compliment to the creamy tart lemon. Any thoughts?

    Elise has a wonderful recipe for candied citrus peel here. ~Garrett

  4. Susan

    I’ve never had a hot cross bun before, so I’m anxious to try this recipe. I’ve been making various breads this past year and notice that this looks alot like a brioche dough. Mmmm! Did you use all of the spices that you gave as an example or which did you use? Also, did you oil the bowl and roll the dough in it for the first rising?

    Tip: I use a turkey sized oven bag for my final rising. They fit any size pan you’ve used (even 3 loaf pans!) and afford plenty of room for rising even with the opening tucked under ..and you can resuse them! Cool, huh!

    Hi Susan, Yes, we used the spices as given. In this version we did not oil the bowl, though you could if you wanted to. It just helps the dough not stick to the bowl. But not much of it stuck to the pan without oiling, so there you have it. ~Elise

  5. Chris

    I remember growing up with hot cross buns, they were wonderful. My Mother always snipped the top crisscross with scissors and it made a perfect trough for the powdered sugar icing.

  6. Leah

    I’ve never used currants, where do I find them? What is the differance between fresh and dried and which should I use?

    Dried currants are like tiny raisins. If you can’t find them, you can use chopped raisins as a substitute. ~Elise

  7. Alanna

    I’ve made hot cross buns every Good Friday for as long as I can remember baking although my buns are considerably more liberal with spices, 1 teaspoon per cup of flour. We also use icing to make an actual cross, not an X. Glad to see hot cross buns on Simply Recipes too!

  8. Eliza

    I brought these to dinner with friends tonight and they were a great hit. The texture, flavor and appearance are all considerably better than any store bought I have ever had. Thanks so much for the recipe.

  9. Sharon

    In Australia hot cross buns are everywhere this time of year. The crosses are made with white dough. Around here we can also get chocolate and even mocha flavored ones for the people who don’t like dried fruits or candied peel. I believe they just replace the dried fruits and candied peel with chocolate chips and/or coffee.

    This sounds awesome. ~Garrett

  10. Jackie

    OUTSTANDING!!! I just made these and could not wait to try them…and they are absolutely delicious. I haven’t had hot cross buns since I was a kid and my mom made them. She would be very proud of these. Thanks again, Elise, for another fantastic recipe.

  11. Susan

    Elise and Garrett, I had to come back to tell you how much I am enjoying my first Hot Cross Bun. I made them this morning. This recipe is just wonderful! The dough is so easy to work with and the finished buns are just light as air! I am so pleased! I had to adjust the spice mix. I halved each of your quantities since I was down to basically a few grains of both the cinnamon and cardamom and completely out of allspice. Gah! that’s never happened before! They were still nicely spiced, even at half. Thank you both for trying out recipes until you found best recipe to offer us. That’s why I trust both of your recipes! Happy Easter!

  12. Christina

    I’m slightly lactose intolerant, so I never have milk on hand. Do you think I could make this with soymilk? I’m wondering if the milk protein doesn’t have a certain necessary effect…

    What do you reckon?

    From my research it seems like that should be fine. ~Garrett

  13. Katie

    I made a double-batch of these for Easter morning and they turned out great! The orange zest adds a lot.

    Next time I will use parchment on my baking sheets, as the bottoms of the buns browned a lot more quickly than the tops.

    Note – the frosting does not travel well. I waited until I thought the frosting was dry and then popped the buns into ziploc bags, and by the time I got there there were no more crosses! I did use a lot of frosting, so perhaps they just needed more time to dry. Next time I’ll use tupperware to transport them in a single layer.

    These are a keeper though! Thanks!

  14. Ann

    I made this recipe and it was a hit! I candied some orange peels for the dried fruit portion. And I doubled the recipe. This gave me enough dough to make a loaf as well – and it is awesome! Oh, and what I also did differently were the spices according to what I had in the pantry. I did equal portions of cinnamon, ginger and coriander. Great taste combination. Thank you!

  15. Ellen

    Delicious! I decided to make these last minute, so lacking oranges I used lemon peel, went heavy on the cardamom, added coriander, cut your other spices down to half, left out the allspice and cloves, and skipped the currants altogether. Oh, and I have a toddler so I subbed in 1 cup of whole wheat for 1 of the white, and a melted butter wash instead of egg so they’d last longer (I needn’t have worried there). Much to my surprise, they were still delicious – perfect light fragrant dinner rolls for easter dinner, and addictive munchies the next morning for breakfast. I can’t wait to try your recipe as written!

