Hot Cross Buns Recipe

Hot Cross Buns

My family has always been very fond of British baked goods. Marks & Spencer’s has sadly closed off all their French stores, but when it was still around [deep sigh of nostalgia], we were their most faithful customers for English muffins, crumpets, mince-meat pies and hot cross buns, to be enjoyed with tea in the afternoon.

Only recently did I find out that hot cross buns were a traditional Easter pastry. Since I was spending the week-end with my parents and sister in our vacation house in the mountains, I suggested we try and bake some, following the recipe which Mariko had successfully used.

It was a lovely baking project to take on over a week-end : the recipe isn’t difficult in itself, but you have to start the day before, and I have found that the waiting periods between the active steps force you to slow down your pace. And this is really what that kind of getaway is about in the first place, no?

This kind of recipe also builds a nice sense of anticipation, which culminates in the eating. And when it turns out great, which it did, it is very rewarding : although the dough did not rise as much as it should have, our hot cross buns looked lovely in that home-made fuzzy way, and tasted exactly like we hoped they would. To say that we were proud as a new mom would be an understatement. Straight and fresh from the oven, they are a real treat, so good that they don’t even need butter or jam on them. But that is, of course, up to you.

This happened to be my first time working with yeast (as opposed to baking powder) and to tell you the truth, I find it somewhat nerve-wracking : will the dough rise, or will it not rise? I’ll admit I actually dreamt about it during the night. I think I really need a longer vacation.

Two things to note : the buns didn’t rise as much as they should have, and my mother’s diagnosis is that the dough was too moist because we didn’t use enough flour (I corrected the amount in the recipe below). Also, we used our favorite cookie glaze recipe, which tastes great but is very light in color, so next time I may try to make a thicker glaze, so that it forms a nice white cross on top.

Hot Cross Buns

– 1/2 C (125 ml) milk
– 1 Tbsp active dry yeast (I use the SAF brand)
– 1/4 C (25 g) sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/6 C (35 g) butter, melted and cooled
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp nutmeg
– 2 eggs, lightly beaten
– 2 1/2 C (300 g) flour
– 2/3 C raisins/currants/diced orange peel

– 1/2 C confectioner’s sugar
– the juice of half a lemon

(Yields 12 buns.)

Warm up the milk in a small saucepan, until warm but not hot. Sprinkle the yeast onto the milk and stir to dissolve. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, salt, butter, spices and eggs, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour gradually, and knead until relatively smooth. It will still be rather wet and sticky. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 45 minutes in a warm, draft-free place. (Our dough did not rise during that time, not sure if it should have.)

Knead again until the dough is smooth and detaches itself from the sides of the bowl. Add the dried fruits, and knead again to incorporate. Shape the dough into a ball as best you can (it will still be a bit hard to work with), and place in a buttered dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator overnight. It should have risen (slightly in our case) in the morning.

Take the dough out and leave it at room temperature for half an hour. Line a cookie sheet (or a baking dish) with parchment paper. Divide the dough in twelve equal pieces, shape them into small balls, and place them on the parchment paper, spacing them by half an inch. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 1 1/2 hour, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Remove the plastic wrap and carefully slash the tops of the balls cross-wise. Bake for ten minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 180°C (360°F) and bake for another 10 minutes, until the buns are nicely golden. (Watch them closely, they can bake pretty fast.)

Prepare the glaze : put the confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl, and pour in some lemon juice, a little at a time, whisking until the glaze gets to the right consistency, thick and syrupy. If it gets too liquid, well, add more confectioner’s sugar! Use a spoon to spread a little glaze on each bun, in the shape of a cross.

The buns should be served hot, right out of the oven or reheated in the toaster. They can be eaten as is, or sliced in two and spread with a little butter, clotted cream and/or jam.

[Adapted from a recipe found at Fabulous Foods.]

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  • Hello Clotilde,
    They look very good. I must try your recipe a soon as I finish the 8 I bought in UK this week end …
    Have a good day. Pascale.

  • Clotilde, this sounds very similar to the recipe we used when I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs. (It must be the influence of all those Irish-Americans?) My English husband has a slightly different method, which involves making pie pastry dough to form the cross on top. I like our way better, especially with a nice glaze!

    Regarding the dough not rising sufficiently, the most common reason is that the dough was not kept in a warm enough place. If your oven is gas, the pilot light keeps the inside of the oven at a nice warm temperature. Otherwise, you can heat the oven to 40 degrees celsius, turn it off and turn it back on for a few minutes from time to time to keep the temperature between 35 and 40 degrees. This is what Steve did on Saturday and his dough rose very well.

    Congratulations on your first foray into breadmaking though – it’s a lot of fun and less complicated than you would think!

  • Sorry, me again with another note: the dough should indeed have doubled with the first proofing.

  • (you can merge these comments together if you like – sorry but I keep thinking of new ones!)

    All of the yeast recipes I have ever used call for sprinkling a little sugar in the warm milk when you initially add the yeast. As I understand it, this helps activate the yeast quickly by giving it something to “eat”!

