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Easter Hot Cross Buns: Easy to Make Ahead for Good Friday

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Easter Hot Cross Buns: When I think of Easter and the foods we serve, several immediately come to mind. Hot Cross Buns are always on that list!

Closeup top view of an Easter Hot Cross Bun on a lace linen.

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Ham always makes the list, but so does this fruited rice pilaf. Hard-boiled eggs, a traditional coconut bunny cake, and chocolate Easter eggs are also musts.

But Hot Cross Buns… It wouldn’t be Easter without them.

History of Hot Cross Buns

While the exact origins of hot cross buns are unclear, it is generally agreed they go back to a 12th-century Anglican monk who baked sweet buns for the poor on Good Friday and etched a cross in each bun to celebrate the Easter holiday.

Easter Hot Cross Buns: Easy to Make Ahead for Good Friday | 31Daily.com

The first definite record of hot cross buns, however, comes from a 16th and 17th-century text stating:

“Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs,
with one or two a penny hot cross buns.”

Hot Cross Buns and the Queen Elizabeth 1

Centuries later, Queen Elizabeth I limited the sale of sweet buns to 3 specific occasions.

The reason, Smithsonian Magazines says, “They’re too sacred to eat any old day.”

They continue: “In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could no longer be sold on any day except for Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. They were simply too special to be eaten any other day. To get around this, FoodTimeline explains that people baked the buns in their own kitchens—although if they were caught they had to give up all of the illegal buns on their premises to the poor.”

Ancient Records of Hot Cross Buns Recipe

A fascinating mention of an earlier origin in Sue Ellen Thompson’s Holiday Symbols and Customs:

“When archaeologists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ash and lava since 79 C.E., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins.”

An early hot cross bun?

Here’s how to make your own…

But first.

Side view of stacked buns with pussy willows and a lace linen.

Two Ways to Make the Cross in Hot Cross Buns

The distinctive cross on hot cross buns can be made in two ways.

1. Icing:
This is the easiest of the two crosses. A piped cross can be added after the buns are baked by making a simple icing.

2. Pastry: 
Roll out store-bought pastry very thinly (about 1/8-inch thick) and cut into narrow strips. Apply the egg wash to the buns just before baking and place two strips on each bun to form a cross. Bake.

Ingredients You Will Need:

Ingredient measurements are in the recipe card below, but here is a quick list of what you will need to make my version of these sweet treats:

  • All-purpose flour (or bread flour)
  • Instant yeast
  • Milk: whole milk is best
  • Granulated sugar
  • Melted Butter
  • Seasonings: salt, ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and citrus zest. I prefer orange zest in this recipe, but you could also use lemon zest
  • Large egg
  • Dried fruit like currants or raisins

How to Make Hot Cross Buns

Full step-by-step instructions are in the recipe card below, but this will give you a quick overview of how to make these buns.

Step 1: Warm milk and proof yeast

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl or stand mixer base. Then stir in the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt.

Step 2: Make the dough

Add flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, egg, raisins, and orange zest to the yeast mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough.

Step 3: Knead the dough

Once the dough comes together, knead until smooth and elastic; about 3-4 minutes in a mixer or 5-7 minutes by hand.

Step 4: First Rise

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until dough doubles.

Step 5: Shape the buns

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, divide into 12 equal portions and shape into a smooth ball (more directions in the recipe card). Place in a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan, cover, and let rise until doubled; about one hour more.

Once doubled, if making pastry crosses, do this before baking. If you’re making icing crosses, you can skip this step. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Step 6: Bake the buns

Whisk together the egg wash and brush over each bun. Bake the buns for 18 to 24 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Do not over-bake. Transfer buns to a rack to cool.

Closeup view of a Hot Cross Bun detail with a pastry cross.
Easter Hot Cross Buns: Easy to Make Ahead for Good Friday | 31Daily.com

Easter Hot Cross Buns

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 27 minutes

It isn't Easter without Hot Crossed Buns. You can buy them, but they'll never be as good as those you make yourself! Here's how...

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast or fast-action yeast
  • 1 cup warm whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl or stand mixer base. Then stir in the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt.
  2. To the bowl, add 2 cups of the flour along with the allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, egg, raisins, and orange zest. Beat until smooth.
  3. Stir in enough remaining flour to make the dough easy to handle.
  4. Knead the Dough: Knead the dough in the stand mixer for 3 to 4 minutes, or knead by hand for about 5 minutes. Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic
  5. First Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to grease the top. Cover and let rise until dough doubles (about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours).
  6. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half and shape into equal size logs, about 6 inches. Cut each log crosswise into 6 equal pieces and shape it into a smooth ball. Place each ball in a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled; about one hour more.
  7. When ready to bake: preheat the oven to 375-degrees.
  8. Pastry Crosses: While the dough is rising for the second time, roll out the ready-made pastry very thinly (about 1/8 inch thick) and cut into thin strips. Just before baking, brush buns with the egg wash and arrange two strips of pastry on each bun top to form a cross; trim the ends with the bottoms of the buns. If you're making an icing cross, skip this step but do brush the buns with egg wash before baking.
  9. Egg Wash: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white, water, and sugar. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg wash.
  10. Bake: Bake the buns in the center of the preheated oven for 18 to 24 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Do not over-bake. Transfer buns to a rack to cool.
  11. Icing Crosses: Whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Transfer the icing to a pastry bag (or a sandwich baggie with a very small tip cut in the corner) and pipe an “X” on each cooled bun

Notes

Pastry Crosses:

  • If making pastry crosses: While the dough is rising for the second time, roll out 1 9-inch store-bought pie crus until thin, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into thin strips. Just before baking, brush buns with the egg wash and arrange two strips of pastry on each bun top to form a cross; trim the ends at the bottom of each bun. If you're making an icing cross, skip this step but do brush the buns with egg wash before baking.

Icing Crosses:

  • The easiest of the two crosses. By making a simple icing, a piped cross can be added after the buns are baked. Combine 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, and 2 tablespoons milk and adjust as necessary for consistency.

To Make Ahead:

  • These Hot Cross Buns are easy to freeze. When cool, and before piping icing, wrap in plastic wrap and then foil; store in the freezer. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and reheat foil-wrapped buns in a 325-degree oven until warm. If icing, follow the directions above before serving.

Honey Butter

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ½ tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Using a mixer, whip butter, and honey together until smooth. Fold salt in gently with a rubber spatula. Serve soft or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 165Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 27mgSodium: 130mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 1gSugar: 20gProtein: 2g

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More Inspiration: Mary Berry’s Buns Recipe

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7 Comments

  1. Stephanie, I have heard of hot cross buns and for Easter, I used your recipe and was knocked over with the flavor! The looked beautiful and tasty. Am making them tomorrow for 55 and over club. Thank you , Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed these hot cross buns! I love the flavor too and make them every year at Easter. But honestly, they are so good any time of the year. I hope you club members enjoy them too.

    1. Hi Sydnee — add the orange zest with the raisins. I’ve updated the instructions. Thank you!!

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