What are Hot Cross Buns?
Hot cross buns are a sweet, spiced bun traditionally eaten in the lead-up to Easter. They are typically made with a yeasted dough that is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves whilst also enriched with butter, eggs and sugar for richness. Traditionally they include raisins or sultanas but it’s very common to find apple & cinnamon, fruitless (just spices) and chocolate chips.
The buns are traditionally marked with a cross on top meant to symbolise Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Whether you are religious or not, these are not to be missed! We enjoy them toasted and served warm with a slather of butter. I’m not a huge dried fruit, preferring the choc chip variety but Exceede/MrMollyMakes loves them anyway!
Why this recipe is amazing
Flavour & texture: Soft and fluffy, with a slight chewiness from the fruit. The crust is usually lightly browned and slightly crisp when toasted with a sweet and spiced taste, with a slightly fruity undertone from the dried fruit. The spiciness comes from a range of warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Difficulty & Time: 2.5/10. Hot cross buns can be a bit challenging for inexperienced bakers, but they are not too difficult. Follow the recipe carefully and read my tips & tricks section.
Versatility: This recipe is very versatile when it comes to flavours. Make them simple with just spices or add a variety of dried fruit, chocolate chips etc. This recipe cant be made gluten-free as it needs the gluten for structure but substitute the butter for oil to make it dairy free.
What ingredients are needed
- Water: A temperature of around 41-46°C/110-115°F is ideal but cooler water is okay just ensure that it is not above the aforementioned temperature as it risks killing the yeast.
- Instant yeast: Instant yeast is stronger, faster and more stable than dry yeast but you can substitute with what you have.
- Brown sugar: It provides a rich and slightly caramel-like flavour that complements the spices and dried fruit in the dough. While the sugar adds sweetness, it provides energy for the yeast to multiply and grow. In addition to its flavour and moisture-enhancing properties, brown sugar can also help to give the buns a darker colour and a slightly crusty exterior.
- Bread or plain flour: Bread flour is often used in hot cross bun recipes because it has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. The higher protein content in bread flour helps to create a stronger gluten network in the dough, which gives the buns their characteristic chewy and fluffy texture. The gluten in bread flour also helps the dough to rise and hold its shape during baking, resulting in buns that are tall, round, and evenly baked.
- Salt: It enhances the flavour of the dough and helps to balance the sweetness of the other ingredients. In addition to its flavour-enhancing properties, salt also plays a crucial role in the texture and structure by helping to strengthen the gluten network in the dough, which gives the buns their chewy and fluffy texture. It also helps to regulate the fermentation process by slowing down the growth of yeast and preventing the dough from over-rising.
- Butter: It provides flavour, richness, and moisture to the dough. When butter is incorporated into the dough, it coats the flour particles and helps to create a tender and flavorful crumb.
- Spices: Spices are a crucial ingredient in hot cross buns, as they provide the distinctive flavour and aroma that is associated with this traditional Easter treat. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, ginger, and cloves provide a warm and slightly sweet flavour that complements the sweetness of the dough and the dried fruit.
These buns are super flippin’ versatile, you can fill them with your heart’s desires! I have included 3 suggestions to get you started.
Note: The quantities in the recipe card are for a full batch. You can certainly split the dough and make multiple flavours, just remember to do the same with the mix-in quantities.
- Bourbon & Raisin
- Raisins or sultanas: Raisins/Sultanas are a popular choice for hot cross buns because they are sweet, chewy, and have a subtle flavour that complements the spices and other ingredients in the dough. Other dried fruits, such as currants, and candied citrus peel may also be used in hot cross buns for their sweet and fruity taste.
- Black tea bag: Soaking raisins in tea when making hot cross buns can help to plump up the raisins and infuse them with flavour, making them softer and more moist in the finished buns. Additionally, the tea can add a subtle flavour to the raisins, enhancing the buns’ overall taste.
