What are Hot Cross Buns?
By Sally McKenney
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.
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!
We’ve been making these for years and I would love to share our family’s version here today.
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
1/2 cup (63g) all-purpose flour or bread flour
6–8 Tablespoons (90-120ml) water
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?” on my website at http://www.sallysbakingaddiction.com)
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.
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.
2nd Rise: Cover shaped rolls with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
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.
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.
Make the icing: Whisk the icing ingredients together, then drizzle or brush on warm rolls. Serve immediately.
Cover leftover rolls tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
About the Author: Sally McKenney is a professional food photographer, cookbook author, and baker who resides in Maryland with her family of four and her rescue dogs. Her kitchen-tested recipes and thorough step-by-step tutorials give readers the knowledge and confidence to bake from scratch. Sally has been featured on Good Morning America, HuffPost, Taste of Home, People and more. http://www.SallysBakingAddiction.com