Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns are a traditional Good Friday treat! These slightly sweet yeast-leavened buns are spiced with cinnamon and speckled with currants, citron, and orange zest.

Easy Hot Cross Buns with sugar crosses on top on a board for serving
Elise Bauer

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.

The buns are marked with a cross on top (hence the name), signifying a crucifix, and are typically served on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday.

Video: How to Make Hot Cross Buns

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Hot Cross Buns

A Traditional English Treat

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.

Homemade Hot Cross Buns on a surface with sugar crosses piped on top
Elise Bauer

The Trick to the Best Hot Cross Buns?

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 resulting bread tough.

So if you limit the sugar and fat, which we are doing in this recipe, the buns turn out tender and lovely.

What Do Hot Cross Buns Taste Like?

These buns are lightly sweet, and include ground spices, grated orange zest, and currants. They taste warm and spicy with a touch of citrus. The sugar crosses piped on top add another sweet note.

Making the Cross on Top of Hot Cross Buns

You can make the cross on the top of the buns in three ways:

  1. Pipe icing onto the buns after baking. You can use royal icing or an icing of powdered sugar and milk.
  2. Making a paste of flour and water, or make a short pastry dough with flour and butter, and pipe that across the top of the buns before baking.
  3. Use a sharp knife to cut a fairly deep cross into the top of the buns before they go into the oven. The buns will bake up a little flatter, but they will have the impression of the cross. No icing or piping needed.

For this recipe, we are piping crosses on the buns after baking, with an icing of powdered sugar and milk.

Make-Ahead Hot Cross Buns

These hot cross buns are best eaten fresh and out of the oven. That said, you can form the buns the day before and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight, then bake the next day. Or, you can make the dough through the first rise, refrigerate the dough overnight, and then shape and bake the buns the next day.

These buns do freeze well. Once you've baked the buns, allow them cool completely, but do not pipe the cross on the top. Wrap the buns in plastic and then aluminum foil, then freeze for up to a month. Thaw overnight on the counter. Heat in a warm oven or microwave to take off any chill. Let cool and pipe the crosses on top before serving.

Looking for More Easter Treats?

Hot Cross Buns

Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Rising 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 15 mins
Servings 16 buns

If you are short on time and aren't able to bring the eggs to room temperature, let sit in warm water for a few minutes to take the chill off before using.


You may use any mix of ground spices (such as cinnamon, mace, allspice, cardamom, and cloves) you like, but aim for them to total 2 teaspoons.

Ingredients

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 3/4 cup warm milk

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup currants (can sub half of the currants with chopped candied citrus peel)

  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

For the glaze:

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tablespoon milk

For the frosting

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons milk

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Method

  1. Proof the yeast

    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.

    whisk the yeast for the hot cross buns and let sit until foamy
    Elise Bauer
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients

    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.

    The dry ingredients for hot cross buns: flour, salt, spices, and sugar
    Elise Bauer
    Dry ingredients for hot cross buns in a mixing bowl after mixing
    Elise Bauer
  3. Make the dough

    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.

    Add an egg to the dry ingredients for hot cross buns
    Elise Bauer
    Use a spoon to mix a the hot cross buns ingredients into a shaggy dough
    Elise Bauer
    Hot cross bun dough after the currents and orange peel have been mixed in
    Elise Bauer
  4. Knead the dough, adding more flour as needed

    If you are using a stand 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.

    Total kneading time should be about 7 minutes in a mixer or 10 minutes by hand.

  5. Let sit 2 hours to double in size (first rise)

    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.

    Dough for easy hot cross buns rising in a bowl
    Elise Bauer
    Risen dough for hot cross buns in a bowl
    Elise Bauer
  6. Form the buns

    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.

    Take the individual pieces and form them into mounds, placing them 1 1/2 inches apart from each other on a greased 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.

    Shaped hot cross buns rising on a baking sheet
    Elise Bauer
  7. Let sit 30-40 min (second rise)

    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.

    Shaped hot cross buns, risen and ready to go in the oven
    Elise Bauer
  8. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  9. Brush with egg wash

    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.

    Brush the top of the hot cross buns with egg glaze before baking
    Elise Bauer
  10. Bake and cool

    Place in the middle rack of the 400°F 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.

    Shaped hot cross buns, risen and ready to go in the oven
    Elise Bauer
    Baked hot cross buns for Easter on a sheet pan
    Elise Bauer
  11. Make and pipe frosting in cross pattern on buns

    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.

    Piping the crosses onto the tops of the homemade hot cross buns
    Elise Bauer
    Two rows of Easter hot crossed buns cooling on a sheet pan
    Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
203 Calories
5g Fat
35g Carbs
6g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 203
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 6%
Saturated Fat 2g 12%
Cholesterol 44mg 15%
Sodium 155mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 35g 13%
Dietary Fiber 2g 9%
Total Sugars 12g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 35mg 3%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 162mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.