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. 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 (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.
  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

59 Comments

  1. These look amazing Sally!!! From your description and the photos, they look so much better than store-bought ones – I’ve never made them at home before, but I’m definitely going to try these! So soft and delicious and my favourite Easter treat that’s not chocolate… 😉

  2. These look delicious! I definitely want to try this recipe… And another add-in option that I had from our local supermarket (UK) the other day… Chopped apples! It was out of this world yummy!! Thanks for all your inspiring recipes Sally.

  3. I am so excited to make these for our Easter dinner! Thank you for the recipe! I will let you know how they turn out.

  4. 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!

  5. These look so much better than the ones at the store! And I love the idea of adding in cardamom because that’s my fave spice. If I have time this week, I might give them a try. One (maybe weird?) question: what is the flavor and texture of the flour paste cross once it’s baked on top of the buns? I’m concerned it might detract from the taste. (I know we can sub the icing after the fact, but it seems like the flour is traditional so I’m very curious about it.)

    1. This is NOT a weird question at all! We’re 50/50 about whether we prefer with the traditional flour cross or the icing cross. The flour cross is flavorless, of course, and gets a *little* hard. But it’s still pretty chewy. Noelle (18 months) had no problem chewing that part of the roll. The icing cross optional is, of course, very tasty!

  6. Yum!!! These look great Sally! I’m hoping I’ll have time this week to make these!! know you’ve said in the past that you sometimes shop at Wegmans. I usually find currents in the section with all the bins of nuts and candy. I thinking currents would be so yummy in these! Thanks for all your delicious recipes!

      1. Hopefully you can find the currants! After reading my comment again I see so many typos! Apparently I wasn’t fully awake when I typed it!

  7. 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!

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

      1. 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.

  9. When I was a teenager, hot cross buns came from the bakers’ across the village green, and on Good Friday there was a steady stream of people going over to pick up their orders. If you timed it right, they would just have come out of the oven, and be so hot that you’d have to juggle the bag between your hands as you walked home, where they would be spread with butter and eaten!
    Hot Cross Buns are pretty much the only yeasted baking I do, and only at Easter. I make mini versions, which means I can eat 4 in a day and feel less guilty. Mine have raisins, sultanas AND currants in, you’ve got to go big with the fruit (although in the UK this year there is a trend for additions such ac chocolate chips and caramel to cater for the non-dried-fruit lovers). I also brush mine with golden syrup so that they’re good and sticky!

  10. Hello, Sally: I made these this morning for my office in a 9 x 13 glass pan. The outermost layer was perfect. The inner three looked beautiful, but they ended up gooey (a little undercooked). How do I fix this without overcooking the outer buns. BTW – I made mine with blueberries. SO delicious!

    1. Hi, I had the same issue and I think it might be because of the pan material – I used a ceramic dish and had to bake them longer to get the center cooked. I think I’ll try a metal pan next time, it always works fine when I make sweet rolls.

  11. Hi Sally,
    I remember eating Hot Cross Buns as a child but the cross was either made of a sweet custard or I’ve had it with a lemon jam like cross. Is it possible to make the flour cross sweet without making the cross hard?

    1. Hi Jodie! Sugar is sometimes added to the flour paste, so you could try that. OR top the baked rolls with the icing cross I reference in the notes. Let me know what you try. A lemon jam cross sounds delicious!

  12. Hi Sally! Love your recipes! Was wondering if I could add chopped mixed Citron peel if I reduce the raisins/currants? It’s just not the same for me without the Citron!

  13. Silly question…my husband likes sweet, sweet, sweet! Could I add the orange glaze and then the icing crosses on top of that?

      1. 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.

  14. Can you eliminate the fruit all together? My grandsons don’t like any of those options but I wondered if just the spices would provide good flavor and the orange icing would work.

  15. Your recipe sounds great can’t find my old one. I need to make 225 any suggestions for making the recipe into the volume I will need?

    I

    1. Hi Kathryn! So many buns! You can try doubling this recipe several times, but truthfully– you’ll get the best texture making each batch separately. Let me know how it goes.

  16. Hi Sally- I plan on making these this weekend. I’ve always wanted to but never have, until now! Wondering which do you use/prefer though, instant or active dry yeast?
    Also, I’m thinking I’ll need to do the overnight method. Do you think active dry yeast is better in that case?
    Thanks so much & Happy Easter! ✝️

    1. 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!

  17. I love all the spices. Adding cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice sound amazing! And your buns look better than the ones I get at our local bakery! I’ve got to try your recipe this Easter weekend.

  18. 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.

  19. 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)

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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!

    Cat

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