  16. Lou Ann Schornick

    My family thought these hot cross buns were absolutely delicious! I added two tablespoons dried tropical fruit mix (papaya, mango, pineapple) and only one-half cup currants – love the orange zest! These special Easter treats are worth your time and effort! This is the only recipe I could find that marks a cross on the bun instead of an “X”… (Who ever heard of hot X buns?) And, thank you baker, for the extra tip of cutting the cross after the egg wash!

  17. MARYBETH

    As a Catholic – I am quite familiar with hot crossed buns. The buns in the store are always a let down so I dont waste my $$$ any more. There used to be a group of little old ladies at a nearby parish that made and sold them each year on Good Friday but that tradition has since “died”. I made this recipe on Good Friday and they had to be one of THE BEST THINGS I HAVE EVER MADE – and I practically live in the kitchen. I love a previous commentors idea about shaping them into bunnies – but the tradition is to put the crosses on them – and I intend to abide by that. Thats not to say I wont be making little rabbits on other days though >^..^

  18. Jud

    In my opinion, the best hot crossed buns ever made were produced by a fabled and long defunct San Francisco bakery, Fantasia Confections. Several years ago the bakery’s owner Ernest Weil published a cookbook – Love To Bake – that contains recipes for his bakery’s products. I’ve got a copy.

    Before buying that cookbook I had searched high and low for a recipe that recreated those wonderful hot crossed buns, but haven’t got around to trying the hot crossed bun recipe.

    On a whim and without referring to the Love To Bake recipe, my wife and I baked buns using this recipe. Tasting them, my tastebuds were sent back to my childhood days when the bakery was still around. These buns comes closest to the fondly remembered Fantasia buns, but a little something was missing. I thought it was the fruit – not enough. Upon checking out the LTB cookbook, I find this and the cookbook’s recipes to be virtually identical with one exception: Ernest used twice the amount of currants and candied peel. Ah-ha! My suggestion to those who like a fruit laden stolen or other similar baked goods: Double the fruit! Also, I’m going to be add just a tad more salt for my taste, about 1/8 tsp additional to begin with and see how that comes out.

    Good work – your hot crossed buns are a large cut above the rest. (But do try doubling the fruit.)

    What a great story! ~Garrett

    Oh, I would love to see that book. Garrett and I worked on this together, starting out with something that really did not work, and finessing our way to the final recipe as you have it. One of the odd things I learned researching this recipe is that too much sugar and butter in a yeast bread actually makes it tougher. I thought more butter and sugar would make it more moist and tender, but actually they had the opposite effect. So I reduced the butter and sugar, and voilá, the final result was just what we wanted. I could easily see adding more fruits, especially the citron. ~Elise

  19. Elise

    I made these yesterday for my boyfriend to take home to his family… I just got my Wisdom teeth removed so I was unable to try them (I was baking because sitting around waiting for my mouth to heal was just TOO boring!) but he said that as soon as he got them home they were all eaten up!

    Although they ended up great, I had issues frosting them… so they ended up being Hot-dribbly-cross buns in stead of Hot Cross Buns! HA!

  20. Leigh

    since moving to the US from Australia last year, i’ve been desperately missing hot cross buns! I had to suffer through last easter not being able to find any in the local supermarkets, so i’m glad this year because I’m totally going to give your recipe a try! and like Sharon mentions, the other varieties sure do give the currant/sultana staple a run for their money (my favourites are the chocolate chip, with the dried apricot a close second).

    btw garrett, they’re singing “ha’ penny” in the song, half penny as it were!

  21. Espahan

    I am not terribly fond of candied fruit but Hot Cross Buns wouldn’t be the same without them. What I do to get around this is to chop the candied fruit very finely. That way they are less intrusive but you still have the colored speckles. Dried currents are also a must. They are pretty easy to find here in the Northwest U. S. in any grocery store that sells raisins.

    When I am lazy, we have a wonderful bakery nearby that makes the perfect Hot Cross Bun, but they are pretty spendy. I usually buy a few and then make some from scratch. Elise, your recipe looks very much like mine if not the same.

