Hot Cross Buns are soft, spiced sweet rolls served warm and studded with dried currants and apricots. They are an Easter tradition made on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) in many households, especially in the United Kingdom, although they are so delicious that they should be enjoyed year round for breakfast or dessert!
These hot cross buns are going in my collection of the best Easter recipes along with other classic favorites like our family's Lemon Pineapple Jell-O with Pineapple Whipped Cream Topping, Oven Roasted Asparagus with Garlic, Parmesan, & Lemon, and Easy Blueberry Custard Pie for dessert. Oh, and glazed ham, of course.
Last year our daughter was in 3rd grade, which in California means it was her year to learn to play the recorder. Which means we heard an awful lot of squeaky, ear-splitting renditions of the childrens' nursery rhyme song "Hot Cross Buns" on a regular basis. I would get "hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns" stuck in my head for days.
It made me wonder, not for the first time, what hot cross buns actually tasted like since I didn't grow up with them. Then this year I watched an episode of the Great British Baking Show where they made hot cross buns and decided it was a sign that I needed to make these and finally see what the hype was all about.
These turned out so fluffy and perfectly spiced and sweet that I immediately called my sister and told her that she needed to make these for my nieces right away. Then I took four warm buns over to some friends so I wouldn't devour the entire pan right away all by myself. Hot cross buns are my new favorite breakfast bread, even rivaling my beloved pecan sticky buns!
I love how these bake up all puffy and touching, dinner roll style, so that you almost pull them apart. But you could take a cue from my cinnamon rolls and bake them on a baking sheet with more space between them if you want them round and distinct instead.
What are Hot Cross Buns?
These traditional sweet buns originated in England where they were iced with a cross pattern to represent the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They were baked and served on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) to mark the end of Lent. Some say that the spices in the buns represent the spices used to embalm Jesus before he was placed in the tomb.
Many cultures seem to have traditional yeasted Easter breads. There is Italian Easter bread with colored eggs baked right into it, Portuguese Easter Bread, Russian Easter Bread (Paska), Romanian Easter Bread, Bulgarian Easter Bread, and these hot cross buns just to name a few. I think it might be a traditional food for so many at this holiday because Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life.
Also, bread has a lot of spiritual significance and appears throughout the Bible. It represents the body of Christ in the sacrament. It was a literal gift from God in the form of manna that sustained the Israelites while they wandered through the desert. And Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes where he divided the bread to feed the multitudes.
What You'll Need
I had to pick up a couple extra things from the store like dried currants and dried apricots for these buns, but otherwise most of what I needed was already in my pantry or my fridge.
- Flour: You can use regular all-purpose flour or bread flour in this recipe. I like to use bread flour because it has a higher protein content which means more gluten and chewier bread with a better texture. But regular all-purpose flour used in this recipe still turns out really good and you can absolutely use it if you don't have bread flour on hand.
- Dried fruit: The bits of dried fruit make these buns extra special. I like to use both dried currants (you can find them right next to the raisins at the grocery store - personally I think currants are better than raisins for these buns) and dried apricots (chopped up into small pieces) together. But you can use any dried fruit like cranberries, cherries, blueberries, or raisins.
- Milk: Milk is often used in making bread for rich, soft dough with wonderful flavor. I prefer using whole milk when baking, but if I don't have it on hand I will fill my measuring cup with a little heavy cream first and then fill it the rest of the way with lowfat milk or whatever I have on hand.
- Butter and eggs: This is an enriched brioche dough which means it has fat added to it in the form of eggs and butter. These ingredients add wonderful flavor and richness to the dough. It's best for these to be at room temperature when you add them, but if you forget you can stick the eggs in a bowl of really hot water for 10 minutes while the yeast is proofing and microwave the butter for 5-10 seconds.
- Yeast: I used active dry yeast, which requires proofing first. That's where you add the yeast to warm liquid to wake it up and let it get all foamy. If you are using instant yeast, you can skip this step and add the yeast with the flour.
- Sugar: There is granulated sugar in the sweet dough and powdered sugar used to make the icing crosses on top of the buns.
- Orange zest: I love, love, love the bit of citrus flavor that the orange zest adds. It goes so well with the spices and other fruit and makes these hot cross buns extra special.
- Vanilla extract: A little vanilla adds a nice nuance to the other flavors. I like using my homemade vanilla.
- Spices: A few warm spices like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom give a traditional taste to these hot cross buns and make them feel extra festive.
- Salt: Don't forget the salt or you will end up with bland buns!
- Apricot jam or preserves: These are mixed with a little water and heated up right at the end to brush on the buns when they come out of the oven. Not only do they add a nice glossy finish, but the added apricot flavor is the perfect touch to complement the dried fruit inside the buns.
How to Make Hot Cross Buns
If you have already made cinnamon rolls or my homemade hamburger buns, these traditional Easter buns from the U.K. aren't any more difficult than those. It's a pretty straightforward approach of mixing and kneading dough, letting it rise, then shaping into rolls and rising again before baking. Ba-dah-bing-ba-dah-boom, you've got yourself some hot cross buns!
Let's make the dough!
