This hot cross buns recipe makes sweet yeast rolls, topped with a simple cross of frosting. And they’re delicious!
Hot cross buns have a bit of a storied history. The question is, which story is accurate?
Is it the story out of the 12th century that has a monk baking the sweet rolls on Good Friday? Or did Queen Elizabeth I pronounce that hot cross buns were too freaking awesome (okay, maybe not those exact words) to have on any day but Good Friday, Christmas, or days of burial? Will they expel bad spirits? Make great friendships?
I’m not sure we’ll ever know!
Hot Cross Buns Are Favorites Worldwide
No matter what their history, these days the sweet rolls are traditionally available during Lent, the week leading up to Easter. The month of April is their time to shine in the sun!
Bakeries carry them so that their sweet goodness can be enjoyed as part of that tradition, but you can make your own buns right at home!
Flour — When I bake with all-purpose flour I opt for the unbleached version. Bleached flour is very white, but it’s also treated with bleaching agents that I don’t really need in my food.
Active Dry Yeast — This is the ingredient that gives the bread loft.
Butter — Allow the butter to come to room temperature for easy mixing.
Sugar — Use your favorite brand of granulated cane sugar. I prefer organic.
Raisins — I opt for organic raisins, as grapes (the fresh form of raisins) show up regularly on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list.
Milk — Use whatever milk you like to drink. Non-dairy will also work here.
How to Make this Recipe
This is a yeasted dough recipe, which means that the dough will need to be kneaded and given a chance to rise. If you have a bread machine, you’re golden! You can make the dough and let it rise right in the machine.
You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough automatically.
Or you can do it like that 12th century monk might have, and knead it by hand!
Begin by preheating the oven and greasing a 9×13 dish.
Make the Dough
In a bread machine: Add ingredients to your bread machine per the instructions for your specific machine. Otherwise, combine in a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Add dried fruit when the machine instructs you to, or by hand, working the pieces in when you turn the dough out onto a floured surface to form the balls of dough.
In a stand mixer: Place warm water and yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is bubbly. Add butter, powdered milk, sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white (yolk reserved,) cinnamon, and flour. Turn mixer on low and allow to knead for 6 to 8 minutes. Add dried fruit and allow to knead for a minute or two more.
By hand: Measure warm water and yeast into a large mixing bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is bubbly. Add butter, powdered milk, sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white (yolk reserved,) cinnamon, and flour. Use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to combine ingredients. When the mixture becomes too stiff for the spoon, use your hands to work the dough into a shaggy ball. Add dried fruit and allow to knead for a minute or two more. Turn prepared dough out onto a floured surface and knead to create a smooth surface.
No matter which method you’ve used to make the dough, turn the ball out onto a floured surface. Work the dried fruit in if you haven’t yet. Let rest for 10 minutes, then divide the dough into 12 pieces.
Form each piece into a ball and place in the prepared dish. Cover and let rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.
Brush on the egg wash and bake until golden.
Once cool, prepare the icing and pipe it in lines – otherwise they wouldn’t be hot “cross” buns!
What fruit is in hot cross buns?
Traditionally, raisins or dried cranberries are used – also sultanas. Some people even use brightly colored candied fruit, which is what you might use in fruitcake.
What is the meaning behind hot cross buns?
Some say the spices used to flavor the rolls represent embalming spices. The cross is meant to represent the cross of crucifixion. And finally, even the yeast can be said to represent “rising from the dead.”
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- ¾ cup water, 110 degrees
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon instant powdered milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 eggs, divided, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ¾ cups dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, or currants
- 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons milk
To Use a Bread Machine
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- In the order listed, place these ingredients into the bread machine: water, butter, powdered milk, sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white (yolk reserved,) cinnamon, flour, and yeast. Program using the dough cycle.
- Add the dried fruit when prompted to add ingredients OR when the cycle is completed.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat flat. Sprinkle with raisins and knead to combine. Cover and allow to rest for ten minutes.
- Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Form balls and place into the prepared casserole dish.
- Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for about one hour or until doubled in size.
- Whisk together the remaining egg yolk and water for the egg wash. Brush evenly over the rolls.
- Place the bread in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool on a wire rack.
To Use a Stand Mixer
Instead of steps 2 and 3 above:
Place these ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook: water, butter, powdered milk, sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white (yolk reserved,) cinnamon, flour, and yeast. Turn mixer on low and allow to knead for 6 to 8 minutes. Add dried fruit and allow to knead for a minute or two more.
To Knead by Hand
Instead of steps 2 and 3 above:
Place these ingredients into a large mixing bowl: water, butter, powdered milk, sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 egg white (yolk reserved,) cinnamon, flour, and yeast. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to combine ingredients into a shaggy dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until dough is soft and smooth. Add dried fruit and knead for a minute or two more.
For the icing:
- Mix the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk until smooth. Transfer into a piping bag or zip top freezer bag with the corner snipped. Squeeze icing parallel and perpendicular over each row of rolls to create crosses.
If you have instant yeast, you can substitute it 1:1 for the active dry version.
I don't recommend using bread flour, though you can. Bread flour tends to make a chewier dough where all purpose flour makes a more tender bun.
Some people like to add a little orange zest (the colored part of the orange peel) to the recipe. If you want to add a citrus flavor, add about a tablespoon of zest when you add the dried fruit.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 273Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 54mgSodium: 27mgCarbohydrates: 54gFiber: 3gSugar: 25gProtein: 6g
Originally published March 2021; this post has been updated.