    Bonne continutation! (And I’ll shut up now…) ;)

  • Hande

    Agree with Meg: Always some sugar or honey with yeast. And fresh yeast (the cubes) are better than the dried stuff in envelopes.

  • Another note, make sure the yeast doesn’t come in contact with the salt directly. It kills yeast.
    Add it last, or with the flour.

    I adore hot cross buns.

  • Karen

    It’s not my experience that salt kills yeast I always add pinch of salt and pinch of sugar to the lukewarm milk with the yeast and it raises perfectly.

    But I never let a sticky dough raise the first time – it’s too difficult to knead the rest of the flour in.

    In my experience the dough is perfect when it’s non sticky and when it bounces back when you poke a finger in it.

    Finally it does make a differance how you form the buns on how they turn out.

    I always roll the dough to a long sausage and then cut it into the right amount of buns. Then I form the buns by tucking the dough from the cut side to the bottom.

    That way an unbroken surface faces up on the baking sheet. And they will rise to a perfect ball.

    Just my 2 cents ;)

  • Niki

    Aghhh! I’m sick to death of hot cross buns!! :-) My boyfriend’s place of work ordered 1,300 (yes, that’s one THOUSAND three hundred) buns to be distributed to hungry staff on Maundy Thursday…..naturally, when he walked past the kitchen at the end of the day, there were boxes left….which he happily purloined. We’ve been eating them constantly ever since!

    I’m not the biggest fan of them – I find they’re a bit too doughy and heavy, but I like the cinnamon flavour and crispily toasted & dripping with butter, I admit they’re not too bad at all.
    My boyfriend’s view, when I commented I wasn’t in the mood for one this morning was:
    “What?! Unbelievable! My best mood to enjoy a hot cross bun? …Awake!”

    In Australia a few bakeries make a chocolate version, which although completely unorthodox (to mix religions!), tastes quite lovely – cinnamony, chochocolately, dense….

  • These look great Clotilde! I’ve never seen HCB decorated with an icing cross before – something to try next year on a couple of buns, I think :) Congratulations on taking a brave step into baking with yeast; its not too scary, right?

  • Jay Francis

    I come from a background of religiously proofing my active dry yeast to make certain that it doesn’t fail. However, with the purchase of my bread making machine and the use of instant yeast, proofing is no longer necessary. “Instant” or “fast rise” yeast is a different product, as it has more live yeast cells due to a lower production temperature, than traditional active yeast. Based on studies in Fine Cooking and Cooks Illustrated, I have made the switch, preferring the red packet SAF brand. And it has proved to be foolproof. Plus, you can add it to the dry ingredients. I think that when you switch over to an instant yeast, you will be pleased with the results.

    My bread machine recipes require adding the liquids first, with the sugar, powdered milk, salt, butter. Then, the flour goes on top, and the teaspoon of yeast goes on top of that. I don’t think salt kills yeast except in direct contact situations. Otherwise it just slows it down.

    I have also learned that one can use too much yeast, and that one can’t always get a proper result if the yeast quantity eats up the available sugar too quickly.

    Last, something I picked up that turns out to be the best rule of thumb I can pass on. After kneading your dough, if you can touch it and it is sticky on your finger, what we call “tacky”, but the dough does not come off on your finger, you are probably spot on. If some dough comes off, you may need more flour.


    Lovely recipe for what is my all-time favorite baked good, hot cross buns. I knead a bit of lemon oil into almond paste and roll bits of this into wee snakes. I lay them crossed over the unbaked buns. This version of the cross lends still another texture, an additional flavor element and a nice visual effect. One may also use thin ribbons of pie dough (pâte brisée) to good effect. These remain pale in color while the bun itself browns. I bake a second batch of rolls and (when they are two days old) slice them for use in a shallow casserole version of custardy pain perdu.

  • Yummy! I’m glad your hot cross buns turned out well. I received some home baked hot cross buns yesterday. They used whole wheat flour and are quite tasty. I need to bake some again one of these days …

  • Like Meg, the recipe I used sprinkles the yeast on warm milk to start it, but no sugar. The other thing that is different is placing the dough in the refrigerator overnight, I wonder if that might cause the buns to not rise as high?

    In the recipe I used, once everything is mixed, you leave it in a warm place to prove and double – about 30 minutes. Then you knead again briefly, form into buns and let them double in size again. After that it’s baking time.

    I think your Hot Cross Buns look yummy – I wish my crosses had stayed as tidy! :)

  • My only lament about Easter this year (which we spent with some friends who have a young girl so we got to dye and hide easter eggs in addition to doing the traditional lamb) was that we never had Hot Cross Buns, a traditional lent fare.
    I’m a permanently lapsed Catholic, but that is one lent tradition that I’ve always loved, and sort of missed. On easter morning we made do with fresh cinnamon doughnuts from the local store (up by our country house) but next year I’ll bake hot cross buns from your recipe instead!

  • Pascale – Oh, did you get them at Marks & Spencer’s?

    Meg – Thanks a lot for all the advice! And your husband’s buns look lovely! (That doesn’t sound right does it.) And I am certainly not one to complain about multiple comments! :)

    Hande – I’ll have to try the sugar tip, and fresh yeast, too!

    Sadie – I had heard this about the salt and the yeast! In our case, the salt was added much later, so it probably wasn’t the culprit, but I’ll keep this in mind!

    Karen – Your 2 cents are worth gold, thanks a lot!

    Niki – Mmmh chocolate hot cross buns sound like my kind of thing! And the patent unorthodoxy just makes it better!

    Angela – Well, I did find it a little scary, but I’m sure I’ll get braver with experience! :)

    Jay – As always, thanks for the great advice!

    Robert – Love the almond paste option, that’s what I’ll do next time! Marzipan is very high on my top-5 of sweet things…

    Mariko – Yes, I read about it on your blog, and I wrote to Rachael to ask her for her mom’s (the uber-hot-cross-bun-maker) recipe!

    Alysha – I’ll probably skip the overnight fridge step next time, as no other recipe I’ve seen mentioned it…

    Meg – It was my first hot-cross-bun Easter, and I think I’m going to make this a tradition!

  • Hande

    one last comment on the rising ;-)
    You might skip the fridge step but regard this: Letting your yeast-dough rise slowly (which it does in the fridge and doesn’t in a warm place) gives some enzymes time to “digest” some stuff (don’t ask me for details, not too sure myself, but you can definetely search and find about it if it interests you).

    So that whatever you make with the dough is, ehm, more becoming(?). That is, it doesnot sit so heavy in your stomach. Industrially produced stuff (bread, doughnuts etc.) never get this time and therefore it is healthier to take the time and make your own bread. Also, of course, the total control of ingredients….

  • Hande – Fascinating, I never knew about that! It’s true that our hot cross buns were very cloud-like : nice bite and texture, but very light, too! (Ask my sister Céline, she went for thirds! ;)

  • I’ve been eating HCB for nearly 40 (!) years. We used to mostly make and/or buy them with a cross made from an almond paste, which I believe is really the original and correct cross, but more recently pastry and sugar crosses have come in.

    Also the currant/raisin thing is technically optional.

    As to yeast baking. I’ve been doing it for years and sugar really only speeds the initial growth of the yeast. You don’t need it and many bakers feel a slower yeast growth makes for better flavour. But, that’s for bread and for ‘cake’ you want a lighter taste and since you have sugar in the dough anyway you might as well go ahead and boost the yeast with it. Salt DOES kill yeast (that’s why it is used to preserve food) but you need a fair amount. I would still add it to the flour portion rather than to the yeast .

    Now that you have managed hot cross buns, you should take on bread baking. Don’t go for something hard like a baguette (they are VERY hard to bake as well as you can get them in Paris anyway) but do a rich, chewy pain de campagne that takes two days from start to finish. It is really fun and does make you slow the pace of your life down.


  • Janet

    One further yeast tip: I always put a bit of sugar in as others have suggested to help it initially. I usually do this in a clear measuring cup and let it sit for about 15 minutes. This way you can see all the nice yeasty bubbles. If it is bubbly, then you know that the yeast is active. If not, I toss it because either I made the water/milk too hot and killed the yeast or the yeast is just old. This takes a lot of fear out of working with yeast.

    As far as the refrigerator step – some breads call for this (ciabatta bread for one) – I believe it is called a poulash (spelling??). It does give it a nice yeasty flavor. Check out for some great bread/yeast recipes. This company travels across the US giving FREE bread baking classes (listed on site). They are great for beginners as well as long time yeasters!

    (sorry this post was so long)

  • Owen – Fourty years of HCB is impressive : can you picture them all together on the same table? :) And you are right, I should give bread-baking a spin… Do you have a recipe recommendation?

    Janet – Thanks a lot for the tips and link! And there is no such thing as too long a comment around here : the more the much much better! :)

  • Debby

    I don’t have time to give you my recipe right now. But, I’d like to tell you that my book says “when served on Good Friday they are said to have remarkable curative powers!” I haven’t seen a doctor in many years, because I don’t have insurance and I haven’t gotten sick. But last time I had a follow up at the dentist he said that I have miraculous healing powers

  • marie

    hey,, just replying to this in Sydney (which I came by on a link from the latest 2006 page). For a tip, the crosses on hot cross buns are usually just piped lines of flour and water mixed together, which you then bake – you can add some sort of flavouring or sweetness if you want.

  • Jim H.

    What a great idea. Thank you. 1. I love hot cross buns. 2. Most of the ones at my local bakeries are horrid, chemical-infused things. 3. I too just got a new KitchenAid after many years of lusting.

    I’ll be making these this weekend.

  • Just made these… YUM!!! I used dried cranberries instead of raisins and added orange zest & a couple of drops of pure orange extract instead of peel… so tasty!

    BTW… I read somewhere that cinnamon inhibit bread from rising properly.

  • Sylvia

    My mother has an interesting varient. The plain crosses are rather tasteless, it can be wonderful to very thinfly cut strips of marzipan and make them into the cross shape. When cooked they colour nicely, and give that lovely almond-y taste.

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