Hot Cross Buns are traditional little, sweet Easter breads, and this recipe delivers big time. They are super soft, tender, with a hint of cinnamon and studded with raisins. They can be made ahead and frozen!
It's Easter in less than 2 weeks and baking is a big part of it.
Besides the egg hunt - that will be weird this year as families and friends probably won't be able to gather as planned - making these little beauties can lift your day and is a fun baking project to do with kids.
They date somewhere from the 12th to 14th century and were made by a monk and distributed among the poor on Good Friday. Or so the story goes. Back in the day, they were a Christian tradition, the cross symbolizing the crucifixion.
They are usually sold on Easter, but why stop there. They are even a good alternative for lunch or dinner since the sugar and spices don't dominate the bun.
They have eggs, like challah or like butterless brioche, and the dough is very much brioche-like; sticky, slapping around the mixer, looking like it needs a ton more flour than what the recipe calls for. But no. Everything comes together wonderfully.
Yeast - I use active dry which needs to be hydrated before. The same goes for fresh yeast (the ratio is 3 times more than dry). If you use instant yeast it goes directly with the flour, no need to wait till it foams.
Flour - if I have both, I like to use half all-purpose and half bread flour. They turn out soft but a tiny bit rustic at the same time.
Oil - I like to use sunflower as it is very neutral. Melted butter can be substituted.
Raisins - given the current circumstances with lockdown I only had large raisins. The buns are small so, ideally, I like to use currants or small raisins. Golden raisins work well too.
Flavorings - cinnamon is traditional and some orange zest can be added. The nutmeg is nice but if you don't have any that's fine.
Making this recipe in a stand mixer is the easiest way. But it can be kneaded by hand if there's no other alternative.
The dough is super sticky in the first minutes due to the eggs and oil. They take time to integrate and become less sticky but still supple (image 1). At some point, the dough will stick slightly to the sides of the bowl and that's your cue to take it out.
There's a short resting period in between which makes it lose some of the stickiness and gives it an extra boost to grow. Keep in mind that this a very heavy dough so it needs time to rest in order to get the best results. Don't skip any of those steps!
- Adding the raisins: the easiest way is to do this by hand (image 2). It takes a minute. They might pop out of the dough while incorporating; simply add them back in.
I recommend a marble surface or smooth counter to knead it (as opposed to, for example, a wooden surface). It will make your life easier (image 3).
Letting it double in a greased clean bowl. I use large glass ones (image 4) and cover them with a glass lid or plastic wrap.
Cutting the buns
The dough doubles and then you have to deflate it (image 5).
I cut strips and then small pieces with a dough scraper, which you can buy online. You can also use a smooth blade knife for this.
How to make uniform buns: you can simply eyeball it and that will result in some buns being slightly larger than others, or you can weigh them as you go and have them all weigh exactly the same. I usually opt for the first option, it's faster.
Vintage Kitchen Tip
Forming the buns
These cute little sweet buns are round and smooth.
Take a piece, flatten it slightly and press the edges to the center so that there are no air bubbles (or as few as possible).
Turn it over, cover the small piece of dough with your hand and make circular motions. Be careful not to squash it. You will feel the bun taking shape below. It's easier than it looks!
How to form the small buns 👇🏻
As I mentioned before, these hot cross buns have several risings. If that sounds like too many, take into account that the results are amazing. And it's a resting time, you don't have to do anything!
- In between the kneading. It helps the dough lose some of the stickiness.
- The 'double the volume' rise that we see in most yeasted bread recipes. This is an essential step that gives the dough a boost. It might take more than the specified time in the recipe. Cover with a blanket or sweater (not kidding!) if it's not rising much after 30 minutes.
- In the pan. After forming the buns we need to let rise again. It will probably not double but they will be significantly plumped up (images above).
They don't take much time to be done, so be careful as the tops can brown very quickly.
It can also be baked in a loaf pan, similar to a quick bread. Easier than making the small buns for sure. But cuter? I don't think so.
Originally I made a mixture of egg white with powdered sugar. But since this glaze is added after the hot cross buns are baked, I now use a very thick simple powdered sugar glaze. That way there's no raw egg involved.
Piping bag: it's the easiest way of making the white crosses, and you need a very thin tip (image above). No need for a piping tip especially if you use a thick plastic bag, though you can totally use one. Simply cut the tip and pipe those lines!
Spoon: you can use a small spoon and add the glaze. It will probably be less straight or even than with a piping bag, but that's not an issue for most of us.
When cutting the tip of a piping bag always start with a smaller one that what you think you need. It's easier to widen the tip but you can't reverse it.
Vintage Kitchen Tip
These sweet buns can be left to rise overnight in the refrigerator. How's that for convenience?
- Dough - after you added the raisins and the dough is placed in the oiled bowl and covered, place it in the fridge and let rise slowly until the next day. How much it rises will depend on how cold your fridge is.
- Buns - or you can form the buns, cover the pan with plastic wrap (be careful to leave space for the buns to rise if the pan doesn't have high sides) and pop in the refrigerator. In this case, make sure your fridge is very cold (sometimes when it's packed it loses temperature) because this is a shorter rise and you don't want your buns to rise too much.
Take out the next day and let come to room t° before continuing with the recipe. It might take several hours.
Added bonus: slow risings help yeasted doughs develop more and deeper flavor.
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These are traditional little sweet Easter buns. They are super soft, tender, with a hint of cinnamon and studded with raisins. They can be made ahead and frozen!
*Time estimated in the recipe doesn't include rising times (2-3 hours, no work involved).
- 1 Tbs + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (see Notes, below, for other types)
- ½ cup warm milk
- ¼ cup warm water
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 ½ to 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 large eggs, at room t°
- ⅔ cup dried currants or raisins (light, dark or a mix)
For the glaze:
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons milk
- Line 9x13-inch baking pan with high sides, spray with oil and dust lightly with oats or flour.
- Place the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer and stir to dissolve with a fork or spoon. Allow to stand for about 3 minutes until if foams and maybe large bubbles form. If this doesn't happen your yeast is not good to use.
- Add the warm milk, oil, sugar, and 1 cup flour to the yeast mixture and stir with a fork or spoon to combine.
- Add 1 cup flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring with a wire whisk until the ingredients are well combined.
- Add salt, the eggs and mix well.
- Attach bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook and gradually add 2 ½ to 3 cups flour, ½ cup at a time, while kneading on medium-low speed until it all mixed well.
- On medium speed, knead for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky but will start to come together. I added about ¼ cup more flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Knead the dough for 1 or 2 more minutes, or until it becomes smooth, supple and elastic but not too firm.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface and, with your hands lightly floured also, stretch into a rectangle. It will be sticky but workable.
- Spread the dried currants evenly over the rectangle.
- Fold the whole mass like an envelope, and knead it gently until the currants are well distributed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Some of the currants may pop out of the dough, incorporate them again.
- Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl.
- Turn to coat the top of the dough with oil and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, a lid or a dry kitchen towel.
- Let the dough rise at room tº, until doubled in volume, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. If after a half hour the dough is barely moving, cover it with a blanket or even a sweater so that it has enough temperature to rise. (See Notes, below, for overnight rising).
- When the dough has doubled, gently deflate it with your closed fist and turn it onto a clean work surface, pressing in any loose currants. You probably won't need to lightly flour the counter, but you can it if it's sticking too much that that makes it hard to work with.
- Flour your hands lightly and divide the dough into 15 pieces or so (each weighing about 2 oz / 50g).
- Shape the rolls, cupping the pieces with your rounded palm and making circular movements until you have a rounded bun. There's a video clip in the post above showing how this is done.
- Place them on the prepared pan, leaving ½ to 1-inch space between them.
- Cover them loosely with oiled plastic wrap or a dry kitchen towel and let them rise at room tº until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- About 15 minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF / 180ºC.
- If you like to brush with egg wash (for a shinier surface) see Notes, below.
- When the buns have doubled, bake them for 15-20 minutes or until the buns have turned a nice golden brown and the surface feels slightly firm but not hard when you press it lightly. These rolls should have a thin soft covering, not a hard crunchy crust.
- Transfer the rolls to a rack and let them cool for 5 minutes.
- Carefully slide a smooth bladed knife along the sides to make sure they're not stuck, and carefully remove them onto a wire rack. Let cool for 10 more minutes before making the crosses on top.
- While the buns are cooling, make the frosting by mixing the powdered sugar with the milk. It should be very thick. If you feel you need more liquid, add it by drops (literally).
- Put on a pastry bag, fitted with a small plain tip, or don't use a tip and simply cut the plastic bag, or a teaspoon, to make an X of frosting over the cross of each bun. The frosting will harden somewhat as the buns cool.
- They are best eaten the same day they are baked.
- Store leftovers at room tº in a plastic bag, and warm slightly before eating. Or freeze them, wrapped in plastic first and then in foil. Thaw at room tº before serving. And warm before eating.
Yeast - I use active dry which needs to be hydrated before. The same goes for fresh yeast (the ratio is 3 times more than dry). If you use instant yeast (it looks just like active-dry yeast) it goes directly with the flour, there's no need to hydrate it and wait till it foams.
Glazed crosses - you can use a piping bag with a very thin tip or simply cut the tip of the bag. I use the thick, sturdy plastic ones. Alternatively, use a small spoon and trace the lines.
Overnight rising - Dough: after you added the raisins and the dough is placed in the oiled bowl and covered, place it in the fridge and let rise slowly until the next day. How much it rises will depend on how cold your fridge is. Buns: or you can form the buns, cover the pan with plastic wrap (be careful to leave space for the buns to rise if the pan doesn't have high sides) and pop in the refrigerator. In this case, make sure your fridge is very cold (sometimes when it's packed it loses temperature) because this is a shorter rise and you don't want your buns to rise too much. In both cases: take out the next day and let come to room t° before continuing with the recipe. It might take several hours, especially for the dough.
Egg wash - I don't use it, but you can if you want the surface to be shiny. In a small bowl mix an egg yolk with a teaspoon of water. Brush the top of the buns right before they go into the oven being careful not to deflate them, and try not to let it drip to the sides.
Keywords: hot cross buns
Adapted from Amy's Bread, by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree