Hot cross buns are lightly sweetened, mildly spiced rolls with a distinct image of a cross that runs across the top. They are specifically associated with Good Friday, and have been for almost a millennium. Over time, hot cross buns in the U.S. became extremely sweet, and today are often criss-crossed with a sugary icing, but that isn't the recipe of yore. The original crossing mixture was more of a paste. Classic hot cross buns hold genuine symbolic value that can stand deliciously and proudly alongside any holiday baked treat.
A Quick History
The buns were first made by monks in honor of Easter throughout the United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland, and Britain. By the 16th century, they were so intertwined with Good Friday they appeared in verse: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns." Hot cross buns reign in the land of nursery rhymes and bakeries to this day.
The Real Deal
The early version of the crossing mixture — still made this way in Europe to this day — is not difficult. This recipe embraces the European versions. It makes great-looking crosses that consistently hold their shape and taste delicious. You lightly score the buns to form the shape of a cross making straight lines, and then a luscious paste is piped into the grooves.
The Magic of the Buns
Hot cross bun history features many a tale of good luck for those making, eating, and even keeping these buns. Great friendships are said to be sealed over a shared bun, and baking and eating them atavistically protects you from getting the evil eye. The bun itself is said to last from year to year, and was allegedly made into bread pudding. For those without special ancient powers, hot cross buns last for about two days.
How To Make Hot Cross Buns
Makes 24 buns
What You Need
- For the buns:
1 1/4 cups
(1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
finely grated fresh lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
finely grated fresh orange zest (from 1 orange)
ground nutmeg, or 6 to 10 scrapes from a whole nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks
(6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
dried currants or raisins
- For the crossing mixture:
egg, lightly beaten
- For the egg wash:
- For the glaze:
Lyle's Golden Syrup, or apple or apricot jelly
13x13-inch rimmed baking sheet
Piping bag fitted with a small, plain tip with a 1/4-inch opening, or a sandwich-sized ziptop plastic bag
Heat the milk. Place the milk in a small saucepan over low heat until warm to the touch but not hot (between 105°F and 115°F on an instant-read thermometer), about 6 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Dissolve the yeast. Add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Mix at low speed just until combined, about 20 seconds. Let stand in the bowl until the mixture is foamy, frothy, smells distinctly like yeast, and is beige in color, 5 to 6 minutes.
Mix the dry ingredients. Meanwhile, place the bread flour, all-purpose flour, lemon and orange zests, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl and whisk until combined.
Mix together. Add ½ of the flour mixture to the yeast mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Add the butter, 4 of the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla mix on low speed to combine, about 1 minute. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed to combine, about 1 minute.
Knead the dough. Switch the paddle attachment to the dough hook attachment. Mix on medium speed until the dough comes together, is smooth, and can be easily scraped down with a dough scraper; it won't completely clear the side of the bowl and will remain just a little sticky, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the fruit. Add the currants or raisins and mix on low speed until evenly distributed throughout the dough, about 1 minute.
Let the dough rise. Scrape the dough into a large, clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough has almost doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Prepare your pan and work surface. Meanwhile, line a 13x18-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Lightly flour a work surface.
Divide and roll. Transfer the dough onto the work surface and divide it into 24 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces or heaping 1/4 cup each). Roll 1 piece of dough into a ball (if the dough is too sticky, dust your hands very lightly with flour) and place on the prepared baking sheet, about 3/4 inch in from the edge. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the balls 3/4 inch apart, making 4 rows across and 6 rows down the length of the sheet. Flatten the balls with lightly floured fingers so that they are each about 2 inches in diameter.
Cover and rise again. Spray 2 large sheets of plastic wrap with cooking spray and place them side by side over the buns, sprayed-side down. Set aside in a warm place the let the buns rise until they are just barely touching, 40 minutes to 1 hour. Meanwhile, make the crossing mixture.
Make the crossing mixture. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the egg and milk and stir into a smooth a thick paste. Transfer into a piping bag fitted with a plain small tip with a 1/4-inch opening or a resealable plastic sandwich bag.
Heat the oven. 20 minutes before the end of the second rise, arrange a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F.
Slash the buns. Uncover the buns. Using a ruler as a guide, run a sharp knife down the center and through the tops of a row of buns to make a 1/8-inch-deep slash. Repeat with the other rows. Rotate the baking sheet 90 degrees. Repeat, making slashes to make lines that are perpendicular to the first slashes in each row. When finished, each bun should have a cross from end to end.
Pipe the crosses. (If using a sandwich bag for piping, snip off a bottom corner to make a ¼-inch opening.) Squeeze a line of the crossing mixture into the slashes on each bun, following the grooves from bun to bun and edge to edge so that the top of each bun has a filled cross. You may have some leftover filling.
Make the egg wash. Whisk the egg and water together in a small bowl. Gently but thoroughly brush the buns with the egg wash, avoiding brushing the filling.
Bake the buns. Bake until the buns are deep golden-brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of one of the buns registers read between 195°F to 200°F, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze.
Make the glaze. Place the syrup or jelly and water in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds. Stir until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Alternatively, use a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the jelly is fully dissolved and the mixture is warm; set aside.
Glaze the buns. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack. Immediately use a clean pastry brush to coat the buns well with the glaze.
Let the buns cool. Let the buns sit in the pan to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
Storage: The cooled buns can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.