- Bourbon: Bourbon adds a depth and complexity of flavour that complements the sweetness of the buns and the fruit flavours from the raisins/sultanas. If you prefer not to use alcohol, you can simply omit the bourbon or substitute it with a non-alcoholic flavouring, such as vanilla extract.
- Chocolate Chip
- Chocolate chips: A modern twist on the traditional recipe and can offer a delicious alternative to the classic fruit-filled buns. Chocolate chips are added for their sweet and rich flavour, looking and smelling good!
- Cocoa powder: Cocoa powder is used in hot cross bun recipes to add a rich chocolate flavour to the buns. The addition of cocoa powder can also darken the colour of the buns, giving them a more chocolatey appearance.
- White Choc & Cranberry
- Dried cranberries & white chocolate chips: Another modern twist on the traditional recipe. Cranberries give a tart and fruity flavour that complements the sweetness of the dough. While white chocolate chips can add a creamy and rich flavour.
- Black tea bag: Soaking dried fruit in tea can help to plump and infuse them with flavour. This makes them softer and more moist in the finished buns. Additionally, the tea can add a subtle flavour to the raisins, enhancing the buns’ overall taste.
- Bourbon or brandy: Adds a depth and complexity of flavour that complements the sweetness and fruit flavours from the raisins/sultanas. Prefer not to use alcohol? Simply omit the bourbon or substitute it with a non-alcoholic flavouring, such as vanilla extract.
Setting you up for success – Tips & Tricks for Hot Cross Buns
If you are experiencing issues with your hot cross buns, here are some common troubleshooting tips that may help:
- The dough is too dry: If the dough is too dry, it may be difficult to knead and shape properly. To fix this, add a small amount of milk, to the dough a little at a time until it reaches the right consistency.
- The dough is too sticky: Don’t freak out, as it is ‘higher hydration’ AKA stickier dough. Set a timer and leave the machine running if required, don’t hover over it. Trust the process. If after 10 minutes with minimal change, add a teaspoon of flour at a time and knead again until it just comes together. Too much flour = dense buns.
- The dough doesn’t rise: This may be due to using expired or inactive yeast or not proofing in a warm enough place. To fix this, make sure your yeast is fresh and active, and let the dough rest in a warm, draft-free area.
- The buns are too dense: This may be due to over-kneading the dough or not letting the dough rise enough. To fix this, ensure you knead the dough enough to develop the gluten (do the window-pane test). Also, allow the dough enough time to rise until it has doubled in size. You’ll know it’s proofed enough when pressed with a finger, it springs back slowly.
Frequently Asked Questions
When I made this dish on our live cooking show, some community members asked:
Yes, hot cross buns can be frozen for up to three months. Once thawed, they can be reheated in the oven or toasted for a few minutes.
Yes, hot cross buns can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. You can also freeze them for longer storage.
Simply cut in half, toast and add a slather of butter. You can also try them with your favourite jam/jelly or use them to make french toast! Let me know how you like to eat them!
Yes! To make hot cross buns in a bread maker, you will typically add the ingredients to the maker in the same order as the recipe, just use the bread maker like a stand mixer. Once the dough is mixed and kneaded, it can be removed from the maker, shaped into buns, and allowed to rise before baking. It’s important to check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific guidance on using the machine for baking hot cross buns. Bread makers/machines may not have a specific setting for hot cross buns, so you may need to experiment with different settings to achieve the desired results.
Looking for more yumminess?
Hot Cross Buns
- large bowl or stand mixer
- small bowl
- zip lock or piping bag
- basting brush
- 450 g (1⅚ cups) water
- 7 g (½ tbsp) instant yeast
- 150 g (¾ cups) brown sugar
- 700 g (4½-4⅔ cups) bread or plain flour
- 8 g (1½ tsp) salt
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½-¾ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ¼-½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground clove
- 100 g (¾ cups) butter softened
Mix-Ins – Choose 1, 2 or all 3. If making multiple flavours, divide quantities as needed.