- Soak the fruit: This step isn't completely necessary and you won't see it in every recipe for hot cross buns, but it's not a bad idea to soak whatever dried fruit you are using in some hot water first so they can plump up for a better texture and flavor after baking.
- Proof the yeast: Since I prefer using active dry yeast rather than instant, I have to proof it first. Which simply means just waking up the yeast by stirring it into some warm liquid: in this case, warm milk. You want to make sure the milk isn't scalding hot or it can kill the yeast, but it should feel warm to the touch. Technically the milk should be between 105 and 115 degrees F if you want to pull out your thermometer, but I just heat it up for about 45 seconds in the microwave and call it good.
- Mix the dough: Once the yeast has proofed (prooved?) you add it to the bowl of your stand mixer (or another large bowl if you are doing this by hand) along with eggs and an egg yolk (hold on to that egg white though - we will use it later for an egg wash to give the buns a beautiful golden brown shine!) sugar, orange zest, vanilla, spices, salt, and some of the flour. Mix with the paddle attachment (or using a sturdy wooden spoon if you are doing this the old-fashioned way), then switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour.
- Knead: This is where a stand mixer comes in handy. While kneading at medium-ish speed, start adding the softened butter a chunk at a time. Let it mostly get kneaded into the dough for a minute before adding the next lump of butter. After about 7-8 minutes of kneading, all of the butter will have been kneaded into the dough and the dough should be nice and smooth, albeit very sticky and soft. If the dough just looks way too wet, go ahead and knead in a little additional flour until it is workable. The thing about working with yeast doughs like this is that you want to use as little flour as possible so the buns are nice and light and fluffy, but you also need to be able to work with it, so you will have to make a judgment call. Use the pictures in this post for cues about what my dough looks like, if that helps.
- Add the dried fruit: Once the butter is incorporated into the dough, add in the fruit (and any liquid if there is some left in the bowl - it has fruity flavor!) and knead it in until it is evenly dispersed throughout the dough. If you are using a stand mixer, you might need to stop the mixer, pull the dough off the hook, and manually flip it over once or twice to get it to do the job. Or just switch to your hands.
- Rise: Use a dough scraper to scrape the dough out into a clean, greased bowl, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise somewhere warm like in a sunny window or on the counter by the stove until the dough almost doubles in size. Because of all the fat and fruit in this dough, it might not rise quite as much as others you are used to, but it should still grow a decent amount.
- Shape into buns and rise again: Once the dough is almost doubled in size, dump it out onto the countertop and divide it into 12 evenly sized pieces using a bench scraper, knife, or other sharp tool. Use your hands to make smooth balls by sort of pinching and tucking the dough into itself on the bottom to create nice smooth tops, then place them pinched-bottom side down into a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and let the buns rise for another 30-60 minutes until puffy and touching.
Pro Tip: You can shape the buns and stick them in the fridge without letting them rise. Leave them overnight and they will be ready to bake in the morning after about 30 minutes on the counter at room temperature while the oven preheats!
- Bake: Be sure to preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, then gently brush the buns with an egg wash before popping them in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. They should come out nice and golden brown on top, but if they are getting too dark you can cover them loosely with a piece of foil for the last few minutes.
- Glaze: Make the glaze by heating the apricot preserves and water in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to thin out the jam a bit. Then brush the apricot glaze all over the tops of the warm buns.
Time for the signature icing crosses
- Make icing: While the buns cool, whisk powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and a bit of milk together to make a not-too-thin icing that can be piped in lines onto the buns. If the icing is too thin, it will just run everywhere, so err on the side of thicker icing that you can then thin out with a splash of milk. If it gets too thin, just add in a bit more powdered sugar.
- Pipe onto the buns: Fill a piping bag with a round tip or a ziploc bag that you can snip a corner off of with the icing and use it to pipe lines down the middle of the buns both vertically and horizontally. The buns should be just warm, or the frosting will run right off. And FYI, I only used half my icing and ended up piping on a lot more after I took these pictures because I felt like my lines were too thin. But by then we were digging into the buns and I didn't want to reshoot them.
Tips & Tricks
- Scrape the sides of the bowl: It might look like the butter is not going to mix in at first, but it will if you use a spatula to scrape down the sides and let the mixer keep going.
- Work with room temperature ingredients: Room temperature ingredients incorporate together much better than cold ingredients. You can stick your eggs in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes to take the chill off if you forget to pull them out in advance.
- Soak the fruit: This is especially important if your dried fruit is really hard. Soaking the fruit plumps it up and actually brings out its flavor.
- Serve warm: If you aren't enjoying them warm out of the oven, I recommend warming them up in the microwave for a few seconds. You could also slice them in half and toast them. They are delicious spread with butter or jam, but they have enough flavor that you can enjoy them all on their own.
- Storage: Store any leftover hot cross buns in an airtight container on the counter for 2-3 days. After that they start getting a little stale, but they make excellent french toast!
For a traditional flour paste cross
The version I'm sharing with icing for crosses is slightly different than the flour paste version where the cross is baked directly onto the buns. Personally, I like the extra sweetness that appeals to my love of simple vanilla icing, but if you want a more traditional version, you can go the flour paste route.
