Hot Cross Buns

This hot cross buns recipe is filled with warm spices and bright citrus. Make it a part of your cherished Easter traditions!

Three hot cross buns on a serving plate, one sliced in half.

Much more than just a nursery rhyme, hot cross buns are an important part of spring holiday celebrations around the world. Easter just isn’t Easter for many folks without these treats.

I made a version of hot cross buns many, many years ago and while they were good, they fell short of great. I began testing and re-testing recipes again this year again (much to the delight of my raisin-loving husband and kids!) and finally came upon the holy grail of flavor and texture. Loaded with orange zest, spices, and lots of raisins, these bake up super soft and with the best texture.

Hot cross buns on a baking sheet.

What is the significance of hot cross buns?

Everything about the pastries symbolizes something significant:

  • A warm mix of spices signals the melting away of winter’s chill, as well as the embalming of Christ at his burial.
  • Bright citrus reminds you of the past winter’s provisions and the light that exists even in the darkest times.
  • The proofing yeast represents life returning and the Resurrection.
  • And of course, the cross on top represents the Crucifixion.

Beyond just the components of the bread, there are so many superstitions and beliefs about them! Some believe a bun hung in the kitchen will prevent fires and ensure bread bakes perfectly.

They’re believed to protect seafarers against shipwrecks and to be medicine for the ill. Many also believe that if you bake them on Good Friday, they’ll never go moldy.

No matter what you believe about them though, one thing is for sure: they’re super delicious!

White plate piled high with hot cross buns.

What are the ingredients?

I love how fluffy and moist the crumb is, how deliciously spicy and oozing of a fresh orange scent. These very much remind me of the Greek Celebration Bread that I made in the past and it’s likely that the two may be related if we trace the family tree back a few centuries!

A rundown of the key ingredients:

  • Dry Ingredients: Bread flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt
  • Fats: Milk, butter, and egg
  • Fruits: Orange zest and raisins
  • Flavors: Vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
  • Cross paste: Flour + water
  • Glaze: Apricot jam

Step by step photos of mixing dough for hot cross buns

Step by step photos of mixing raisins and spices into dough.

How to make hot cross buns

A lot of people get really intimidated when it comes to the idea of making yeast bread, but you shouldn’t be scared! Just follow the steps outlined in the recipe, and I promise you can do it. A quick summary:

  1. Whisk the dry ingredients, then make a well in the center.
  2. Whisk the wet ingredients, add to the well in the center of the bowl.
  3. Stir together with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
  4. Rise until doubled in size (it takes about an hour).
  5. Add the raisins, orange zest, and spices to the dough, knead it into the dough with your hands, then cover and allow to rise again.
  6. Divide the dough into 15 balls, shape into rolls, place on a baking sheet and allow to rise again.
  7. Make the cross paste and pipe onto the risen rolls.
  8. Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Brush the rolls with warm apricot jam.

Yes, there are 3 (three!) rise times; honestly, I feel like this is what sets this recipe apart and makes utterly fantastic, melt-in-your-mouth rolls. I tried testing different variations with only two rise times and this version was far and away superior!

Hot cross buns being piped with crosses.

Recipe tips and notes

For making the best hot cross buns!

  • Bread Flour: The higher protein content creates a chewier texture and helps the rolls hold up to all of the raisins and zest. You can substitute all-purpose flour if that’s all you have, but the texture will be a bit different.
  • Yeast: Instant yeast makes this a breeze to make, however you can use an equal amount of active dry yeast if necessary. It will need to be activated: warm the milk, sprinkle the yeast over and let sit for 10 minutes. Then mix with the rest of the wet ingredients and proceed with the rest of the recipe. Please note rise times may be a bit longer.
  • Raisins: You can substitute currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries, or just about any other dried fruit you’d like!
  • Spices: I’ve included my preferred mix of spices, but feel free to play around with your favorites.
  • Cross Paste: Baking the cross into the tops of the buns is the most traditional method, but you can also pipe a cross on after baking with a simple sugar glaze – mix together powdered sugar and a little bit of milk (thick enough for a piping consistency) and pipe onto cooled buns.
  • Make-Ahead Instructions: You can shape the buns, place on the baking sheet, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to bake them. Once risen, pipe with the cross paste and proceed with the recipe as written.
  • Freezing Instructions: These freeze beautifully! Allow to cool completely, then wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in a zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature or pop in the microwave.

