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!
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
- cinnamon spices
- brown sugar
- buttery bread
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:
- Make the bread dough.
- Knead the dough for 2 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let it rise. The dough rises in about 1-2 hours.
- Punch down the dough to release the air, then shape into rolls.
- Let the rolls rise for about 1 hour.
- Pipe the crosses on top.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
- Top with orange icing.
For extra plump and moist raisins, soak them in hot water for 5-10 minutes before using. You could also use dried cranberries.
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. This is the same way you can shape sage rolls.
Cover the shaped rolls, then let them rise for 1 more hour.
Crosses on Hot Cross Buns
There’s a couple ways to make crosses on hot cross buns:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Hot cross buns are an excellent addition to any Easter gathering menu. See more Easter brunch recipes.
More Easter Recipes
- Coconut Cream Pie
- Biscuit Breakfast Casserole & Easy Breakfast Casserole
- Coconut Cake
- Easter Egg Buttercream Candies
- Carrot Cake
- Lemon Meringue Pie
- Easter Cake
Hot Cross Buns
- 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
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.
- 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*
- 1/2 cup (63g) all-purpose flour or bread flour
- 6–8 Tablespoons (90-120ml) water
- 1 cup (120g) confectioners’ sugar
- 3 Tablespoons (45ml) fresh or bottled orange juice (or use milk and a splash of vanilla extract for plain icing)
- 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.*
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 2nd Rise: Cover shaped rolls with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- 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.
- 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.
- Make the icing: Whisk the icing ingredients together, then drizzle or brush on warm rolls. Serve immediately.
- Cover leftover rolls tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Reader Comments & Reviews
My first go and these were easy and amazing. Used bread flour but now I am out and everyone wants me to make more. I can’t get any more bread flour at the store due to shopping day assignments, can I use a combo of apf and ww flour?
I plan to make this recipe later in the week. I will opt to do the icing cross. I am a bit confused if I skip step 9 but then still do the glaze and pipe the icing on later? If you could clarify, that’d be great!
Thanks so much!
Hi Lauren, you’ll skip step 9 since you aren’t baking a cross on top of the buns. You won’t glaze the buns. You’ll use the glaze for the icing cross: If you prefer to make a cross from icing and pipe it onto the buns after baking, skip step 9. Use the orange icing recipe and reduce orange juice to 1 Tablespoon to yield a very thick icing. Replace with milk and add a splash of vanilla extract, if desired.
Then you pipe that thick icing on top to make the crosses. Hope this helps!
That makes sense! Thank you very much!
Hi Sally, I cannot get my buns to rise. I don’t have a stand mixer, so I’ve been kneading. Can I use a hand mixer?
Hi Carmen! Due to the weight of the dough, it’s best to knead with a stand mixer or by hand. You may want to double check your yeast as well– is it expired? You’ll also find my Baking with Yeast guide helpful to determine why the dough isn’t rising.
I used your hot-cross bun recipe last night as a try out for Easter, they`re really good, hence my decision to subscribe. I particularly liked the fact that a mixer could be used. (dislike kneading) Also, the use of icing for the cross as opposed to flour.
Thank you so much..
I have made this twice in the last week! I used dried cranberries and chopped dried apricot, chopped pecans as the added fruit. The buns turned out so well! They are the perfect snack with a good cup of tea! I shared them with my sister and friends, all had good things to say. I also added a sprinkling of ground clove to other spices.
Made hot cross buns today. They tasted yummy. Recipe was so easy to follow. I’ve only started to use yeast in recipes this week. Even though the did rise properly before I put them into the oven. They weren’t very high. ( not like your photos) wondering if I did something wrong.
Hi Clare! I know you said they rose before baking, but did the rolls double in size before you baked them? Since you’re a yeast bread beginner, you may find my Baking with Yeast page helpful to troubleshoot or just for learning about the process in general.
Trying to work with what I’ve got right now in quarantine..could I do a combo of 2% and half and half instead of the whole milk?
Made these today and they are delicious. My only issue was the dough was super sticky so I could not form them into nice circles. So they all baked up together and ended up being squares. Still tasked great. I weighed everything out and used bread flour. I did use 2 extra TBSP flour per your instructions since it was sticky was while mixing it as well. But the taste and texture was amazing. They just don’t look great.
Just tried these and they are absolutely amazing – I’m never buying them again! Home made are way better.
Could you add chocolate chips instead of raisins for a chocolate version?
I’m so happy you enjoyed these, Laura! Yes, I don’t see why chocolate chips wouldn’t work.
These are delicious! Glazed the top then did an icing cross. Put a little orange zest in the icing too.
I just made these today and they were very easy & delish! Everyone loved them- they taste so much better than store bought ones.
Thank you so much; will definitely be a recipe I will come back to!
PERFECT, I am gluten intolerant, meaning I can digest some gluten but not traditional flours. I used my white SPELT flour and did not change a thing in this recipe! Thanks for a perfect Hot Crossed Bun recipe that converted perfectly to spelt flour use! Spelt flour substituted in recipes often require a bit of “tweeting” to get them to turn out. The only thing I had to do, was a suggestion in the recipe, add more flour one tablespoon at a time. It ended up being almost four but I expect that. I did let my dough rise in a warmed oven with a bowl of hot water in the oven to maintain a warm moist area for the dough to rise. I ended up using the juice from a fresh orange as that was all I had on hand, and I did a “cross” drizzle over the buns when they first came out of the oven. BIG HIT! First Hot Crossed buns in FIVE YEARS. Thank you for a great recipe. I might add some candied fruit next Sunday when I make them again!
