Hot Cross Buns: Not Just for Easter

Hot Cross Buns

One of the first nursery rhymes I remember learning was Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns! One-a-penny, Two-a-penny, Hot cross buns!

When my mother was ticked off about something, she always said she was “cross.” So when I sang the rhyme, an image of grouchy buns languishing in summer heat would paint itself across my mind’s little eye. I suppose I imagined they were cross because wasn’t being hot (in those days when that wasn’t a good thing) enough to make anybody cross?

I’ve understood for quite some time that “cross” refers to the buns’ decoration and not their state of mind, but it was only recently that I learned that hot cross buns are a traditional spring celebration bread.

Although hot cross buns have been associated with Easter for several centuries, they probably predated Christianity. Small cakes or loaves adorned with an equilateral cross were offered to deities in ancient cultures such as early Egypt and Greece. The feast of Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring (from whom Easter derived its name), was celebrated at the vernal equinox. The cross on the sacramental cakes eaten during the feast may have symbolized the balance (between light and darkness) of the equinox, the four quarters of the moon, or the symmetry of the seasons.

BBD 8So even if you don’t celebrate Easter in the Christian faith, you might still celebrate the vernal equinox, with its wonderful promise of rebirth and renewal, as I am, with hot cross buns.

The buns are my contribution to BreadBakingDay #08: Celebrate! I am also happy to be hosting this event, created by Zorra, and I urge everyone to participate by baking your own seasonal celebration bread.

This recipe is adapted from that in Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. The buns are soft, lightly sweet and lightly spiced. The crosses, like those on Hamelman’s buns, are made with a paste of flour, oil, and water, in the traditional English style. It is piped on before baking and has a nice crunch once baked. If you prefer, you could instead apply sweet icing crosses after baking.

Hot cross bun

Hot Cross Buns

Yield: 12 buns (about 70 g each)

Time:

  • Mix/ferment sponge: 40 minutes
  • Mix final dough: 15 minutes
  • First fermentation: 1 hour, with a fold at 30 minutes
  • Divide and shape: 10 minutes
  • Proof: 1 hour
  • Pipe crosses: 10 minutes
  • Bake: 15 minutes
  • Glaze: 5 minutes

Sponge Ingredients:

  • 37 g flour
  • 190 g milk at about 100 degrees F
  • 9 g (1-1/2 t.) sugar
  • 7.4 g (2-1/4 t.) instant yeast

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 170 g flour
  • 170 g whole wheat flour
  • 60 g butter, softened
  • 57 g sugar
  • 50 g (1 whole) egg
  • 3 g (1/2 t.) salt
  • 1/2 t. ground allspice
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 t. ground ginger
  • 14 g (1 T.) water
  • 114 g dried currants
  • 20 g candied orange peel, finely chopped
  • 20 g candied lemon peel, finely chopped

Piping Paste Ingredients:

  • 170 g pastry flour
  • 50 g vegetable oil
  • 120 g water

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 60 g sugar
  • 60 g water

Method:

  1. For the sponge, combine milk and yeast in a medium bowl. Whisk in flour and sugar. The mixture will be very liquid. Cover and let rest until it is about 3 times its original volume, 30 – 40 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle, mix final dough flour, whole wheat flour, and softened butter until the butter is evenly distributed through the flour.
  3. Add egg, sugar, spices, and salt. Continue to mix until combined. The mixture will be quite dry at this point.
  4. Replace the mixer paddle with the dough hook. Add the sponge and start mixing in low speed. Add water as needed to make a very soft dough (I added about 1 T.) and mix until well combined, about 3 minutes. It is almost more like a cookie dough at this point, and will not come together yet.
  5. Mix in medium speed, occasionally scraping the dough down the sides of the bowl. When the dough starts to leave the sides and come together around the dough hook, the gluten should have reached a medium level of development. This may take about 8 minutes, but will depend on your mixer.
  6. Add the currants and orange and lemon peels. Mix in low speed just until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
  7. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, covered container. Ferment in a warm place for one hour, with a fold at 30 minutes.
  8. Turn the dough onto an unfloured counter and divide it into 12 pieces (about 72 g each).
  9. Lightly degas each piece of dough and tuck the edges under to form a loose ball. To tighten the ball, place it on the counter with your cupped hand loosely around it, and move your hand in a tight circle several times.
  10. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press them lightly with your palm to flatten them a bit.
  11. Cover and proof in a warm place for about an hour.
  12. While the buns proof, make the glaze. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  13. Now make the piping paste. Sift the pastry flour and combine it with the vegetable oil. Slowly add water, stirring well after each addition, until the mixture reaches the consistency of very thick glue. Don’t make it so thin that it runs, but if it is too thick it will be difficult to pipe.
  14. Preheat the oven to 440F.
  15. When the buns are finished proofing, pipe the crosses onto them using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip.
  16. Piped crosses on hot cross buns