Hot cross bun with bite taken out and others in the background.

Want more Easter bread ideas? Try my Italian Easter Bread and Tsoureki (Greek Easter bread).

If you make these hot cross buns and love them, please take a moment to stop back and leave a review below; they help out fellow readers so much! Thank you! xo

Hot Cross Buns

Servings 15 buns
Prep 30 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Rising time 3 hours
Total 3 hours 45 minutes
Course: Bread
Cuisine: American
Author: Michelle

This hot cross buns recipe is filled with warm spices and bright citrus. Make it a part of your cherished Easter traditions!

Ingredients:

  • cups
    bread flour
  • ½
    cup
    granulated sugar
  • teaspoons
    instant yeast
  • 1
    teaspoon
    salt
  • cup
    milk
    (room temperature)
  • 4
    tablespoons
    unsalted butter
    (melted and cooled to room temperature)
  • 1
    egg
    (room temperature, lightly beaten)
  • ½
    teaspoon
    vanilla extract
  • ¾
    cup
    raisins
  • 1
    orange
    (zested)
  • 1
    teaspoon
    ground cinnamon
  • ½
    teaspoon
    ground cloves
  • Pinch
    nutmeg

For the Cross

  • cup
    all-purpose flour
  • 5 to 8
    tablespoons
    water

For the Glaze:

  • 3
    tablespoons
    apricot jam

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the center.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, egg, and vanilla extract, then add to the center of the bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir everything together. The dough will be sticky, but should come together. Add more flour a tablespoon at a time if needed.

  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

  4. Place into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

  5. With the dough still in the bowl, add the raisins, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. With your hands, knead everything into the dough, making sure it is well distributed. Cover the bowl and allow to rise again until doubled in size, another 1 hour.

  6. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 15 even pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball and place at least 1 ½ inches apart on a half sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until the rolls are puffed, about 1 hour.

  7. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  8. Make the Cross Paste: In a small bowl, stir together the flour and 5 tablespoons of water. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time; use only enough to make a very thick paste. Spoon the paste into a piping bag or resealable plastic bag and snip off the end. Pipe the paste down and across each row to make a cross on top of each roll.

  9. Bake until golden brown and the internal temperature registers 195 degrees F, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  10. Prepare the Glaze: Heat the jam in a small saucepan over low heat or, alternatively, in the microwave in 30-second bursts until melted. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove chunks, then brush over warm hot cross buns.

  11. Serve buns warm or at room temperature.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes:

  • Bread Flour: The higher protein content creates a chewier texture and helps the rolls hold up to all of the raisins and zest. You can substitute all-purpose flour if that's all you have, but the texture will be a bit different.
  • Yeast: Instant yeast makes this a breeze to make, however you can use an equal amount of active dry yeast if necessary. It will need to be activated: warm the milk, sprinkle the yeast over and let sit for 10 minutes. Then mix with the rest of the wet ingredients and proceed with the rest of the recipe. Please note rise times may be a bit longer.
  • Raisins: You can substitute currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries, or just about any other dried fruit you'd like!
  • Spices: I've included my preferred mix of spices, but feel free to play around with your favorites.
  • Cross Paste: Baking the cross into the tops of the buns is the most traditional method, but you can also pipe a cross on after baking with a simple sugar glaze - mix together powdered sugar and a little bit of milk (thick enough for a piping consistency) and pipe onto cooled buns.
  • Make-Ahead Instructions: You can shape the buns, place on the baking sheet, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to bake them. Once risen, pipe with the cross paste and proceed with the recipe as written.
  • Freezing Instructions: These freeze beautifully! Allow to cool completely, then wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in a zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature or pop in the microwave.

Nutrition:

Calories: 188kcal
Fat: 4g
Saturated fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 39mg
Sodium: 165mg
Potassium: 135mg
Carbohydrates: 32g
Fiber: 1g
Sugar: 11g
Protein: 5g
Vitamin A: 155%
Vitamin C: 0.7%
Calcium: 30%
Iron: 1.6%

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

(Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food)

Originally published in 2011, this hot cross buns recipe has been updated to include a better technique, new photos, a helpful video tutorial, and more in-depth recipe tips.

[photos by Dee of One Sarcastic Baker]