  22. angela

    Thanks so much for this. I was recently in the UK and forgot to buy hot cross buns to bring back to Provence, so I will start baking today to have them in time for breakfast tomorrow…..its as if you had read my mind!

  23. Jeanette

    I make my recipe for hot cross buns, and once they have finished their rise and are ready to be baked, I glaze the buns with an egg wash, and then make a pourable paste to form the crosses.

    I mix about 1/2 cup flour, 1 Tbsp icing sugar and 1/3 cup water to make a pourable paste. The paste should not be so thin that it runs off the buns. I then pour the paste into a small plastic food bag, make a small nick in a corner of the bag, and pipe crosses on top of the egg washed buns bun.

    So make the dough, shape the buns, let buns rise, baste buns with an egg wash, pipe crosses over the buns, and bake.

    I glaze my hot cross buns with a honey and butter mixture. Mix 1 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp honey, and 4 Tbsp water in a bowl and microwave for 45 to 60 seconds.

    Transfer baked buns from baking pans to a cooling rack. Brush the honey glaze over the buns right after baking when still hot and once more while the buns are still warm.

  24. Stacie

    Made these this week after trying several other recipes – these are the best! I did add a little more spice and fruit. Thanks for another great recipe!

  25. Linda In Washington State

    Hot Cross Buns was one of the 1st songs my older sons learned to play on the violin in their 5th grade orchestra class.
    I had no idea that it was a nursery rhyme.
    Yummy rolls. Thanks for the tip about the fat and sugar in yeast receipe. I now can reduce the butter I use in my sandwich loaf that I make.

  26. Kati

    This is my first attempt at baking with yeast. Can I just say that these are amazing? So sweet and yummy. I will be making these again!! : )

  27. Me

    Hot cross buns, where have you been all of my life??? I really wish I hadn’t waited until I was 37 to try these. My kids love them, too.

    Didn’t have currants, and have a sick daughter, so we stuck with what we had on hand, which were golden raisins and dried cranberries, and they were yummy.

  28. Elizabeth

    I made these for an Easter Brunch this morning, and they were fantastic! I used 1/2tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and nutmeg, plus a little more orange zest than called for I think, and a cup of currants, and it had just the right amount of spice and fruit.

    I had the same issue as Katie above- the bottoms browned a faster than the tops, and they did stick to the pan a bit, so I might try parchment paper next time. I will definitely make these again next Easter!

  29. Donna L.

    Garrett’s comment had that song running thru my mind for days, so I just had to try the recipe. I used half whole wheat flour and half AP, then let my bread machine’s dough cycle do most of the work. I made 20 rolls and am very pleased with the result. The orange zest is what makes these special. Thanks!

  30. narutojp

    I made these on Easter Sunday and they turned out great! They were light and fluffy and smelled and tasted great. My only problem was that by the next day, they started to dry out quite a bit, even though they were at room temperature and covered with plastic wrapping. Any ideas on how to avoid this in the future (other than eating them all at one go or freezing them)? They were good and I will be making them again next year (or even before next Easter).

  31. Jud

    Elise,

    You inquired about the Love To Bake cookbook which I referred to in my comment above. I didn’t see your comment until today. We just made another batch last week and i thought I’d go through the recipe’s comments to see what had been added recently and came across your query. Anyway, you can purchase a PDF copy of the book at Lovetobakecookbook.com The print version is sold out and won’t be reprinted unfortunately. I’m in the process of purchasing a PDF version myself because it’ll be easier to use (these days I record recipes on 8-1/2 x 11 paper stashed in 3 ring binders; that way I can use a large more readable font).

    Jud

  32. Chriss

    Simply amazing! I’ve searched for the perfect recipe and this is it. I did use my bread machine for mixing the dough to make it easier on myself. The dough was great to work with and the end result was moist and flavorful with an excellent texture — better than any bakery I have tried. My husband (the world’s #1 fan of Hot Cross Buns) said they are the best he’s ever tasted. I didn’t change any ingredients, but I did bake them on parchment. Thanks for the superb recipe!

  33. Diane Wilson

    I was in Trader Joe’s looking for currants. No currants, but there were dried blueberries. Non-traditional, but I think it will be yummy! I really don’t want to wait for Good Friday now!

  34. Geraldine Saucier

    I made this recipe and the buns were a hit. They were very flavorful and absolutely delicious. This recipe is a keeper. Thanks for a great post:)

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.