A pan of freshly baked Hot Cross Buns, made with an easy yeast dough that absolutely anyone can make. They’re spiced, just sweet enough, and studded with dried fruit— perfect for sharing with friends and family during Easter week and beyond.
Your Easter feast wouldn’t be complete without Deviled Eggs, Mini Ham and Cheese Quiches, and the Baked Ham of your dreams. Maybe a Danish Layer Cake to nibble on in-between chocolate bunnies. If that menu doesn’t put a spring in your step, hop over to Culinary Hill’s best Easter recipes, from ham to lamb. (Including a baked ham with a shockingly delicious Dr. Pepper glaze!)
According to folklore, if you share a Hot Cross Bun with a pal on Good Friday, your friendship will thrive the rest of the year. That’s probably the best reason ever to make this traditional Easter recipe!
Most importantly, don’t let the idea of working with yeast dough deter you from trying it. There are lots of good tips here, and most of the time involved is just waiting for the dough to rise. You'll still have plenty of time for coloring eggs, hiding eggs, and filling baskets.
In a few hours, you’ll be rewarded with delicious buns and quite possibly more friends than you thought!
Making Hot Cross Buns for Easter Sunday? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
The interesting history of Hot Cross Buns:
The history of Hot Cross Buns is an ancient one, starting in Greece in the 6th century and moving through Europe and England. In the 1300s, the cross-decorated buns were baked for the poor and distributed by Christian monks on Good Friday. Maybe because of their religious significance, some people believed that Hot Cross Buns, if made on Good Friday, could never go bad.
That’s not all. Hundreds of years ago, the buns were hung in kitchens to prevent fires, and ensure all the homemade breads made came out perfectly. They were also believed to heal the sick, and keep ships from sinking. In other words, people placed a LOT of responsibility on these buns.
Luckily, they’re also delicious. If you've never made them before, here’s what you need to make them and start your own tradition. (And if you also want to hang them in your kitchen, then let me know how long they last.)
Hot Cross Buns ingredients:
In addition to everything on the list, you’ll need a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment and a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish.
- Vanilla extract.
- All-purpose flour.
- Active dry yeast. For one batch of buns, you’ll need 2 packets. Is your yeast still okay? Find out below.
- Cinnamon. Some bakers prefer ground nutmeg, while others use a little of each. You can also use a bit of allspice or cardamom.
- Raisins. Or dried currants, golden raisins, or any chopped dried fruit such as candied orange peel, apricots, or dried cherries.
For the glaze:
- Powdered sugar.
- Vanilla extract.
How to make the Hot Cross Buns:
In case you are making that double batch we talked about, this walkthrough doesn't include specific quantities--have a peek at the recipe card at the bottom of the page for the details!
- To begin, mix together the warmed milk, melted butter, egg, and vanilla in a large measuring cup (preferably something with a pouring spout).
- Measure out the flour you need, but hold some (1/2 cup) back to add to the dough later; you may not need it all. Then add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a standing mixer: flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cinnamon. Turn the mixer on to a low speed, and drizzle the milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together—about 2 minutes.
- Next, add the raisins (or other fruit) and increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough is elastic and smooth—9 to 10 minutes. Check the dough at the halfway mark. If after about 5 minutes, the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add the remaining flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes away from the bowl.
- After the dough is mixed, turn it out onto a heavily-floured work surface and shape into a ball. Lift the ball of dough and place it inside a greased bowl, then spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
- Once the dough has risen the first time, it’s ready to be portioned out into buns. Get the baking dish ready by coating it with nonstick spray or lining it with parchment paper.
- Next, gently turn the dough out onto a floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Afterwards, roll each piece of dough into a smooth tight ball using a cupped palm, rolling it over your work surface. As you go, place each ball seam side down into the prepared baking dish.
- When finished, give the buns a light coat of nonstick spray, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and return it to the warm place to rise a second time. Let the buns rise again until doubled in size and touching, about one hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Next, make the egg wash, which is what makes the hot cross buns irresistibly glossy. Whisk together the remaining egg and water in a small bowl. Brush the wash over the risen buns just before baking.
- Then bake hot cross buns at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are a deep golden brown and the insides register 190 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer.
- Before glazing, let cool at least 30 minutes.
