Hot Cross Buns

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: 14-16 buns
  • 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

  • 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

213 Comments

  1. Made them for Good Friday. It’s so good.
    Thanks soo much Sally

  2. I made these yesterday, and they turned out great. I had difficulty piping the crosses so maybe I will add even more water next time. Fantastic results overall even if they do not look perfect. They taste amazing. I’m so happy.

  3. I needed well over three cups of (King Arthur all-purpose) flour to get this dough to come together. Very slow rise, but it was a cool day here. I used currants and home made candied orange peel (soaked together in orange liqueur). Next time I will cut back on the amount of nutmeg. Overall, a light, delicious roll, Thank you for the recipe.

  4. Do you have to use whole milk or is 2% ok?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Janice! Lower fat or nondairy milks work in a pinch. The rolls will lose a little flavor and richness.

  5. I tried this recipe after using a British recipe for years. I found these to be fine, but texture and flavor inferior to what I used in the past. I would recommend skipping this and finding a British recipe instead (less sugar, more moisture, using a higher temp and shorter bake time). This is an American version of a British classic, and it’s a situation where the wheel didn’t need to be reinvented. I truly regret that I gave this version a try!

  6. I made these for Good Friday in 2020 as a fun activity since we had a stay-at-home order.
    Excited to make them again this year, but this time with friends 🙂

  7. Delicious!

  8. Tamisyn Grantz says:

    Just delivered these for Good Friday – getting rave reviews! I added about 25 g of candied peel I made earlier this year. Absolutely delicious and the dough was so easy to work with!

  9. We loved these. The glaze was awesome. My crosses weren’t the best. Definitely will make again

  10. I made these today and for some reason they were very dense. The flavour is great. The yeast bloomed well…hmmm a bit disappointing. Any idea where I could have gone wrong?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Elizabeth! 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.

  11. I have made these twice now and I can’t seem to get them to rise properly. My first batch came out okay after they were baked but my second batch came out very hard and dense. I have no idea what I might be doing wrong! Any suggestions?

  12. We absolutely loved the recipe! My partner said they were the best ones I’ve ever made! I got 12 buns and they are almost over. Making another batch tomorrow. Thank you so much.

  13. This recipe is perfect! After discovering I can actually bake bread this past year, I made these for the first time for Good Friday. Amazing flavor and texture!! There is no way I will wait a year to make these again, I will be making them a lot!! Thanks!!

  14. Great recipe I did not have raisins but I did have dried cherries and some dried figs turned out great!
    Thank you

  15. I started with heating the milk to 110 and it killed my yeast. I restarted and heated milk to the temp I would normally use for water when making bread and it was perfect. I also kneaded the dough until it was smooth and elastic. Excellent and straightforward recipe. Thank you Sally

  16. Remembering my maternal grandmother being in charge of the hot cross buns every Easter family gathering. Have always wanted to honor her efforts by making my own. Finally tried them today. They rose beautifully and the dough seems to be perfection! They’re still in the oven but smell Devine. Can’t wait to try the finished product. Have honey butter at the ready! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Thank you so much for giving our hot cross buns recipe a try, Kurt — we hope they remind you of your grandmother’s!

      1. Oh they were fantastic! My mother and Aunts approved so that made the triumph even sweeter. So happy I tried this recipe!

  17. First time making hot cross buns ever and am glad I used Sally’s recipe! I followed the recipe as written and they turned out perfectly. The dough was so supple it barely took any pulling to achieve the smooth, round shape. Soaking the dried fruit is worth the extra step. Thanks for another reliable recipe, Sally!

  18. I tried this recipe today, using instant dried yeast and after two hours, the dough had not risen at all. I put it in a warm oven for another two hours, and this time it rose. Did the same for the second rise, two hours in a warm oven. I found, like one of the other commentors that the flour and water mixture was too runny as well, so would use less water next time. There was more glaze than I really needed, but I used it all anyway. The buns are nice, light and chewy (I used one cup white bread flour and two and a half cups whole wheat). However, I think I would agree with the person who said British recipes are more flavourful! I’ll try it again though, with cardamom and glazed fruit, to get the je ne sais quoi that is missing!

