Hot Cross Buns: A Recipe Tradition for Easter

My long-time favorite recipe for Hot Cross Buns, the sweet buns topped with icing in a cross shape traditional at Easter, especially on Good Friday.

Hot Cross Buns, a Good Friday tradition


REVIEWS
"I had to make them! ... They are irresistible." ~ Anne
"We have made them for the last couple of years. This year we glazed them with maple syrup and they turned out beautifully." ~ Krissy
"I made these last night, delicious!" ~Becki on Facebook


Birthdays aren’t birthdays without balloons. July 4th isn’t the Fourth of July without a flag-filled parade. And a particular Thursday in November isn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey.

In the Christian tradition, Good Friday’s resurrection promise begs no adornment or heraldry.

Still, in many homes around the world, Good Friday isn’t Good Friday without rich, spiced buns topped with crosses to signify Christ’s sacrifice.

One year, my sister called early Good Friday, wondering if our mother were ‘beaming from heaven’ because her daughters were each elbow-deep in dough for hot cross buns.

Though my sister and I use different recipes – and neither one use our mother’s – we still treasure the tradition. Within a few minutes of my sister’s call, Mom had reason to beam!

CROSS ICING Blend a tablespoon of melted butter with 2 tablespoons warm milk and a teaspoon of vanilla or lemon extract. Stir in about 2 cups powdered sugar. Place icing in a zip-lock bag, snip a corner to easily mark the crosses. For gifts, put dollops of icing in small bags, just enough for applying later without fear of muss or mess during transportation.

ALANNA's TIPS As it sits, flour settles heavily. If you stir it well before measuring, you’ll find your baked goods suddenly lighter. The Penzeys spice people sell a blend of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves. It’s called ‘cake spice’ and has been a family favorite for several years now. Use it whenever cinnamon or nutmeg are called for – and prepare yourself for compliments! Order via 800-741-7787 or penzeys.com. I make Hot Cross Buns every year so am always trying one variation and another, more whole-grain flour, a different mix of fruit, etc. Be sure to check the Later Notes (below) for more insight.

I've become fascinated with the breads I call 'Celebration Breads', ones often made just once a year to mark an occasion, often religious. It's a growing collection of recipes, from the Hot Cross Buns I've made for so many years to Armenian Easter Bread to the Latin Pan de Muerto for Day of the Dead in November.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

HOT CROSS BUNS

Sweet buns traditional for Easter
Hands-on time: 30 minutes to mix; 15 minutes to shape; unattended time to bake
Total time to complete: 3½ - 4 hours
Makes 24 large buns
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 packages dry yeast (5 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup (115g) currants
  • Zests from 1 orange and 1 lemon or 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup (110g) sugar
  • 4 cups flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 500 grams by weight
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or Penzey's cake spice, see TIPS)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small bits
  • Additional flour for kneading
    EGG WASH
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

PROOF the YEAST In a small dish, heat milk in microwave about 1 minute to 105F – 115F. Gently stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

SOAK the CURRANTS In a small bowl, whisk egg and yolk well. Stir in currants and zests. Set aside.

MIX the DOUGH In large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices and salt. With fingertips, blend butter into flour until a coarse meal forms. Make well in center, pour in yeast and currant mixtures. Blend thoroughly with hands, then form into ball and transfer to lightly floured counter. (Don't worry, the dough will be sticky. If it starts off too sticky to knead on the counter, just knead it right in the bowl.) Knead 10 minutes, adding as little flour as possible, just enough to work dough without any stickiness when the kneading is done.

FIRST RISE Transfer dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, first rubbing the dough mass against the bowl to lightly coat all sides with oil. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

FORM BUNS & SECOND RISE With a fist, gently deflate dough. Cut into 24 pieces. (For buns exactly the same size, weight the pieces before forming, I like buns about 50 grams big.) Form buns and arrange on two or three baking sheets covered with parchment (recommended) or lightly greased (works okay on some baking sheets). Cover with clean towels and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

BAKE Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk egg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Brush tops of buns with egg mixture. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes per baking sheet.

ICING Squirt ribbons of icing onto each bun, forming a Christian cross as my family does, or an X to symbolize the mark early Christians used to identify themselves when Christianity was outlawed.

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Bun, without icing/with icing: 102/140 Calories; 5/6g Tot Fat; 12/20g Carb; 1g Fiber; 142/146mg Sodium; 40/41mg Cholesterol; 2g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 2/3, PointsPlus 3/4

LATER NOTES

MY RECIPE, ADAPTED My friend Anne, aka the pastry whisperer, wrote after making Hot Cross Buns. "Have you ever read a recipe and just had to rush into the kitchen to make it? That happened to me today when I read about Hot Cross Buns. I had not made them in twenty years and they are delightfully yummy. The dough is a butter-egg rich dough — like a brioche — flavored with currants and spices, then iced with a powdered sugar cross. I was intrigued by the liberal use of spices in this recipe (1 teaspoon per cup of flour) ... now I understand why hot cross buns are full of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cloves. Those aromas perfumed my kitchen while the buns were baking and they are intoxicatingly delicious." Anne soaked the currants in warm brandy, then used part bread flour and her own spice mix, all good options. Check her variation on my hot cross buns. (2008)
YEAST I typically move back and forth between rapid rise and regular dry yeast. This year, I used rapid rise yeast and the buns were particularly light and airy. (2008)
FLOUR For more whole-grain buns, I used 1 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour and 3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (which itself has more gluten than other all-purpose flours). The buns had a lovely pale-brown color but remained light and easy to eat. I would definitely do this again. (2009) I used 3 cups of Pillsbury all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Next year, I will return to the King Arthur flours again, this year's dough was a little ropey. That said, I'm not sure that the flour was the cause. The dough seemed particularly hungry for flour during the kneading process, more than I ever remember before. (2010) All bread flour worked great this year. (2012)
DRIED FRUIT A 50:50 mix of currants and dried cranberries is a nice variation. If the cranberries are large, snip them into smaller pieces otherwise they sort of take over. (2008)
FIRST RISE I have started mixing bread dough the night before, covering it and letting it rise in the refrigerator the night before. It really does rise, even in cold conditions! That 'warm place' we seek is really only to speed the rising process.(2010) When the first rise is done in the fridge, the dough becomes quite stiff and while workable, does take more time to form the buns. The second rise can take a long time too, this year it took two full hours in the oven on the bread-proofing temperature. (2012)
RISE TIME When allowed to rise properly, these hot cross buns are as light and airy as pillows. For both the first and the second rise, judge when the dough is risen by its size, which should be doubled, not by time passed. The cooler the temperature, the longer the rise time. Some people have good luck letting bread rise in an oven with the oven light on. In my cold winter house, I let bread rise in a 'proofing box' -- just a large cardboard box on its side with a small space heater blowing warm air into the open side. This year I learned that during the first rise, a double layer of towel sloooooows down the rise time, where a single layer of towel lets in just the right amount of warm air. (2008) My latest favorite way to let bread dough rise is to use a heating pad, for details, see Armenian Easter Bread. (2009)
PARCHMENT I have a favorite non-stick baking sheet and wish it were still made. It "always" bakes just perfectly. But this year I also used an inexpensive baking sheet lined with parchment and was most surprised that the bottoms were golden and crisp, even compared to my favorite baking sheet. So now I recommend parchment! (2012)
FORMING THE ROLLS When forming the rolls, make sure that no currants stick out from the dough because they'll either get hard or burn while baking.
EGG WASH If the egg/sugar mixture brushed on at the end seems a little thick and hard to brush on smoothly without glops or drips, just whisk in a couple of teaspoons of water. (2008)
ICING I use only about 1/4 the icing but intentionally list the ingredients for more so that it can be distributed into bags for delivering to friends and neighbors. I use the full amount for the Nutrition Estimate, however, in case others are more generous with the icing than I am!
Originally published in 2006, republished online in 2008 and 2011.

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What an awesome tradition! We have been seeking more Christian centered Easter traditions for our girls and I think next year we will add this one as well, thanks for sharing!

4/12/2006
 
I have seen that flood of Hot Cross Buns around Easter in British supermarkets and bakeries. Never tried baking them at home, though. Maybe I'll wait until my daughter can bake (well, she is 17 months old now).
Btw, thanks for dropping by at my blog, AK. Keep coming.

4/13/2006
 
Very cute. You did a great job with these!

4/14/2006
 
Awesome. I think I smell a new tradition in our household. Thanks for the WW points calculation!

4/17/2006
 
Alanna,
Thanks for the reminder. I didn't make the buns last year and I should have.
 
Yum! I haven't had hot cross buns in a long time. My mom used to make them every year. Maybe I should make some for her this Easter! ; )
 
After reading your recipe, I had to make them! I suggest reducing the currants to 1/2 cup and soaking them in hot liquid so that they plump up. They are irresistable.
 
After making the buns, it occurred to me that the the "hot" in hot cross buns does not refer to the temperature, but to the spice level! These buns could never be hot and iced at the same time. They are hot on the tongue.
 
We have made them for the last couple of years. This year we glazed them with maple syrup and they turned out beautifully.
http://krissyscookingblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/hot-cross-buns-redux.html
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna