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Learn how to make our rendition of hot cross buns using this deliciously spiced yeast dough. Brown sugar, raisins or currants, butter, and vanilla add exceptional flavor and each dense bun is marked with a traditional cross. Orange icing is a tasty finishing touch to this Easter recipe!

Hot cross buns in baking pan

What are Hot Cross Buns?

A nursery rhyme, of course! And the first song we usually learn on the recorder. But what are the hot cross buns we eat? Hot cross buns are rich with history dating back to the 12th century. They’re yeasted sweet buns filled with spices and various fruits such as currants, raisins, and/or candied citrus. They’re decorated with a white cross representing the crucifix, either marked right into the dough or etched on top with icing. Hot cross buns are a traditional Easter food, typically eaten on Good Friday.

We’ve been making these for years and I would love to share our family’s version here today. If you’re looking for a more traditional hot cross bun recipe using a little less sugar, candied peel, and lemon, we’ve always loved Mary Berry’s hot cross bun recipe.

What Do These Hot Cross Buns Taste Like?

These hot cross buns are a cross between a dinner roll and cinnamon roll. They’re soft, yet dense with a deliciously spiced flavor from cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. You can play with the spices, even adding a little cardamom too. The buns are sweetened mostly with brown sugar, then topped with a glossy orange icing. For extra flavor, sometimes we throw a little orange zest or candied orange peel into the dough. This recipe uses raisins. We always enjoyed hot cross buns with currants, a type of raisin, but I couldn’t find them anywhere this year.

You’ll love these hot cross buns if you enjoy:

  • sweet orange icing
  • raisins
  • cinnamon spices
  • brown sugar
  • buttery bread
Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns

Video Tutorial: How to Make Hot Cross Buns

This recipe begins just like dinner rolls. Hot cross buns require basic baking ingredients like flour, yeast, butter, eggs, sugar, and milk. Less milk, more butter and more eggs produces a slightly denser roll compared to the dinner rolls. These are more of a dessert/breakfast roll. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Make the bread dough.
  2. Knead the dough for 2 minutes.
  3. Cover the dough and let it rise. The dough rises in about 1-2 hours.
  4. Punch down the dough to release the air, then shape into rolls.
  5. Let the rolls rise for about 1 hour.
  6. Pipe the crosses on top.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Top with orange icing.
2 images of plumped raisins for hot cross buns and hot cross bun dough with raisins

For extra plump and moist raisins, soak them in hot water for 5-10 minutes before using. You could also use dried cranberries.

Hot cross bun dough in a glass bowl

After the dough rises in the bowl (above), punch it down to release the air. Divide into 15 portions, then roll into balls as shown in the video above. Take a piece and stretch the top of the dough while pinching and sealing the bottom. Make sure the rolls are smooth on top and sealed on the bottom.

Cover the shaped rolls, then let them rise for 1 more hour.

2 images of hot cross bun dough cut into pieces and rolled into dough balls on baking sheet before baking

Crosses on Hot Cross Buns

There’s a couple ways to make crosses on hot cross buns:

  1. Flour Cross: Pipe a “paste” of flour and water on top of each bun BEFORE baking. This is the most traditional application of the cross and the method I usually choose. It gets a *little* hard after baking, but it’s still perfectly chewy.
  2. Icing Cross: Pipe a thick cross made from icing on each bun AFTER baking.

Use a piping bag– no piping tip needed– or a zipped-top bag. Snip the corner off. If making the flour cross, make sure the corner opening is small because you want a thin line.

2 images of hot cross bun cross mixture and mixture in a piping bag
Unbaked hot cross buns in baking pan
Golden brown hot cross buns with glaze on top

Orange Icing

The lush orange icing is the best finishing touch and it’s even better if you brush it on the buns right out of the oven. It’s sticky, sweet, and warm– orange and cinnamon spices are just meant to be.

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Hot cross buns in baking pan

Hot Cross Buns

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1416 buns 1x
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: English

Description

Learn how to make flavorful hot cross buns using this deliciously spiced yeast dough. Each bun is marked with a traditional cross, baked until golden, then topped with orange icing. See recipe notes for icing cross alternative, as well as freezing and make-ahead instructions.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk, warmed to about 110°F
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast (1 standard packet)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into 5 pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (438g) all-purpose flour or bread flour (spoon & leveled)*
  • 1 cup (140g) raisins or currants*

Flour Cross

  • 1/2 cup (63g) all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 68 Tablespoons (90-120ml) water

Orange Icing

  • 1 cup (120gconfectioners’ sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons (45ml) fresh or bottled orange juice (or use milk and a splash of vanilla extract for plain icing)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the dough: Whisk the milk, yeast, and granulated sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover and allow mixture to sit for about 5 minutes or until foamy on top. *If you do not own a mixer, you can do this in a large mixing bowl and in the next step, mix the dough together with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula. It will take a bit of arm muscle. A hand mixer works, but the sticky dough repeatedly gets stuck in the beaters. Mixing by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula is a better choice.*
  2. Add the brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, eggs, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and 1 cup (125g) flour. Using the dough hook or paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 30 seconds, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then add the remaining flour and the raisins. Beat on low speed until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Dough should be a little sticky and soft. If it’s too sticky and not pulling away from the sides of the bowl, mix in additional flour 1 Tablespoon at a time.
  3. Knead the dough: Keep the dough in the mixer and beat for an additional 3 minutes or knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 3 minutes.
  4. 1st Rise: Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or nonstick spray. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides in the oil. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise in a relatively warm environment for 1-2 hours or until double in size. (I always let it rise on the counter. Takes about 2 hours. For a tiny reduction in rise time, see my answer to Where Should Dough Rise? in my Baking with Yeast Guide.)
  5. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan or two 9-inch square or round baking pans. You can also bake the rolls in a cast iron skillet or on a lined baking sheet.
  6. Shape the rolls: When the dough is ready, punch it down to release the air. Divide the dough into 14-16 equal pieces. (Just eyeball it– doesn’t need to be perfect!) Shape each piece into a smooth ball, pinching it on the bottom to seal. I do this entirely in my hands and you can watch in the video above. Arrange in prepared baking pan.
  7. 2nd Rise: Cover shaped rolls with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.
  8. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  9. Add the cross: Whisk the cross ingredients together, starting with 6 Tablespoons of water. You want a thick paste that will pipe easily. Add remaining water if needed. Spoon paste into a piping bag or zipped-top bag. (No need to use a piping tip if using a piping bag.) Snip off a small piece at the corner. Pipe a line down the center of each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.
  10. Bake the rolls: Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top, rotating the pan halfway through. If you notice the tops browning too quickly, loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and allow rolls to cool for a few minutes as you prepare the icing.
  11. Make the icing: Whisk the icing ingredients together, then drizzle or brush on warm rolls. Serve immediately.
  12. Cover leftover rolls tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

  1. Freezing Instructions: Prepare recipe through step 6. Place shaped buns in a greased baking pan, cover tightly, and freeze for up to 3 months. Once frozen, the dough balls won’t stick together anymore and you can place them in a freezer bag if needed. On the day you serve them, arrange the dough balls in a greased baking pan, cover tightly, then let them thaw and rise at room temperature for about 4-5 hours. Continue with step 8. You can also freeze the baked hot cross buns. Allow them to cool completely, then freeze without icing for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature, then reheat as desired and add icing.
  2. Overnight Instructions: Prepare the recipe through step 6. Cover the shaped buns tightly and refrigerate for up to about 15 hours. At least 3 hours before you need them the next day, remove the buns from the refrigerator, keep covered, and allow to rise on the counter for about 1-2 hours before baking. (Skip step 7.) Alternatively, you can let the dough have its 1st rise in the refrigerator overnight. Cover the dough tightly and place in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and allow the dough to fully rise for 2 more hours. Continue with step 5.
  3. Optional Add-Ins: Instead of (or in addition to) raisins, try using dried cranberries, chopped pecans or walnuts, chopped candied citrus, or chopped dried apricots. Keep total add ins to about 1 and 3/4 cups total. Feel free to add the zest from 1 lemon or orange to the dough when you add the butter. Add 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom, if desired. Feel free to adjust the spices to your liking. You can plump up the raisins, currants, or dried cranberries if desired. Soak in hot water for 5-10 minutes, drain, then pat dry before adding to dough.
  4. Whole Milk: Lower fat or nondairy milks work in a pinch. The rolls will lose a little flavor and richness. I highly recommend whole milk or even buttermilk.
  5. Cinnamon: Cinnamon can prohibit doughs from rising. We use 1 and 1/4 teaspoons in this dough to produce dense buns. If you want a fluffier roll-type hot cross bun, feel free to reduce the cinnamon down to 1/2 teaspoon or leave it out completely.
  6. Yeast: Use instant yeast or active dry yeast. Rise times will be slightly longer using active dry yeast. Reference my Baking with Yeast Guide for answers to common yeast FAQs.
  7. Flour: You can use all-purpose flour or bread flour. All-purpose flour is convenient for most, but bread flour produces chewier hot cross buns. Either flour is fine and there are no other changes to the recipe if you use one or the other.
  8. Icing Cross: If you prefer to make a cross from icing and pipe it onto the buns after baking, skip step 9 and skip the orange icing glaze on top. However, you can use the orange icing recipe to make the icing cross. Reduce orange juice to 1 Tablespoon to yield a very thick icing. Replace with milk and add a splash of vanilla extract, if desired. Feel free to also make the orange glaze for topping if you want double icing– a cross and glaze all over.