I need to make 200 of these buns for church on Easter. Can I freeze the dough or just bake and freeze the completed buns before frosting?
Hi Barbara, You can either prepare the dough through step 6 and freeze, or freeze the buns after they are fully baked. You can find detailed directions for both methods in the first recipe note.
I made these hot cross buns. It’s the first time I have had any success in making them. They were lovely
Hi Sally, Do you have any alternative recipes for fruitless hot cross buns? If omitting the fruit, does the flour amount need to change?
Hi Mel, You can omit the fruit without making any other changes!
I made these for Easter dinner this past weekend…my first time baking with yeast…and they were A SUPER HIT!!! Even folks who never ate the store bought hot cross buns in years past were praising this recipe (and the “no leftovers” cousin asked to take two home!) It was so exciting to watch the dough rise, then shape the rolls, and watch them puff up. They baked off beautifully, and even with a regular icing (wasn’t sure if the family would dig orange) they tasted so amazing! I see a lot more bread and buns in my future…thanks Sally : )
I made these Easter and they were fabulous! I added orange zest in the batter and soaked the currants in rum beforehand. They were truly delicious!
I am sure I am not the only one that only knew of hot cross buns from the children’s song. I have never had one before! I am excited to give this recipe a try!
Amazing! Soft, flavoursome, delicious hot cross buns.
To two-thirds of the dough, I added raisins and candied peel soaked in OJ, as well as orange zest. The other third I left plain for my raisin-intollerant son. The raisin dough was stickier (some OJ got in), but both types were fluffy and amazing.
I froze them overnight pre-formed but before the second rise, then defrosted this morning for five hours on the counter before baking for 23 minutes. I only got nine rolls though, so I’m guessing mine were much bigger than Sally’s.
I used spelt flour (wheat intolerance here, too) and white sugar as I ran out of brown.
Very happy Easter to you all and thanks for the brilliant recipe!
I’ve just made these and they’re delicious. Tender rich dough, not too sweet or spiced. I had leftover glaze so I added more confectioners sugar and piped the crosses. They’re not perfectly round but they are so good!
My husband loves HCB’s. He promised the folks at church that I would make them for our fellowship time after Easter service. So, I doubled the recipe and made smaller buns. I did not make the flour paste for the cross but did brush with the thinned frosting and then thickened the rest and piped it on for the cross. They are amazing. The bit of orange with the currants and spices is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your version…this will now be my go to recipe for these tasty gems.
Hi Sally! Great recipe! I made these for Good Friday and the whole fam loved them! Thanks for an easy recipe and great instructions and suggestions for altering mix ins.
Made these with the overnight rise method. Super yummy!! Thank you, Sally.
I had been planning to make hot cross buns for a few weeks, and I knew I had to use your recipe as soon as you posted it! The buns turned out perfectly with the overnight method–I used half currants and half dried cranberries (soaked in rum for a bit to plump them up), and I added the orange zest to the dough. They got rave reviews at work today. Thank you for yet another incredible recipe!
Amazing, your recipes are tried and true! You’re the Ina Garten of Pinterest, that’s were I found you.( I’m ordering your cookbook)
Made these with the overnight 2nd rise method. They were outstanding, all the guys at work were loved them. Very easy directions too. Thanks Sally you make me look like I know what I’m doing.
The Hot Cross Buns are absolutely delicious. I’m so pleased I decided not to halve the recipe! I think I will increase the dried fruit next time but apart from that small change to suit my personal taste the recipe worked perfectly.
My twin daughters and I started making these during Holy Week two years ago. I cannot wait to try your version. Thanks for getting this out. God bless.
What a fun and delicious tradition- I’d love to know what you think of this version!
They came out great. Used the standard glaze, but added some orange zest to the dough. My twin girls took them to their teachers today as an Easter blessing. Thanks so much. Have a wonderful Easter. God bless.
These look beautiful, Sally! So soft and delicious! I love hot cross buns; I have many memories of eating them as a little child, and I still love to eat them now. I’ve never made them at home, though they’ve been put on my yearly baking bucket list. We usually get them from a local bakery that makes pretty good breads and pastries (their danishes are to die for, and their scones are actually very tasty. Not so dry as most store bought scones are). I was waiting to see whether you would be posting a recipe for hot cross buns, it being Easter time and all. I’m very glad you did! These look wonderful, and while they’re so good with raisins, I’m also loving the idea of cranberries and orange! And, could you add other dried fruits instead of the raisins? Like dried, chopped apricots? And I also wonder whether I could add some chopped nuts to the dough (maybe walnuts or pecans) along with some of the dried fruit? Thanks, Sally!
Yes to all those wonderful additions! I love chopped dried apricots in hot cross buns. Chopped pecans or walnuts would also be fantastic. I’d say keep the total add-ins to under 1.75-2 cups.
YAAAAS girl. I was just explaining to my family last night the story I heard about hot cross buns- that they symbolize the crucifixion (cross obviously) and the spices inside the dough symbolize those used to embalm Jesus. I’ve always wanted to make these and of course I trust your recipe more than any others I’d even consider. If you were going to add Cardamom how much would you suggest? I know that it can be quite overpowering so I’m thinking maybe a half teaspoon? Thanks for sharing your recipe. The orange icing sounds divine!
Thanks Angela! I would actually limit the cardamom to 1/4 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon if you love its flavor!