Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns: A traditional enriched bread for Good Friday! Light, fluffy, & slightly sweet, with lots of warm spice & dried fruit.
Easter is right around the corner! I’m so excited- this is one of my favorite holidays!
I especially love it for the food. After 40 days of Lenten sacrifice, the food floodgates open wide and we are once again free to enjoy all of our favorite rich and sweet foods. Candy, cake, and rich, eggy breakfast treats are not only allowed, but encouraged! Ya gotta love that!
This year, I really wanted to try to make hot cross buns. They’re actually traditional for Good Friday, and while I had never made them before, I always thought it sounded like a nice tradition.
They’re made from an enriched dough, which means it’s a yeast bread with lots of added butter and eggs for richness. Cross buns also have lots of warm spice added, as well as dried fruit and citrus, so they’re a little bit sweet and can be served for breakfast, brunch, or as a sweet afternoon snack.
I looked at countless other recipes and saw that they can be made in lots of different ways. And the more I read up on them, the more I started to think that my soft dinner rolls recipe would make the perfect base.
So I started there, and added in all the classic flavors that characterize hot cross buns.
The result was magical. Soft, light, and fluffy, with plenty of warm cinnamon, ginger, and sunny orange. And the recipe came together in a snap.
I’d highly recommend you give these a try! They’re such a special treat and the significance of the cross on top is a great way to remind your loved ones of the true meaning behind this holiday!
WHAT ARE HOT CROSS BUNS?
As noted above, hot cross buns are a sweet roll, enriched with butter, eggs, and brown sugar, and infused with the flavors of warm spice and citrus.
They usually also incorporate dried fruit such as raisins or currants. You could also use candied citrus or ginger, as I have done here.
They’re shaped into a single-serving-sized bun and have a cross piped on the top. The cross is to signify Christ’s crucifixion, which is remembered during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday). Sometimes this ornamentation is made from a flour and water paste, sometimes it’s just a sweet icing.
Since sweet icing is especially yummy, that’s what I’ve used in this recipe.
WHAT ARE CROSS BUNS MADE OF?
What sets this hot cross buns recipe apart from just a regular old dinner roll is the addition of fruit, citrus, and spices.
I’ve chosen to go with a traditional combination of golden raisins, orange zest, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, but you could get really creative and use just about any combination of add-ins.
- Lemon, Grapefruit, or Lime Peel
- Vanilla Bean
- Orange Blossom or Rose Water
- Chopped Nuts
Besides the add-ins, hot cross buns also include the staple ingredients of just about any other kind of enriched bread: milk/cream, butter, sugar, yeast, flour, eggs, and salt.
HOW TO MAKE HOT CROSS BUNS
The first step is to bloom the yeast.
Combine milk, cream, melted butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast.
It’s best if all of these ingredients are at room temperature or slightly warm (no more than 105 degrees F), but if they aren’t it’s ok. It just might take a little longer for your yeast to proof.
After about 5 or 10 minutes, the yeast should be dissolved and starting to look a little foamy. That’s when you know it’s time to add in the flour.
Start by stirring in just 2 cups of flour, until you have a smooth but very loose mixture.
Then, add the eggs. This dough gets 2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk.
Once they’re fully incorporated, the remaining ingredients can go in.
The rest of the flour, the dried fruit and citrus zest, the spices, and the salt all get worked in until you have a smooth, elastic dough that gathers itself into a ball and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
Be aware that you may need slightly more or less flour, depending upon the humidity in your kitchen. It’s a good idea to start with slightly less, and just add more until you get the correct consistency.
Once you have a stretchy, satiny dough, flour your work surface and hands, and divide it into 12 equal portions. I usually do this by first cutting it into quarters, and then cutting each quarter into thirds.
Use your hands to shape each portion of dough into a smooth, tight ball. You can see how this is done by watching the video in the recipe card below.
Place your 12 unbaked buns into a lightly greased baking pan. Then cover the pan with greased plastic wrap and allow the bread to rise until doubled in volume. This usually takes about 1 to 2 hours, depending on how warm it is in your kitchen.
Once the buns have grown x2, preheat the oven and lightly brush them with an egg white. This will give them a gorgeous sheen and help them to turn a pretty, burnished golden brown as they bake.
While the cross buns bake, mix up a quick confectioner’s icing with powdered sugar and milk. Once they’ve cooled, this icing can be piped on the rolls in the traditional cross pattern.
HOW TO SERVE THEM
These buns are plenty moist and just sweet enough, so they really don’t need a single thing. But I’ve yet to meet a bread that isn’t even better with a smear of soft butter, jam, or citrus curd. Apple butter would be really nice on these too!
They can be served for breakfast, brunch, or as an afternoon snack. For a really nice pick-me-up, pair them with a cup of tea or coffee.
CAN THEY BE MADE AHEAD?
This recipe only requires one rise, so it’s relatively quick to make as far as yeast breads go.
That being said, it’s always nice to get a jump on holiday prep with an overnight recipe.
Feel free to shape the buns, cover them, and stash them in the fridge up to 48 hours ahead of when you plan to bake them. Once they’ve come back up to room temperature, you can proceed with the recipe as noted.
Or you can fully bake them, cool them, and ice them, then just wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or in an airtight container.
These should last at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.
Or in the fridge for a week or so.
You can also freeze them. They should keep in the freezer for about a month, and can be reheated for a few seconds in the microwave or in a 170 degree F oven (wrapped in foil) until warmed through.
A FEW MORE OF MY FAVORITE EASTER RECIPES:
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Hot Cross Buns
For the Buns:
- 1 cup (244 g) milk, (whatever kind you keep on hand)
- 1/2 cup (119 g) cream
- 4 tablespoons (59.15 g) unsalted butter,, melted & slightly cooled
- 1/4 cup (55 g) light brown sugar, (lightly packed)
- 1 packet (7 g) dry active yeast , (1/4-ounce or about 2 teaspoons)
- 4 1/2 cups (562.5 g) all-purpose flour,, divided
- 2 (88 g) eggs, , large
- 1 (18 g) egg yolk, (from a large egg)
- 1 cup (40 g) dried fruit*, (such as raisins, craisins, apricots, or cherries)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons (36.97 g) orange zest, (zest of one medium orange)
- 1/4 cup (35 g) candied ginger, (optional- additional dried fruit + 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger can be substituted)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.39 g) ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.23 g) grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.39 g) kosher salt
- 1 (30 g) egg white, (from a large egg)
For the Icing:
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
To Make the Buns:
- Place the milk, cream, melted butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.
- Stir in the yeast and allow it to dissolve and proof for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in 2 cups of the flour until well-blended.
- Stir in the eggs and egg yolk until combined.
- Add the remaining flour, dried fruit, orange zest, candied ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and mix together until the dough gathers itself into a ball and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. (You may need more or less flour depending on the humidity. Use as much or as little is needed in order to achieve the proper consistency.)
- Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll each one into a tight ball.
- Place the unbaked buns in a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish and cover lightly with greased plastic wrap.
- Allow the buns to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (approx. 1 hour).
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and brush the risen buns lightly with egg white for shine.
- Bake the buns until puffy and golden brown (approx. 25 to 35 minutes).
- Let cool, then pipe a cross over each bun with confectioner's icing.
To Make the Confectioner's Icing:
- Stir the powdered sugar and milk together in a small bowl until smooth.