How to make Hot Cross Bun glaze:
Some recipes for Hot Cross Buns use a flour and water paste that gets piped across the top of each bun before baking. Then the whole bun can be glazed or iced afterwards.
However, this recipe uses a delicious, quick sugar glaze that is applied after baking. It’s vanilla-scented, but you can change up the flavor any way your bun-loving heart desires. Try a bit of orange extract and orange zest added to the powdered sugar, or lemon extract and lemon zest.
To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, water, and vanilla in a bowl. (Add a few drops of extract, or the zest of half an orange/lemon here, too, if you like.)
When smooth, dip a teaspoon in the glaze and drizzle in a line across the middle of each row of the barely warm buns. Then repeat the lines in the other direction, to form the cross.
Tips for making your best Hot Cross Bun:
- Check and double check your yeast. You want the yeast to be as excited about making the rolls as you are! Since yeast is a living organism, double check the expiration date on the package.How long is yeast good for? Opened packages of dry yeast (active dry or instant) can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 months, or even years in the refrigerator. If your yeast is older than this, it may still be good, but you should test it out. Here’s how; it’s a method called “proofing”: Mix together 1 teaspoon of sugar, 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast (the contents of one envelope) and 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. If the mixture bubbles and smells yeasty, your yeast is good to go!
If not, head back to the store—you might need new yeast.
- Let that dough rise. Depending on your kitchen’s temperature, the weather, or how many times people in your family leave the back door open, your dough may need a nice, warm, draft-free place to do its thing. The trick? Use your oven!Back in the old days, ovens had pilot lights that kept them just a tiny bit warm inside. However, modern ovens don’t have a pilot light anymore. But, all you have to do is preheat the oven to warm it up and create a perfect environment for yeast dough to rise. Not too warm, though, otherwise the yeast might die.
Turn on the oven to the lowest temperature possible (usually 200 degrees). As soon as the oven display registers a temperature (100-120 degrees) turn the oven off. Now you have a perfect space for bread dough or any yeast dough recipe.
Do this little trick at every stage in the recipe where you need to let the dough rise—it will make all the difference.
- Make ahead Hot Cross Buns. After forming the dough into balls and placing them in a baking dish, don’t let them rise the second time. Instead, slide the covered baking dish into the refrigerator up to 16 hours before you need them. When you’re ready, let them sit out at room temperature for one hour, until doubled in size, then apply the egg wash and bake.
- Scored Hot Cross Buns. If you prefer the look of incised buns, where the dough is scored to form a cross, that's easy to do. Before you brush on the egg wash and bake the buns, take a sharp paring knife and make a 1/4- inch X slice across the top of each roll. The cross will bake into the bun and form an excellent divot for the glaze to pool.
Hot Cross Buns Recipe
For the buns:
- 1 cup milk warmed, 110 degrees
- 1/4 cup butter melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or 2 packets
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raisins or currants
For the egg wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
For the glaze:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons water or more as necessary
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the buns:
- In a large measuring cup, whisk together warm milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Set aside.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cinnamon. With the motor running on low, slowly drizzle in the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.
- Add raisins and increase mixer speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, 9 to 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl (have pulled away) but stay attached at the bottom. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the side of the bowl.
- Turn out the dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (80 degrees to 85 degrees, see recipe notes) until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
- Coat a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper. Turn the risen dough out on to a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a tightly formed bun and place in the prepared baking dish, seam side down.
- Cover the buns with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray and let rise in a warm place (80 degrees to 85 degrees, see recipe notes) until doubled in volume and touching, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven 375 degrees. To make the egg wash, whisk together egg and water. Brush gently over the buns. Bake until the buns are deep golden brown and the interiors have reached 190 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely, ate least 30 minutes.
To make the glaze:
- Whisk together powdered sugar, water, and vanilla in a small bowl. Using a spoon, drizzle the glaze in a cross pattern on top of each bun (I found it easiest to do a long, continuous line in one direction across the buns in a row, and then repeat in a perpendicular direction for each row). If the glaze is too thick, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you can drizzle it.
- Preheat your oven to its minimum temperature (170 degrees, 200 degrees, etc.), but shut it off once the temperature reaches 110 degrees.
- Place your dough (in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap), on a baking sheet and in the oven. The oven temperature will drop when you open the oven door, but enough residual heat will remain that your dough should steadily rise.
- In this recipe, the dough should double in 90 minutes to 2 hours under these conditions.