Just combine 1 cup of flour, ½ cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar to create a thick paste. Pipe lines of the paste along the egg wash-brushed buns just before baking. The flour paste will bake into the top of the buns, creating a more subtle, less showy line than the icing gives you.
I watched an episode on the Great British Baking Show where they made hot cross buns and there are lots of variations you can do! Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking (although I do think these currant/apricot ones are incredible, so maybe make them first and then get creative!).
- Lemon Blueberry White Chocolate: Use lemon zest instead of orange zest and dried blueberries and white chocolate chips in place of apricots and current.
- Cherry Chocolate Chip: Omit the orange zest altogether and use dried cherries and chocolate chips in place of the fruit.
- Cinnamon Raisin Orange: Use raisins and cinnamon chips with orange zest.
- White Chocolate Cranberry: I think the name pretty much sums this one up, but you can use white chocolate chips and dried cranberries for this classic flavor pairing that I LOVE and have used in cookies, bars, and fudge.
More Easter recipes
- The BEST Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
- Bacon Green Onion Deviled Eggs
- Scalloped Potatoes [Au Gratin Potatoes]
- Garlic & Herb Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb
- Best Carrot Cake Recipe
More Sweet Bread Recipes
- The BEST Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- Deborah’s Knotted Orange Sweet Rolls
- Homemade Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns
- Christmas Star Bread
- Cranberry Orange Pull-Apart Monkey Bread
- New Orleans Beignets
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Hot Cross Buns
- ¼ cup apple juice or water
- ½ cup dried apricots cranberries, cherries, or blueberries
- ½ cup dried currants or raisins
- 1 ¼ cups milk room temperature
- 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk (save the white for the egg wash)
- 6 Tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest from 1 orange
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves or allspice
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 ½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg white reserved from above
- 2 teaspoons water
- 2 Tablespoons apricot jam or preserves
- 1 Tablespoon water
- 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1-2 Tablespoons milk or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing
- Add the dried apricots and currants (or whatever dried fruit you are using) to a medium microwave-safe bowl with the apple juice or water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 30-45 seconds. The plastic wrap will expand then shrink wrap the bowl, sealing in the hot liquid and helping to soften the dried fruit. Set aside to soak.
- Meanwhile, warm the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds until warm but not scalding hot. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar and the yeast, then let it proof for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is nice and foamy. If using instant yeast, you can skim this step of warming the milk and proofing the yeast and instead move on to the next step immediately.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the proofed yeast and milk mixture, eggs and egg yolk (save the egg white for later to use as an egg wash), remaining sugar, orange zest, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix until combined, then switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour.
- Knead the dough on medium speed until the flour is combined, then start adding the softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. Let the dough knead for about a minute between adding each tablespoon of butter, until all of the butter has been kneaded into the dough and it is nice and smooth. It will be around 7-8 minutes of kneading and the dough will be very sticky, soft, and elastic. Some of it will still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl, although if it is looking really sticky and unmanageable, go ahead and add an extra ½ cup of flour to it. The less flour you can manage with the better though for the softest buns.
- Add the dried fruit and any soaking liquid that has not been absorbed and knead this into the dough until the fruit is evenly dispersed. You might need to scrape the bowl and turn the dough over by hand once or twice to get the fruit mixed in all the way as my dough hook can't always get the job quite done without a little help.
- Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until almost doubled in size, around 1-2 hours. This dough may take a bit longer to rise than other yeast doughs and it might not completely double in size because the added fruit and fats inhibit the rise a bit and slow the process down. But it should still be nice and puffy looking. I usually stick my dough in a sunny spot by the window or on the back of the counter by the stove where it is warm.
- Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and use a bench scraper, sharp knife, or pizza cutter to divide the dough into 12 evenly sized pieces. Shape into balls by pinching the ends underneath to create a nice, smooth surface on top and place them into a grease 9x13-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 30-60 minutes until they are nice and puffy and touching each other.
- While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. When the buns are puffy and ready to go in the oven, whisk the reserved egg white together with 2 teaspoons of water and gently brush over the top of each bun. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the buns are a nice golden brown on top and cooked through (but don't overbake or the buns will be dry).
- While the buns are still hot, combine the apricot preserves in a bowl with a tablespoon of water and heat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Stir together to combine, then use a pastry brush to brush the jam on top of the buns. Let the buns cool for a bit while you make the icing.
- Whisk the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and enough milk together in a medium bowl to make an icing that can be piped on to the top of the buns. It shouldn't be too thin or it will run right off, so add just enough milk to make it pipeable. If it gets too runny, add a little more powdered sugar. If it is too thick, add more milk until you get the right consistency.
- Transfer the icing to a ziploc bag and snip off the tip to pipe lines down the middle of the buns going both ways to create the crosses. Serve the hot cross buns while they are still warm.
- The buns are best served fresh and warm, although they will be good for 1-2 days and can be reheated for a few seconds in the microwave. If you have any leftover after that, they make delicious french toast if you slice them up, dip them in an egg mixture, and cook them in butter on a hot griddle!
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.