  17. Bake the buns on the parchment-lined sheet at 440F until the tops are browned, about 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400F and continue baking until browned all over, about another 8 minutes.
  18. While the buns are still hot, brush them with a light coating of glaze.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Hi Susan,
    your blog il fantastic!
    I will add your site to mine blogroll :-)
    I want to try this recipe.
    One question: instant yeast is dry yeast isn’t it? Can I replace it with the same weight of fresh yeast?
    Here in Italy it’s difficult find dried currants, I will use chopped chocolate or raisins…

  2. says

    Hi Susan,

    these sound great with all the spices and candied peel. I never tried to bake these myself yet, but I like the fact that in this recipe the “cross” is not made of icing but with flour paste. I enjoyed reading about the historical background and about the symbols these small breads carry.
    Thanks!
    -manuela

  3. says

    Thank you so much for giving all the background info on Hot Cross Buns and Easter and the Vernal Equinox. I never realized that! I love the intersection between history and food — unlike the textbook version, it’s a form of history that the everyday bloke has contributed to writing. In that sense, more often that not, food becomes a radical way of cutting through our preconceptions and assumptions. So yay for historical food and yay for hot cross buns!! :)

  4. Ian says

    Hi Susan. Thanks for a great blog. I will try making these for our Easter party up in the Swedish mountains. A question though – ground allspice is nothing I find in a Swedish store (I think). What does this spicemix contain? I will also take the risk of skipping the egg because of my daughter’s egg allergy.

  5. says

    Thanks everyone for the nice comments. Happy spring, happy Easter, happy baking!

    Stefano, instant yeast is one type of dry yeast (active dry is the other kind). If you use fresh yeast you will need to use more. Take a look at my post on instant yeast to find the conversion factors I use.

    Ian, allspice is not a mixture of spices but is its own thing. It resembles a peppercorn before it is ground and here we also use the whole allspice berries to flavor stews, etc. If you cannot find it I would just increase the amounts of the other spices, and maybe add a little clove as well. If you leave the eggs out you will want to increase the milk and/or water or it will be too dry. Perhaps you will want to search for an eggless sweet bread recipe and use that as your basis for the buns.

  6. says

    Yours look like such wonderful tight packages of goodness Susan. I made some with my son maybe two years ago. Since he’s vegan, we somehow managed to wing a recipe under his guidance and they were really wonderful.
    Excellent history!

  7. Trish says

    As always, looks delightful. I was looking for a traditional bread for my Easter dinner – these look perfect thanks!

    Trish

  8. says

    these look absolutely perfect! I can confirm that they are exactly in the English style, I LOVE hot cross buns, when I was pregnant I made my hubbie drive out at all ours to get me them! yummy! I am so impressed!

  9. says

    Hi !
    Just seeing your beautiful photo and reading the recipe make my mouth water – I can just smell that yummy cinnamon and all spice aroma I so associate with Easter time when I was a kid…
    Thanks, I’ll be trying out your recipe with my kids this afternoon as it’s snowing outside (mid March – do you believe it ?)…
    A bientôt :)

  10. says

    Hi !

    Just seeing your beautiful photo and reading the recipe make my mouth water – I can just smell that yummy cinnamon and all spice aroma I so associate with Easter time when I was a kid…

    A bientôt :)

  11. says

    I can’t express how much I am loving your blog. I particularly love the historical aspect of your entries. My husband and I will be using your blog quite a lot this spring, I am sure.

  12. says

    These look fabulous–I want to make them for my mom! Now I just need to convince her to find the scale I made her buy at Christmas for your panettone recipe which I believe she gave to my sister in a fit of irritation…. *sigh* I just cannot make that woman see the value in weighing things! (she is out of town so I need to make them there)

  13. says

    Tanna, I’m sure it was not easy to come up with a vegan version of a bread that contains milk, eggs, and butter but I know if anyone could pull it off perfectly it would be you.

    Trish, you’re welcome and happy Easter.

    Bev, thanks for confirming that they look authentic. I’ve never seen real English ones.

    India, welcome! I hope your kids like the buns and the snow stops soon.

    Maybelle’s Mom, thanks! If you like historical baking check out Manuela’s blog Baking History .

    Tracy, thanks!

    Stefano, I guess you used just the right amount of yeast because your buns look terrific.

    Laura, maybe you’ll just have to bring your own scale with you. :)

  14. says

    Hello Susan,
    My first time here and am amazed to see such a variety of breads on your blog…I’m quite a newbie at working with yeast, and would love to take inspiration from people like you…sent you an entry for the Baking Day event…your blog surely goes into my bookmarks.
    Thanks and regards
    Nandita

  15. says

    Greetings!
    Your blog is just beautiful and those hot crossed buns- wow- what a fabulous photo. I’m going to try to think of something to make to participate in your bread baking event! Baking bread is such a beautiful thing, and when we can make an “event” out of it, well, we have disco!

  16. says

    Beautiful, Susan! I really like that you have used the dough method of making the cross on the buns.

    -Elizabeth

    P.S. My mother always said she was very cross with us too and yet it never occurred to me to think that the hot cross buns were sitting on the tray, ticked off at who know’s what. Now, of course, that’s ALL I’ll be able to think of! :-D

  17. says

    Hi Susan, I was delighted to see your comment on my fairly new blog! I thought it was another friend, but was so excited that it was someone with such a popular blog. And I was just writing down the ingredients to try your hot cross buns. They look complicated but I’m going to try it anyway! Cheers!

  18. Julie says

    This recipe is awesome! Thank you so much. I’m a decent amateur cake baker but I manage to ruin anything with yeast in it. But I was determined to have real Hot Cross Buns this Easter, and this recipe looked wonderfully clear and detailed. The buns came out perfect, just like I remember from childhood. I had my doubts when I couldn’t get the windowpane test to work (I used AP flour), I left the dough going in the KA/dough hook for 30 mins! and it still seemed to only have barely developed gluten structure like in your pictures. I used 1/2 tsp orange and 1/2 tsp lemon oils because I didn’t have any peel. And we won’t mention how I got distracted and left them proofing over a pot of warm water which accidently started boiling…. However the buns still came out perfect – they rose well, and the texture inside was soft and breadlike and my whole house smells heavenly.

  19. says

    lovely hot cross buns susan (and your crosses make me think maybe thin does look good after all despite my love of thick crosses!) – and I love all the historical information – it is so interesting how the Christian church took over existing traditions!

  20. Sarah says

    Just made these babies for my friends, and one said ‘These are better than my mom’s, but don’t tell her I said that.’ Great recipe!!!!

  21. Ratna says

    hi there, when you mention flour here, what kind of flour do you mean? bread flour, plain flour, or all purpose flour? thank u!

  22. natasya says

    baked these this morning for brekkie, absolutely love it. Soft and delicious. The best hot cross buns recipe I have come acrossed so far. I think the sponge method makes a lot of difference. thanks a bunch.

  23. Brian Kirton says

    My customers were hugely impressed at the ‘melt in the mouth’ texture.
    This is the very best recipe I’ve ever tried, and I’ve baked many.
    Thank you for sharing it.

  24. Girlie says

    Hi Susan,
    i am new in bread making, i would love to make this for my kids in the mornings fresh to take with them for snacks, how can i do that? can i ferment and make the dough then shape and put in the fridge overnight and finish off the proofing in the morning? Thanks!

  25. Girlie says

    Hi Susan,

    it was too tempting, could not wait for your reply made it today morning, shape and rise and bake 6 pcs today and beautiful, i do not know how i will send you the pics but it was awesome!!! Thanks!

    Half the batch I shaped and freeze them for other days and will let you know how it turned out :)

    Thank you so much!

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