Bourbon & Raisin
- 200 g (2 cups) raisins or sultanas
- 1 black tea bag
- 62 mls (¼ cup) bourbon
- 125 mls (½ cups) water
- 250-300 g (2 cups) chocolate chips milk, dark or mix
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
White Choc & Cranberry
- 120 g (½-¾ cups) dried cranberries
- black tea bag
- 62 mls (¼ cup) bourbon or brandy
- 125 mls (½ cup) water
- 180 g (1 cups) white chocolate chips
- 75 g (½ cups) bread or plain flour
- 5 tbsp water
- egg wash
Make the dried fruit mix (if using)
- Place dried fruit, bourbon, tea bag and water into a small saucepan. Place on low heat, (covered if possible) and simmer until raisins/sultanas are plump and a majority of the liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool competely.
Make the dough
- In a large bowl, add the water, yeast, and sugar. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
- Add flour, salt and spices then stir until combined. I like to use a chopstick to stir, but a spatula or spoon will do. The dough will be a little scraggy but cover and set aside for 30 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate.
- Using the stand mixer and dough hook, knead the dough on medium speed until it is smooth and elastic. The dough will be sticky but be patient, it may take 7-9 minutes but the dough will start to clean the sides of the bowl when stretched thin, it should become see-through without breaking. This is called the window-pane test.
- Add the butter and continue to knead as it incorporates, and becomes silky and smooth for about 3-4 minutes.If making multiple flavours divide the dough now, place it into separate bowls and fold in desired mix-ins. If making 1 flavour, add mixins with butter. Set dough aside at room temp, covered until it doubles in size.
- Every 10 minutes, do stretches and folds. Use your hand (wet lightly with water) to take one edge of the dough, stretch it upwards, and then fold it toward the centre of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until all of the dough has been stretched. Cover then repeat this process 3- 4 more times with a 15-minute break between each. You'll know when the S&Fs are finished when the dough completes the 'window pane test'- when the dough is stretched thin and becomes see-through without breaking.
- Spread the butter over the dough and continue to do 1-2 rounds of stretch and folds until it incorporates, becoming silky and smooth. If making multiple flavours divide the dough now, place into seperate bowls and fold in desired mix-ins. If making 1 flavour, add mixins with butter.
- Set dough aside at room temp, covered until it doubles in size.
- Turn the proofed dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Portion the dough into the desired number of pieces, ensuring they are equal in size. Cover to ensure they don't dry out.
- Take each piece of dough and repeat the stretching and folding motion Rotate, repeating the motion, until a ball has formed. Place on a lined tray as is or roll each piece of dough into a long skinny loaf to make subs.
- Place the rolled buns onto a tray lined with baking paper or a silicone mat. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Allow space between each bun. Cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled, about an hour.
Make the crosses
- In a small bowl, stir the flour and water together to create a smooth paste. Transfer the mix into a piping bag or ziplock bag. Brush the buns with eggwash.
- Cut a small edge off the corner of the bag and pipe a cross on each bun.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F degrees. When the buns are ready, bake them for 25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and place on a heatproof surface.
- Cover with a dish/tea towel for 10 minutes. The steam will prevent the hard crust from forming and give a delicious soft exterior. Serve warm or let the buns cool before serving.
- Dough will start out sticky but allow it to come together and build structure through kneading. A stand mixer is recommended but it can be done easily by hand. Be patient and give it time. Trust the process. If after 10 minutes with minimal change and you are worried, add a teaspoon of flour at a time and knead again until it just comes together.
- Mix-ins are for a whole batch. If you plan to make 2 flavours, simply put half the quantity of each mix in. Half the dough, place each in into separate bowls and combine with mix-in of choice.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.
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Hey, we are Molly & Exceede
Former operating room Nurse and self-taught home cook + IT Engineer passionate about Approachable, No-Nonsense recipes to help you level up in the kitchen. We create simplified dishes for busy people with easy-to-find ingredients!
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