  19. Rich Robbin says:

    First time ever having and making Hot Cross Buns. Your recipe was easy to follow. I did an Apricot Jam glaze (1 TBSP Apricot Jam and 2 tsp water. Heated in microwave and made sure blended well).

  20. I have made these twice and they are amazing!!!!

    Can I do the first mix/rise in the fridge overnight? I need tk have them ready at 8am and don’t really want to get up at 4 .30am

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Sure can! See overnight instructions in the recipe notes for details.

  21. These rolls are excellent!! Light, fluffy and just the right amount of sweetness. I made the glaze AND made the crosses out of thicker glaze. Grandchildren at them up!

  22. I made this recipe last year as written and it was great but I tweaked it a bunch this year and it was awesome. I swapped a 1/4 cup of the milk for fresh oj and added the zest of one orange. Then instead of raisins I added a cup of mini chocolate chips. Kept the spices as written too. The chips melted a bit during the rise and shaping which made for lovely little swirls but with plenty of intact chips. Skipped the cross but used the glaze as written. It was super good!

  23. Made these today for Easter. They were perfect! Thank you for such a lovely recipe.

  24. I have made this recipe twice. The first batch, I couldn’t get them to rise. I baked them anyways and they were like hockey pucks. I assume my yeast was old (hadn’t tested it). Second batch, I tested the quick rising yeast in advance and it bloomed nicely. I used a good quality local bread flour. Again, the first rise took 2 1/2 hours and the the second rise, 1 hr 45 minutes. I’m not seeing any other comments about rise time. Thoughts?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, I’m glad they worked the second time! Are you using active dry yeast? We use instant yeast which is what our times reflect. But you can definitely use either. Rise times will be slightly longer using active dry yeast – see recipe notes for details.

      1. Thanks for the reply- I actually used instant yeast on both occasions. The second rise time actually was two hours before I felt they had puffed up enough to be. I would say the second time around was a much better result although I did find these to be very dense. Not light and fluffy. Any other thoughts on this please feel free to share. I typically love your recipes!

    2. I had the same experience – the rising time was almost twice as long as the recipe called for. Fortunately I had lots of time and the final product was delicious!

  25. Corinne Iris Flax says:

    Made these today and they turned out wonderfully. Made some substitutions (used a Stevia/raw sugar blend for the light brown sugar, used 1/2 a cup of whole wheat flour instead of 1/2c AP), but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Worked out ideally, although I have to work on my bun forming skills.

  26. After decades of making the same tall and fluffy hot cross buns that take two days and yield thirty, I decided to go with something simpler. I was disappointed. These are oversweet, dense, dry and not what I was wishing for. Can’t picture kneading for only three minutes as accomplishing anything different. They were quite spicy though and that was popular.

  27. karen marie says:

    Fantastic hot cross buns!

    For some reason I have whole allspice instead of powdered. I finely crushed it in my mortar. It was terrific – more flavor punch than powdered which has been hanging out in the back of the cabinet.

  28. Elaine Calabro says:

    Made these today. Thanks for a great recipe. I eliminated the flour cross and made a thin glaze and a thick one for the cross. I also added Orange extract for more Orange punch for some of the o.j..

  29. Made these today. I had some left over mixed fruit from Christmas so I added it with the raisins! These are delicious!!! I made them into 12, not paying attention, and they are quite large; next time I will make 15!! A keeper for sure!

  30. I am not sure what went wrong, but your orange icing directions did not work. I made the orange icing as directed, but it was very runny so I kept adding icing sugar until I had put in about 2 cups, and it was still runny. Then when I poured it on the buns after a few minutes out of the oven, it just melted and drained everywhere. No cross is visible. Also, you butter them at the end when they come out of the oven in your video, but there is no mention of buttering in your directions. I’m afraid these were a big disappointment, and kind of a downer to have made them for my family on Easter Sunday.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sheri, Thank you for trying this recipe. The last step in the video (and the last photo in the post above) are the optional orange icing, not butter. It’s supposed to be very thin – almost like a glaze – so that you can still see the cross and it makes the buns look shiny. If you try it again and you prefer a thicker frosting you can actually skip the flour cross and make the cross with frosting instead.

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