Keywords: hot cross buns

Hot cross buns with cross on top

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Made these with dried cranberries, and they were amazing. So moist and flavorful! I was worried at first, because I did the first rise in the fridge, and it was taking so long to wake them up this morning on the proof setting I thought I had killed them. Fortunately, I gave them the time they needed, and they came out great. Thanks, Sally, for another winner!

  2. Like everyone else, I made these for Easter. Resounding success! Thank you for the wonderful recipe.

  3. I followed the recipe exactly but they came out very stodgy–very dense. I let the dough rise the longest allotted time. Not sure where I went wrong!

    1. Hi Claire, these buns are supposed to be on the denser side– not fluffy. For a fluffier bread, you could add a little more yeast and/or rise time or reduce the cinnamon down to 1/2 teaspoon.

  4. Hi Sally, these were yummy! I’ve never had hot cross buns before. So special for celebrating Easter and Christ! Next time could I reduce the recipe to one egg?

    1. Hi Alyssa, we’re so glad you enjoyed these! We haven’t tried reducing the eggs in this recipe. For best results, we recommend sticking with the recipe as written.

  5. Sally does it again! This is the best Hot Cross recipe I’ve tried. I followed the stand mixer instructions to the letter and got a fantastic result. Make 14 for bigger, evenly sized. I used a blend of raisins and dried cranberries. Great toasted the next day.

  6. I grew up in England until i moved to the States at 21.
    My family made these every year and would use left over pastry scraps for the cross so that is how I always make them.
    I will be making your recipe with the orange glace this year but with the pastry scraps cross!
    Thank you.

    1. This is how I grew up too (Aussie mum). I do it with this recipe and it brings back memories.

    1. Hi Susan, we haven’t tested this dough in a bread machine, but let us know if you give it a try!

    2. I did that for many years for various yeast doughs, and it worked very well.

  7. Hi Sally,
    Your recipes are the best… so easy to follow and always a bi hit with my family.
    This recipe is one of our favorite… this year i was hoping to try a tripe chocolate cross buns,
    how do you suggest i do to adapt from this recipe ? Thanks Sally 🙂

    1. Hi Eileen, you could replace the raisins with chocolate chips if you want to add chocolate to these.

  8. Hi Sally
    Can you make this recipe in a loaf tin? If so , what size loaf tin and how long should I bake it for?

    1. Hi Ann, You could try halving the recipe for a 9×5 inch loaf pan. I haven’t tested it though!

      1. THAT would be akin to the amazing ‘candy’ bread my aunt served when I was little. thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  9. I made these with cranberries and added 1/2 cup of home made candied orange and lemon peel. They were amazing. I ate way too many of them myself, so I’m currently making a second batch for sharing….. Thank you for the excellent recipe Sally

  10. I am exasperated!!!! I have made these twice. Neither time is my dough rising. It isn’t the yeast as I am making other rolls with this yeast and they are raising just fine. What else could cause the dough to not raise???

    1. Try leaving out or reducing the cinnamon in the dough. It can prohibit yeasted doughs from rising. (Truly, it varies by brand– I’ve never had it be an issue in this dough!)

  11. Hi Sally, these look delicious. Is it possible to substitute chocolate chips for the raisins?

    1. Hi Mim, Absolutely! Let us know how it turns out for you.

  12. Made this recipe and they turned out so good! I want to make them again the overnight version but would love clarification on the timing. The instructions say “at least 3 hours before you need them the next day, remove the buns from the refrigerator, keep covered, and allow to rise on the counter for about 1-2 hours before baking.” Do I take them out to rise again on the counter before baking for 3 hours or 1-2? I would hate to over proof the buns. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Hi Vanessa! The 3 hours takes into account the time for making the cross, baking, and waiting for them to cool for a few minutes as you prepare the icing. So if you want to serve them soon after they are completed, we recommend taking them out about three hours before you plan to serve. Hope that helps!

  13. I loved this, first time I’ve ever made them, took a little bit of liberty and soaked the raisins in rum, and the icing was the drained rum with icing sugar.

    OMG Heaven, light moist everyone I have some to raved about them.

    Already added to my cookbook as a favourite!

    1. Another wonderful recipe Sally. Added orange zest & dried apricots to the raisins. Also used warmed orange marmalade to glaze the rolls. So delicious! Thanks Sally! Love you!

  14. Hi sally, what if I’m bringing this to an Easter event? What do you suggest for how to serve these? Are they still good if they aren’t served straight out of the oven?

    1. Hi Maggie, see final recipe step and recipe notes for make ahead instructions. You can certainly bring them to an Easter event and reheat them for a few minutes and add the icing there if you’d like. Hope they’re a hit!

  15. I made these last year and they were wonderful! This year I’m making 3 recipes! Has anyone used a proofing oven? I’m wondering if it might reduce the proofing time a bit?

  16. Thanks for the advice on the cinnamon interfering with the yeast. My buns came out beautifully as I didn’t want them too dense. Also: I made 15 buns as 3 X 5 works perfectly in a 9″ X 13″ pan.

  17. I wonder if the cinnamon could be added (lightly sprinkled) after the first rise, before shaping into buns, and hence prevent it from not rising? Just throwing it out there! I’d love to to have the flavor but won’t want it to not rise.

    1. Emily, you can absolutely try that! I haven’t yet. 1/2 teaspoon in the dough (per the notes) won’t really prevent the rolls from rising if you still want to add some.

  18. I just made this, and they turned out fabulous! However, when I did the flour cross, the cross disappeared after baking them. So, I just made the thicker frosting and did the cross afterwards. Why did the flour cross disappear? How do you get it to not disappear into the dough when it’s baking?

    1. Hi Crystalyn, it sounds like your flour cross paste may have been a bit too thin, which caused it to bake into the tops of the rolls. For next time, try using a bit less water to yield a thicker paste. We’re so glad you enjoyed these buns!

  19. Excellent flavor, and wonderfully soft – on my 2nd batch. 1st was too dense, I had used a low-protein all-purpose flour and added too much. 2nd batch, I used a higher-protein all-pupose, and resisted adding more, let the dough remain soft and sticky. Very little rise after 2 hours, refrigerated overnight, minimal rise after shaping, but magic happened in the oven. Super happy!

  20. This is a perfect and delicious recipe! I like my Hot Cross Buns with a little heft and bite. This is the second year I have made them and know they will be my baking tradition from now on! I like to use currants and the zest of one orange. I never tried the flour cross or ate that version before but they bake up very prettily. I can’t stop admiring the picture of them I took……or eating them! Thank you, Sally!!

  21. Thanks Sally (again) these are perfect. Made them many many times (my husband likes them any time of year!) and never had an issue. I love Mary Berry… but honestly these are better

  22. Hi Sally,

    I tried making these following the recipe and noticed on the second proof hat after an hour, my buns didn’t rise at all. Any idea why they didn’t rise the second time??

  23. Made these for Easter today and like everything I’ve ever made from your website they came out amazing!! I used 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup candied orange peel to give it more of a panettone type taste, 1/2 t cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom, and then made the orange icing and added a cross made from powdered sugar and a splash of milk piped onto the buns. Fantastic!!

  24. Thank you Sally. They were absolutely delicious!!!

  25. Hello! Would you elaborate a little on how the consistency of the dough should be before first rise? For me the dough was super sticky and not pulling away from the stand mixer bowl, at all. I added at least 8 tablespoons of flour and dough was still not a consistency I would expect. I weighed ingredients for accuracy. Thank you!

    1. Hi Mark! The video included after the recipe instructions should offer a helpful visual. There are a lot of variables that go into the consistency of dough, even down to the weather and humidity in the air. There’s nothing wrong with adding just a little more flour to bring the dough into a less sticky and knead-able consistency.

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