These are sweet, small buns, with a soft and pillowy texture. Tender, with a hint of cinnamon, and studded with raisins, they can be made ahead and frozen. Whether you're an experienced baker or a novice in the kitchen, hot cross buns are a delicious and festive way to celebrate Easter and the start of spring.
There's nothing quite like the aroma of freshly baked hot cross buns filling your kitchen.
These sweet, spiced buns are the perfect indulgence for breakfast and for the Easter brunch table.
In this house, we alternate between them and our much-loved glazed braided Easter bread recipe, an old recipe we make often for holidays.
Whether you prefer them toasted with a dollop of butter or served fresh out of the oven, hot cross buns are a true comfort food that will warm your heart and soul.
Watch the video tutorial 👇🏻
Why bake homemade hot cross buns
- Freshness: besides the aroma in your kitchen, you can eat them warm and fresher than you ever will with store-bought ones.
- Control over ingredients: not only you can choose the quality of your ingredients, but you can adjust them to your taste when it comes to spices, salt, etc.
- Easter project: besides the egg hunt, baking these traditional buns is a fun baking project to do with your family or just want to relax by baking these iconic buns that are sure to impress.
- Good to make year-round: they are usually sold on Easter, but why stop there? They're a good alternative for lunch or dinner since the sugar and spices don't dominate the bun. And great for small sandwiches when you want a sweeter bread.
- Yeast: I use active-dry yeast, which needs to be hydrated before. You can use instant yeast (¾ of the amount given for active-dry yeast) and add it directly to the flour, then add the water, no need to foam it first. If using fresh yeast (the ratio is 3:1 to dry), and is used in the same way as the active-dry, you need to hydrate it first and let it foam.
- White, granulated sugar.
- Flour: use all-purpose or half the amount of bread flour for a tad more rustic bread.
- Salt: I like to use kosher salt when baking. But regular table salt works just fine.
- Oil: sunflower oil is my first choice, but other vegetable oils work. Melted butter can be substituted.
- Eggs: large, fresh.
- Raisins: the buns are small so I like to use currants or small raisins as they distribute better. Golden raisins work well too. Make sure they're seedless.
- Milk: it's a small amount and whole milk makes the dough richer. But reduced fat also works if that's all you have.
- Cinnamon: any ground cinnamon you normally use works fine. I like Frontier Vietnamese cinnamon and Simply Organic Ceylon cinnamon.
- Ground nutmeg: it's in my original recipe and I add it, but these buns work well with just cinnamon. Don't stop making them just because you don't have nutmeg.
Variations & substitutions
- Vanilla: I use pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla paste when available, but a good vanilla essence (artificially flavored) also works and is infinitely cheaper.
- Orange zest: it goes very well with the cinnamon and raisins and adds a different flavor.
- Brown sugar: use it instead of white for a more caramel tone. It adds moisture and color to the dough.
- Add-ins: throw some mini chocolate chips or cranberries into the dough, instead of, or in addition to, the raisins.
They have eggs, like challah or a butterless brioche, and the dough is very much brioche-like: sticky, slapping around the mixer, and looking like it needs a lot more flour than the recipe calls for. But no. Everything comes together wonderfully.
- Stand mixer: it's the easiest way to make this recipe. But it can be kneaded by hand if there's no other alternative. It will take some time and patience.
- Surface for kneading: 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.
Stir the yeast mixture directly in the bowl of the stand mixer only if using active-dry or fresh yeast. If using instant yeast, you don't need this step as it's added directly to the flour but never touching the salt.
The dough: it's super sticky during the first minutes due to the eggs and oil. They take time to integrate and become a less sticky but still supple dough. At some point, the dough will stick slightly to the sides of the bowl and that's your cue to take it o
Adding the raisins: the easiest way is to do this by hand. It takes a minute. They might pop out of the dough while incorporating; simply add them back in.
Resting: let it double in a greased clean bowl in a warm place. I use a large glass bowl and cover it with a glass lid or plastic wrap.
IMPORTANT: there's a short resting period in between kneadings which helps the dough lose some of its stickiness and gives it an extra boost to grow. Keep in mind that this dough is dense, so it needs time to rest in order to get the best results. Don't skip the steps!
Cutting the buns
The easiest way is with a dough scraper, that you can buy online. You can also use a smooth-bladed knife for this.
After the dough has doubled, you have to deflate it by gently punching it down to release the air (degassing).
Transfer it to a floured work surface and cut strips first and the small pieces.
Vintage Kitchen tip:regarding the size of the buns, you can simply eyeball their weight, and that will probably result in some buns being slightly larger than others, or you can use a kitchen scale and have equal pieces that all weigh exactly the same.
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), creating tension on the surface of the dough.
Turn it over so it's seam side down, cover the small piece of dough with your hand, and roll in a circular motion until it forms a smooth ball. Be careful not to squash it. You will feel the bun taking shape below your palm. It's easier than it looks!
Repeat this process with each portion of dough.
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 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.
Use a pan that is dusted with oats or flour and place the buns. They should fit snuggly and barely touch.
Second rising: in the pan. After forming the buns we need to let them rise again. It will probably not double but they will be significantly plumped up.
They don't take much time to be done, so be careful as the tops can brown very quickly. If that happens you can tent with foil until they're fully baked.
It can also be baked in a loaf pan, similar to a sandwich bread loaf. Easier than making the small buns for sure. But cuter? I don't think so.
Originally, the mixture for the cross involves a flour paste and you can find several recipes that use it.
But I used to make a mixture of egg white with powdered sugar, similar to royal icing. But since this glaze is added after the 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 to pipe crosses on top of each bun, and you need a very thin tip. 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 if eating these little buns with family.
Vintage Kitchen Tip: when cutting the tip of a piping bag always start smaller than what you think you need. It's easier to widen the tip but you can't reverse it.
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 it 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 them out the next day and let them come to room temperature before continuing with the recipe. It might take several hours.
Added bonus: slow risings help yeasted doughs develop better and deeper flavor.
- Organization: read the recipe first and make sure you have ingredients at the right temperatures, equipment needed, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier!
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. Use a thermometer inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that the temperature is right. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Milk and water: make sure they're warm, but just barely. Hot liquids will kill the yeast and it will not rise as it should.
- Yeast: I use active-dry yeast, which needs to be hydrated before. You can use instant yeast (¾ of the amount given for active dry) and add it directly to the flour, then add the water, no need to foam it first. If using fresh yeast (the ratio is 3:1 to dry), and is used in the same way as the active-dry, you need to hydrate it first and let it foam.
- Glazed crosses: you can use a piping bag with a very thin tip or simply cut the tip of the bag and use it directly. You need to use the thick, sturdy plastic ones if not using a metal or plastic tip. 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: 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 it 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 it out the next day and let come to room temperature 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.
Related recipes you might like:
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- 1 tablespoon + 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 or bread flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 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. Do not use a baking sheet for these buns as they need sides to contain them and rise upwards and not to the sides.
- Place the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to dissolve with a fork or spoon. Allow to stand for about 3 minutes until it foams and maybe large bubbles form. If this doesn't happen your yeast is not active as it should be. You need to buy fresh and start again.
- Add the warm milk, oil, sugar, and 1 cup of flour to the yeast mixture and stir with a fork or spoon to combine.
- Add cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring with a wire whisk until the ingredients are well combined.
- Add salt, and 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 or greased bowl.
- Turn to coat the top of the dough with oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, a lid or a dry kitchen towel.
- Let the dough rise at warm room temperature 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 in a small bowl. 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 temperature in a plastic bag or airtight container, and warm slightly before eating. Or freeze them, wrapped in plastic first and then in foil. Thaw at room temperature before serving. And warm in a medium oven before eating.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
Milk and water - make sure they're warm, but just barely. Hot liquids will kill the yeast and it will not rise as it should.
Yeast - I use active dry yeast that needs to be hydrated before adding the flour. The same goes for fresh yeast (the ratio is 3 times more than the dry amount). If you use instant yeast (it looks just like active-dry) it goes directly with the flour, there's no need to hydrate it first and wait until it foams and it probably will not foam if you mix it with water first, as the other types do.
Glazed crosses - you can use a piping bag with a very thin tip or simply cut the tip of the bag and use it directly. You need to use the thick, sturdy plastic ones if not using a metal or plastic tip. 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 it 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.
Variation: you can use brown sugar (instead of white) and some other type of dried fruit, or candied lemon and orange rind with the raisins for a spicier variation. Or some citrus zest.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Rising times: 3 hours
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Bread
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: International
- Serving Size: 1/15
- Calories: 265
- Sugar: 15.2 g
- Sodium: 174.9 mg
- Fat: 8.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 41.5 g
- Fiber: 1.6 g
- Protein: 5.6 g
- Cholesterol: 37.4 mg
Keywords: hot cross buns
Adapted from Amy's Bread, by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree