Hot Cross Buns

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

Hot cross buns

Hopping right into Easter week with a big ol’ pan of hot cross buns!

What are Hot Cross Buns?

A nursery rhyme, of course! And the first song we usually learn on the recorder. (Is the tune forever and firmly planted in your mind, too?!)

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, 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, but are now widely enjoyed year-long.

I figured it’s time to share our family’s rendition of the classic!

Hot cross buns

What Do Hot Cross Buns Taste Like?

My hot cross buns are a cross (get it?) between a dinner roll and cinnamon roll. They’re soft, yet a little 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 an absolutely remarkable orange icing. For extra flavor, sometimes I throw a little orange zest or candied orange peel into the dough.

My recipe uses raisins. I 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

They’re SO good.

Hot cross buns

How to Make Hot Cross Buns

The 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 (but not heavy!) 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.

Raisins in hot cross buns

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

The dough comes together easiest with a mixer, but you can make the dough by hand if you don’t have one. After the dough comes together in the mixing bowl, knead it for 2 minutes. You can simply continue beating the dough with the mixer for this step or you can knead the dough by hand.

Baking with Yeast Guide

If you’re interested, I provide further detail about kneading in my Baking with Yeast Guide. –> a wonderful resource for bakers!

Hot cross bun dough

After the dough rises in the bowl (above), punch it down to release the air. Divide into 15 portions, then roll into balls. You can watch me roll dough into balls in my dinner rolls video. 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.

Hot cross bun dough

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.

Hot cross bun crosses

Unbaked hot cross buns

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. If you enjoy orange sweet rolls, you will flip for this orange icing. It’s sticky and sweet and warm– orange and cinnamon spices are meant to be!!

I would call this an intermediate recipe since there’s a few extra steps with 2 rises and piping the crosses on top. However, don’t let that stop you from trying hot cross buns! They’re the breakfast and dessert version of a dinner roll and extra special for Easter time. 🙂

Hot cross buns with cross on top

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Hot cross buns

Hot Cross Buns

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Yield: 14-16 buns
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: English

Description

Learn how to make soft and 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

  • 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (435g) all-purpose flour or bread flour (spoon & leveled)*
  • 1 cup (140g) raisins or currants*

Flour Cross

  • 1/2 cup (60g) 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 warm milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or paddle attachment. Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, eggs, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and 1 cup (125g) flour. Beat 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 medium 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. *If you do not own a mixer, you can mix this dough with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula. It will take a bit of arm muscle!*
  3. Knead the dough: Keep the dough in the mixer and beat for an additional 2 minutes or knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 2 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 tutorial for my dinner rolls. 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 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. 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.
  6. 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. The rolls are still soft no matter which you use. Either flour is fine and there are no other changes to the recipe if you use one or the other.
  7. 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.

Adapted from my Dinner Rolls recipe

Keywords: hot cross buns

198 Comments

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  1. Thanks for sharing this recipe with us. Loved this recipe. So easy and delicous that everyone should try this. Also sharing with you guys a post on hot cross bun recipe. Check it out now: https://www.recipespack.com/hot-cross-buns-recipe/

  2. Tricia Ryel says:

    Hi Sally, I’m attempting these buns for the first time and am a bit confused by the overnight instructions. I prepared last night through step 6. This morning do I need to leave them out to rise for 3 hours total or just 1-2 hours total before baking? Excited to see how they turn out. Thank you!

    1. Hi Tricia! You skip step 7. 🙂

  3. Hi Sally, I am going to make these today (shape this evening and refrigerate) to bake tomorrow morning – first time making hot cross buns! If I am using instant yeast do I still need to do step 1 or is that just for active dry yeast? Thanks!

    1. You don’t HAVE to, but it doesn’t hurt or change anything if you still proof the instant yeast like you do the active dry.

  4. I didn’t have a dough hook, so I made these by hand. You need to knead them way more than two minutes when doing it by hand. I probably kneaded the dough for 15 minutes before it was smooth enough.

  5. Thank you so much for this recipe, I’ve just finished and they worked a charm! Huge hit with the bf and I’ve already got requests from family members to drop some off on their doorsteps!

  6. Best hot cross buns recipe I’ve ever tried! Rave reviews from the whole family 🙂

  7. Delicious but the texture was more like a heavy cake than bread. I have only ever had store bought packaged hot cross buns so I was expecting the texture to be more like that. But we still loved them. I wasn’t able to get that golden brown colour on the top however. I left it in the oven for an additional 5 minutes totalling 30 minutes of cook time. What could I have done differently?

    1. Hi Carol! These definitely shouldn’t taste like cake. I wonder if the dough was over-worked or over-kneaded at all. Likewise, perhaps over-proofed? Thanks so much for trying them!

  8. Fabulous results!! Love this recipe. First time I’ve never made hot cross buns & decided to try your recipe because of all the great reviews. Oh, that and all your recipes are fabulous! I used currants only and topped it off with an orange marmalade glaze instead of the cross. Mmmmmmm. Thank you!

  9. Brigid Jones says:

    They were perfect and easy. They even turned out great considering i forgot to add the raisins in until after the 1st rise.

  10. These turned out great! It was the third hot cross bun recipe I tried and combined with the kneading and yeast prepping tutorials from this site, they turned out the best. The only change I made was using 1/4 C brown sugar Splenda instead of 1/2C regular brown sugar. Thank you!

  11. Great recipe, my buns turned out beautifully and are delicious.

  12. Thank you, this is just the recipe I have been looking for. The buns are soft and flavorful. I followed the recipe exactly, but might add a few more raisins next time. I’m looking forward to trying more of your recipes.

  13. I made this for Easter Sunday today. So yummy , all gone in seconds! Thank you for the recipe. Cant wait to try out dinner rolls next.

  14. These were absolutely delicious!!

  15. My first time making hot cross buns
    They turned out perfect The recipe was just as it stated and didn’t require much needing at all
    I used granulated sugar because I didn’t have brown but they still taste good
    I also made less and made them a bit larger
    I have made your banana muffins before and they also turned out perfect
    Thank you so much for sharing your lovely recipes

  16. Sanjana Ahuja says:

    So delicious!! I made these buns for the first time n half the recipe…. turned out amazing. My family just loved it !!!Thanks for the amazing recipe.

  17. My turned out a bit dry and not sure why. They were only very slightly browned, so I don’t believe they were “overcooked.” However, I baked in oven night before and just left out until next morning. Would that be why?

    1. Hi Erin! It’s possible they dried out overnight. Were they covered tightly after cooling? Warming them up again with some fresh icing should help!

  18. Stuck in quarantine this Easter, I wanted to make my mum’s favourite – Hot Cross Buns – and drop them off to her from a distance. I’m a newbie at working with yeast: I think this was my third time ever. This recipe was a hit! So simple to follow and yielded 16 beautiful buns. I did, however, had to add quite a lot of extra flour during the mixing period in order to get the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl. In the end I got it close enough and did some extra kneading by hand. I was worried it wouldn’t rise, but it did! I used 1 cup of fruits, which included currants, citrus peel, and chopped stem ginger, which was my favourite adaptation! I found the flour crosses a bit messy but I’ll make the mixture thicker in the future and will use a round piping tip to make for tidier crosses. I did a very light orange glaze and it was delicious!

  19. This was my first time making Hot Cross Buns. I am not sure what I did wrong, but they turned out very dense like scones. I could tell that they didn’t rise much during the first rise (2+ hours) and then took another 2.5 hours to barely rise (sitting on my stove top while the oven was on) when I made into buns. I will have to try again as I had my 16 year old son helping me. We still ate them as the flavor is very nice and goes well with a cup of coffee the next morning. Hopefully my next batch fluffs up better and then these will be added to my keeper recipes.

    1. Hi Darcy! Was your milk or even the kitchen particularly cold? I’m concerned the dough wasn’t rising. You may find my Baking with Yeast post helpful where I discuss dough not rising.

  20. I am new to baking and wanted to make hot cross buns for my daughter and husband because they love singing “hot cross buns..one a penny”. This is my first time using yeast and this recipe is perfect. This is the first time I have felt like someone has really researched and actually tried and “proofed” their own recipe before publishing it! I would say I had to add 6-8 tablespoons of extra flour for the dough to be pulled away from the sides. It is 2 year approved, dog approved and excellent palate husband approved.
    I have a question? Can I substitute the eggs in this recipe? I would like to feed a family and friends and some cannot eat eggs. Any feedback or advise will be appreciated.

    1. So glad you enjoyed these, Amrita, thank you! I haven’t tried an egg alternative in this dough but you could try leaving them out and replacing with a bit more milk.

      1. I will and i will get back to you with the outcome when I do.

  21. I wound up having to add more flour than I thought. I had weighed it out on the scale and probably used more like 4 “cups” of flour. By itself the recipe is STICKY.

  22. Sylvia Doignon says:

    I love baking, for Easter brunch I made this buns, they came out delicious, the frosting made with orange juice is fabulous, I added a little bit of orange zest, my husband always asks for buns without frosting, this time, he went to get extra frosting!

  23. My buns weirdly came out dry and dense? it didn’t have a soft, airy, bread-like texture it should have. I followed the recipe to the T, using all-purpose flour where it said all-purpose flour/bread flour. why do you think this happened? i was so excited for it to turn out the way it should’ve. everything looked right from the beginning up to the proofing of the dough right before baking 🙁 id love to try again but would like to know why it didn’t turn out.

  24. Shouldnt dough have risen after one hour for first rise? I made sure my yeast bloomed. I used the two minutes kneading using my hook on my kitchen aid. Maybe it wasn’t warm enough.?

    1. Hi Mary Pat! If it’s in a cooler environment, the dough will take longer to rise. I think my post called Baking with Yeast can help here. Lots of tips about dough not rising that I know you’ll find helpful.

  25. Woke up super early this morning and decided to try this recipe. Dough was easy to mix in my new Kitchen Aid.
    I love the easy to follow detailed instructions.
    Did not have orange juice so just made a vanilla glaze and brushed in on with a pastry brush. Used Craisins.
    Beautiful tasty hot cross buns. Texture was soft and had a very nice buttery taste.
    This is a keeper!

  26. Hi! I’m going to make these tonight. Do you think I could use chocolate chips instead of raisins?

    1. Hi Megan, Yes- I don’t see why chocolate chips wouldn’t work.

  27. Ashley Jagbeer says:

    First time making hot cross buns and they came out perfectly! I appreciate all of the details in your recipes and look forward to trying more. You’re an amazing baker Sally!

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