Hot cross buns are traditional, old-fashioned buns that are slightly sweet and incredibly tender thanks to the inclusion of milk and eggs in the bread dough. Commonly served on Easter.
Traditionally sold in bakeries on Good Friday for Easter, hot cross buns are diminutive rolls made from a rich, slightly sweet dough that’s dotted with currants and marked with a sweet icing cross. Although once you realize just how lovely these are, you may find yourself baking them at home all year long.–David Leite
☞ Table of Contents
Hot Cross Buns FAQs
What is the significance of hot cross buns?
According to author and baker Amy Scherber, in the pre-Christian era, hot cross buns were served to honor the goddess of spring. Later, the cross was cut in the top to symbolize the significance of Easter and the cross in Christian religions. They’re traditionally sold at bakeries on Good Friday and the next day for Easter Sunday breakfast to break the Lenten fast. Although once you’ve made them, you’ll want them year-round.
What is the difference between bleached and unbleached flour?
As you can probably deduce, bleached flour is more white than unbleached, but that is not the most significant difference. Bleached flour has a fine texture and more readily absorbs liquid, making it work very well for waffles, pancakes, cookies, and quickbreads. Unbleached flour is denser and it’s used to help baked goods hold their shape, so it’s great for pastries and yeast breads – and hot cross buns.
The flours are more or less interchangeable if you don’t have one or the other. Although it’s always ideal to use the ingredients that a recipe calls for, in this case, substituting shouldn’t drastically change your final results.
Hot Cross Buns
- Two 17- by 12-inch baking sheets
For the dough
- 1/2 cup very warm water (105º to 115ºF [40°C to 46°C])
- 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (preferably one with a protein content of 11.5%) plus more for the work surface
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup mild vegetable oil plus more for work surface
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup warm milk 90ºF (32°C)
- 2/3 cup dried currants
- 1 large egg white for egg wash
For the frosting
- 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the dough
- In a large bowl, stir the very warm water and the yeast with a fork until the yeast dissolves. Let stand for 3 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- Using a wooden spoon or your hand, stir the beaten eggs, oil, granulated sugar, and warm milk into the yeast mixture.
- Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring until a shaggy mass forms and all of the flour is moistened. The dough should be very soft and moist. It’s very important to not be intimidated by the stickiness of this dough. If you add too much flour, the buns will lose some of their trademark delicate texture and taste. If the dough feels too stiff and hard when you’re mixing, add more warm water (85ºF to 90ºF [24°C to 32°C]), 1 tablespoon at a time, until you’re kneading a soft pliable dough.
- Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead. The dough will be wet and sticky at first but will become easier to work with as the gluten forms to make it springy and give it strength. Keep your hands and the table very lightly floured, using a dough scraper to lift the dough as needed. Knead the dough until it’s silken smooth and elastic, 8 to 12 minutes
- Shape the dough into a loose ball, cover it with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes to relax the gluten strands.
- Flatten the dough and gently stretch it with your fingers to form a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Spread the dried currants evenly over the rectangle. Fold the dough into an envelope as if you were folding a business letter. Knead gently for 2 to 3 minutes, until the currants are well distributed and the dough is soft, smooth, and springy. If the dough resists, let it rest for 5 minutes and then continue kneading.
☞TESTER TIP: Some of the currants may pop out of the dough but they can easily be incorporated again after the first rise, when the dough has softened.
- Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl, along with any loose currants. Turn to coat the dough with oil and cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (75º to 77ºF [23°C to 25°C]) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume. A finger pressed into the dough should leave an indentation that doesn’t spring back.
Shape the buns
- Line two 17-by-12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently turn the dough onto the floured work surface, pressing any loose currants into the dough. Lightly flour your hands and divide the dough into 18 equal pieces (about 2 ounces | 57 grams each).
- Shape each piece of dough by placing it on an unfloured work surface and covering it with your palm. Your curved fingers should form a cage over the roll. Rotate your fingers against the table in a clockwise motion, gently pushing the dough against the work surface. The piece of dough will move under your palm in the opposite direction. Continue until the roll is firm and has a tight skin. Work quickly and try not to warm the dough too much with your hand.
- Place 9 buns on each of the prepared baking sheets, leaving several inches between them so they won’t grow together as they rise. Loosely cover the buns with oiled plastic wrap and let them rise until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour. A finger pressed lightly into the dough will leave a slight indentation.
Bake the buns
- Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400ºF (200°C). Place one oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Place a cast-iron skillet and a smaller ovenproof pan, such as a mini loaf pan, on the floor of a gas oven or on the lowest possible rack in an electric oven. Fill a teakettle or small pot with water to be boiled later, and have a metal 1-cup measure available near the kettle.
- Five to 10 minutes before the buns are ready to bake, turn the water on to boil, and carefully place two or three ice cubes in the small pan on the bottom of the oven. This helps to create moisture in the oven prior to baking.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt to make an egg wash.
- When the buns are ready to go into the oven, use a lame or a pair of kitchen scissors to cut a shallow cross on the top of each bun. Lightly brush the buns with the egg wash, being careful not to deflate them. Reserve the remaining egg wash. Place the sheets of buns in the oven. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the cast-iron skillet and immediately shut the oven door.
- After 2 minutes, quickly pour another 1/2 cup of boiling water into the skillet and quickly shut the oven door.
- After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF (190°C) and rotate the pans if necessary to ensure even browning. Bake for another 5 to 15 minutes, until the buns have turned a nice golden brown and the surface feels slightly firm but not hard when you press it lightly. The buns should have a thin soft covering, not a hard, crunchy crust. Be careful not to overbake the buns or their oh-so-delicate taste and texture will be lost.
- Transfer the buns to a rack and let them cool for 10 minutes.
Make the frosting
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the reserved egg wash and the vanilla, and whisk to mix well.
Frost the buns
- While the buns are still warm, use a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip (or a small spoon) to make an X of frosting over the cross on each bun. The frosting will harden somewhat as the buns cool. These hot cross buns are best eaten the same day they're baked.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I, like the rest of the world, am presently homebound. And I am very fortunate to have a well stocked pantry. Well stocked enough that I was able to make the hot cross buns without issue. I spent Saturday making them. And Jay and I managed to eat all of them by Monday afternoon!
Fresh out of the oven, they are magnificent! The next day if you do not toast them, they are pleasant. However, if you split them, toast them in a skillet and serve with butter and jam, you get straight back to magnificent!
They are petite. Which I like. Giant pastries seem vulgar to me. And while there is a lot of sitting and waiting with this recipe (as with any enriched dough, really), they are a. worth the wait, and b. really a simple recipe. The dough was indeed quite soft. But totally manageable. I didn’t need to add more water. It took me closer to 12 minutes to get smooth pliable dough that would pass the window-pane test.
The instructions for forming the balls were on point! I will note that I have always had hot cross buns where you pipe a flour paste during the baking to form the cross, not frosting. But I see that my local supermarket does the frosting kind. So I guess they are both a thing. The only criticism I would have is I found the frosting entirely unnecessary. Not unpleasant. Just unnecessary.
Spicy, sweet, and fruity best describes these hot cross buns. Their taste is irresistible, their texture is light and tender.
As mentioned in the recipe, the yeast dough is very sticky. I thought it was too doughy to handle at first and added an extra 2/3 cup flour to form a tighter ball of dough. This addition helped absorb some of the moisture in the dough and allowed it to pull away from the bowl so I could knead it into a smooth ball. It proofed perfectly.
After the first rise, I scaled 2-ounce pieces of dough and ended up with 21 buns. They baked up nice and plump in about 15 minutes and yielded a soft, golden brown crust that was studded with currants.
The frosting mixed up easily and was neither too dry nor too fluid. I used a small pastry tip to pipe the hallmark cross on each bun, which added just the right amount of sweetness to help round out the flavors.
These hot cross buns are a must-have for breakfast or brunch on Easter morning, although I’ll take them any day of the week.
Originally published March 30, 2010