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, a recipe many of you are baking this month for Sally’s Baking Challenge. 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

More Easter Recipes

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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 (120g) confectioners’ 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. 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. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Adapted from my Dinner Rolls recipe

Keywords: hot cross buns

87 Comments

  1. 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 : )

  2. Hi! I know this is a late comment. I helped out 6 year old make these tonight using bread flour, and they came out really dense also didn’t have a nice brown finish on top after 25 min. Any suggestions? Different flour? Too much kneading or not enough rise time? Taste was good but not light and fluffy like the photo.

    1. Hi Diane! These are denser rolls than soft and fluffy dinner rolls, so expect a heavier texture. But you could be over-kneading without enough rise time. Those are two easy fixes for next time.

      1. Yes I think we did both those things. Had a little helper who was very eager! Still tasty. Will try with fresh flour and less kneading next time. Thank you for reply! Love your blog.

    1. Hi Evie, You will use a total of 435g of flour.
      First, mix together the brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, eggs, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and 1 cup (125g) flour.
      After you beat on low speed for 30 seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl, you will then add the remaining flour and the raisins.
      Hope this helps!

      1. I tried the dinner rolls and hit cross buns worst recipe I’ve ever made and I make bread and rolls all the time

  3. Hi Sally, Do you have any alternative recipes for fruitless hot cross buns? If omitting the fruit, does the flour amount need to change?

  4. I made these hot cross buns. It’s the first time I have had any success in making them. They were lovely

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. Would it be possible to omit the eggs or sub with a flax egg to make these vegan? Do you think that would cause them to be dry?
    Super excited to try these!! Your recipes are all so drool worthy ❤️.

    1. Hi MaKenzie, I have not tested this recipe with an egg substitute so I’m unsure what the results would be. Let me know if you try.

  9. These are delicious! Glazed the top then did an icing cross. Put a little orange zest in the icing too.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

    1. Hi Amy, I actually have no experience baking at high altitude. I know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  12. 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?

  13. Hi Sally.
    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.
    Clare

    1. 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.

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