When most of us think of hot cross buns, what typically comes to mind is the age-old childhood song ringing in our ears. But what should come to mind is a warm batch of soft, squishy buns fresh from the oven and packed with all the good stuff: tangy dried fruit, zesty citrus, and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. These are a delicious and beautiful addition to any brunch or Easter table!
Traditional hot cross buns are simple to make, but be sure to take note of the slightly longer rise times due to the good amount of cinnamon and dried fruit in the dough. If you’re looking for a make-ahead option to alleviate time constraints, be sure and check out the recipe notes.
What Are Hot Cross Buns Made Of?
Hot cross buns are a dense, chewy roll that's filled with dried fruits, warm and zesty spices, butter, vanilla, and citrus zest.
The ingredients you'll need for hot cross buns include:
- baking ingredients (bread flour, sugar, active yeast)
- orange juice
- dried fruit (cranberries and raisins)
- spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)
- orange zest
- apricot glaze
- some water
How To Make Hot Cross Buns
Bakers with some experience will understand all the steps of this recipe. It's a lot like the beginning steps of a yeast dinner roll .
But if you're a new baker, we've written this recipe with you in mind. It will take some time and patience, but this recipe for hot cross buns is easy enough for most folks.
Here, how to make hot cross buns step by step (see photos below):
Step 1: Plump the dried fruit. In the microwave, gently warm the dried cranberries and raisins in orange juice to get them plump before you add them to the dough.
Step 2: Start the yeast dough with some sugar and the yeast and warm milk. Then, add the bread flour, spices, remaining milk, butter, sugar, and orange zest. Work this over with the stand mixer until the dough is formed.
Step 3: Add the fruit to the dough. Shape the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle the prepared fruit on the dough. Fold the dough into thirds and turn it to fully incorporate the fruit into the hot cross buns dough.
Step 4: Let the dough rest and rise until the dough has doubled. This should take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The extra ingredients in the dough slows the proofing time slightly, so make sure you're prepared for that in your timeline of baking.
Step 4: Punch down and divide the dough into 15 individual pieces. You can try to eyeball it, but we recommend using a kitchen scale to measure each dough ball so they're all the same size. This way, you won't have some buns overcooked and others undercooked. Place the dough balls in a prepared baking dish.
Step 5: Let rise again. More rising time gives the hot cross buns time to expand. This is what helps create airy, bouncy rolls.
Step 6: Egg wash and pipe on crosses. Hot cross buns are famously glossy, so we'll start that process here with an egg wash. Then, just before baking, pipe on a flour paste in the shape of a cross. This will sink slightly into the buns as they bake.
Step 7: Bake. These buns don't take long to bake, just about 20 to 25 minutes. If the buns start to darken and burn before they're baked, place a piece of aluminum foil overtop to protect them.
Step 8: Apply an apricot glaze. This adds a hint of extra fruit flavor and gives the buns more gloss.
What Are the White Lines on Hot Cross Buns?
Traditionally, those white lines represent the crucifix, a representation of the cross with Jesus on it. The flour cross is considered the classic way to make the crosses on hot cross buns. It doesn't have much flavor and is applied before the buns are baked. It sinks into the dough slightly and leaves more of an impression on top.
For a slightly sweeter hot cross bun, you can pipe a white icing on top of the buns after they're baked. This icing is usually made with powdered sugar and water, milk, or orange juice.
How To Eat Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns are traditionally enjoyed at Easter, especially on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday. They can, of course, be eaten any time of the year.
Usually, they're toasted and served with butter and jam. Because they're not overly sweet, they can also be used as a sandwich bun for breakfast foods like eggs and bacon.
Sweeter hot cross buns may be enjoyed as an after-dinner treat or a sweet brunch addition.
More Easter Recipes
Looking for some other classic Easter treats and recipes? These might help:
- Our Best Carrot Cake
- Easter Brunch Punch
- Bunny Cake
- Classic Deviled Eggs
- Brown Sugar Boubon-Glazed Ham
Editorial contributions by
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup orange juice
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar , divided
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter , cut into pats
3 3/4 to 4 cups bread flour (about 469 to 500 grams), divided, plus more for dusting surface
1 large egg , at room temperature, plus 1 additional egg for the egg wash
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 Tbsp. orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1/2 cup bread flour
5 Tbsp. water
1/4 cup apricot jam
2 tsp. water
Make sure you have everything available and ready to use.
Place the dried cranberries, raisins, and orange juice in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH for 60 to 90 seconds, or until plump.
Then, without removing the plastic wrap, let stand 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly and set aside while you prepare the dough.
Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm the milk until it reaches 108 to 110°F. Pour half of the warm milk into the bowl containing the yeast and sugar; set aside for 10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and foamy.
While the yeast activates, add the pats of butter to the saucepan containing the remaining milk, and allow to melt over low heat; set aside to cool slightly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add 2 cups flour, the butter-milk mixture, 1 egg, kosher salt, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and orange zest. Mix on low speed until combined. ( TIP: Place a clean tea towel over the mixer to prevent splashing.)
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, making sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the foamy yeast mixture and mix on low to combine. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and mix on low speed until completely combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once more. The dough will look shaggy and wet.
Knead dough in stand mixer:
Switch to the dough hook attachment on the stand mixer. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. At this point, check the dough: it should be tacky, but not sticky, and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky, gradually add up to the remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough reaches the right consistency.
Add dried fruit:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle. Sprinkle the drained fruit over the surface of the dough.
To incorporate the fruit into the dough, start by folding the rectangle of dough into thirds, like you would fold a letter.
Then knead the dough by hand until the fruit is evenly distributed, re-flouring your surface as needed. The dough will feel sticky.
Prepare the dough as directed through step 5, allowing the dough to undergo the first rise. Punch the dough down to deflate, tightly cover with plastic wrap, then place in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, punch dough down again and continue recipe instructions.
Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl, turning once or twice so that the grease coats the surface of the dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Prepare pan, divide dough:
Lightly grease a 9x13" baking pan with cooking spray, and line with parchment paper; set aside. Punch down the dough to deflate.
Divide the dough into 15 equal pieces. ( TIP: Do this by weight to ensure that each bun is the same size and will bake evenly.) Then shape each piece of dough into a smooth ball. Place the dough balls in the prepared pan, spacing them out evenly so that they have room to grow.
Let buns rise:
Cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and leave to rise again in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until puffy and the dough springs back lightly when pressed. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash with egg, add flour crosses
Make the egg wash by lightly beating remaining 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water; using a pastry brush, brush evenly onto the buns.
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour and 5 tablespoons of water and whisk to combine. The paste should be similar to a toothpaste consistency; thick, but you should be able to pipe it. If it's too thick, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it reaches a piping consistency. Add the flour paste to a piping bag or zip-top bag. Snip the end of the bag to create a small opening. Pipe a continuous line of the flour paste down the center of each row of buns, then pipe continuous lines going the opposite direction to form crosses.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and an instant read thermometer registers 190 to 200°F. Cover the buns lightly with foil if the buns begin to brown too quickly.
Brush with apricot glaze:
During the last few minutes of baking, prepare the apricot glaze. Place the apricot jam in a small, microwave-safe bowl and microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds, until loosened. Add 2 tsp. water and stir until smooth. Brush the glaze onto the warm buns. Buns are best enjoyed warm from the oven or the same day they are baked. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.