Classic and traditional Hot Cross Buns, that can be made with raisins, currants and peel, if you like. Topped with an icing cross.
In all my years of having this site, I have yet to share my family’s traditional hot cross bun recipe. It’s not that I’ve been holding out on you, it’s just that I typically (traditionally) bake these on Good Friday and that always makes it too late to share on the site.
This year though, I’m one step, or more correctly, one year ahead of myself. These are, in fact, the hot cross buns that I made last year. I took photos and they have been sitting in my photo files ever since. And I almost forgot about them, but as I was browsing my photos earlier this week, there they were. So here they are, along with the recipe.
These are the hot cross buns my Mom always made. She always made them in a 9×13 pan, so they were sort of pull-apart style, rather than separate rounds. Maybe it’s just what I’m used to, but I kind of love the soft sides that this method makes.
Another thing that is a little different with these buns, from most, is the icing cross. As a child, it was easily my favourite part. As a fully grown woman, it’s still my favourite part of hot cross buns, as is probably obvious by the photos ;) And besides being a delicious addition to these buns, I can tell you that piping icing on top is a whole lot easier than piping the flour and water paste to make the cross! Win. Win. in my books :)
As noted, now that I’m the one making the buns, I go all out with the icing, using a nice big piping tip. You certainly can use less, but since hot cross buns are traditionally made to celebrate the end of Lent, it seems appropriate to me to be a little indulgent.
These buns have a nice variety of spices, but are actually lightly spiced as hot cross buns go. You can tweak the spicing to your taste, as you like. The one spice that will probably cause some to do a double-take is Mace. As this is an old recipe, it uses this lovely spice that was much more common years ago. Mace is not very commonly used today, but is still available to buy and a lovely addition to hot cross buns.
What is Mace and what can I use if I don’t have any?
Mace spice is made from the outer shell of the nutmeg kernel, so it’s flavour is similar, but more subtle and complex in flavour than nutmeg. If you can get your hands on some, it is a nice addition.
A good substitute for Mace is naturally, nutmeg and in most cases, can be substituted in equal amounts. In recipes that already specify nutmeg as an ingredient, usually along with other spices, consider just increasing the amount of all the spices marginally to make up for omitting the mace.
Cook’s Notes for Traditional Hot Cross Buns
Scalding the milk (heating to 180F) before using deactivates some proteins in milk that can inhibit yeast production. While not absolutely necessary, it is always a good idea if you can. If you don’t have a thermometer to test 180F, just remember that milk will boil at 212F, so 180F will be not to the boil, but at the point where there will be steam and small bubbles around the edge of the pan.
I have learned to love peel over the years, but if peel isn’t your thing, just omit it. I don’t always use it myself, but if skipping, I do like to add a touch of orange zest to the dough, just to add a bit of that citrus flavour.
If you like spicier hot cross buns, you can increase the spice amounts to 1 tsp for each.
Note that this recipe uses a triple rise, that is it is set out to rise to doubled, then punched down and allowed to rise again, before it is shaped into rolls and then set to rise a third time before baking.
I often make these buns in two loaf pans (9×5-inch works best), putting 8 buns in each pan. It’s great for sharing, as I usually keep 8 for myself and give 8 away. Alternately, arrange in a 9×13 baking pan, making 20 buns and arranging in 5 rows of 4 buns.
Top Tip! As you are shaping your dough into balls, be sure not to have any raisins exposed on the top of the buns, as they will burnt and taste bitter when baked. Simply push them into the dough, so they are covered up.
These rolls are best on the day they are baked. Like most enriched breads (lots of butter and egg), these will dry out at a faster rate. If you can’t eat them all up on the day they are baked, freeze them, even if it’s just for a couple of days. (They will not stay fresh from Good Friday until Easter Sunday).
As noted, these buns freeze beautifully after baking (before icing), so they can be made ahead and frozen. Keep in one piece and wrap well to freeze. Thaw on the counter overnight, still wrapped. Simply ice with the cross before serving.
Traditional Hot Cross Buns
Classic hot cross buns, that can be made with any combination of raisins, currants, peel or candied fruit you like. Makes 16-24 buns.
Hot Cross Bun Dough:
- 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup warm milk scaled to 180F, then cooled (*see notes)
- 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3 eggs lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup raisins plumped (**see notes)
- 1/2 cup currants peel or mixed candied fruit, or substitute a few more raisins and 1/4-1/2 tsp orange zest
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. ground mace
- 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp. ground allspice
Glaze: (after baking)
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp cream or milk
- 2 cups icing/confectioners' sugar
Scalding the milk: Heat milk in a small saucepan until steaming or 180F. Remove from heat and let cool to just barely lukewarm or room temperature.
Plump the raisins (if using): Place raisins in a small bowl. Cover with very hot or boiling water and let stand 15 minutes. Drain and dry well before adding to dough.
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water (about 110F) and the 2 tsp. sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with a kneading hook, combine the scalded milk, butter, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, vanilla and lightly beaten eggs. Beat in the yeast mixture. Beat in the flour 1 cup at a time, adding the spices with the third cup of flour, and desired raisins/peel/currants with the fourth cup of flour, making sure the fruit is well covered with flour before mixing in.
Start kneading with hands or mixer, adding only enough of the last cup of flour to keep dough from sticking. Knead at least 5 minutes. Place dough into a greased bowl, sprinkle lightly with flour, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk.
Punch down dough. Cover again with flour and damp cloth and leave to rise another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Divide dough into equal-sized pieces and form into balls as follow:
16 buns - to be baked in two loaf pans (9x5-inch works best) with 8 rolls in each
20 buns - to be baked in a 9x13 baking pan in 5 rows of 4
*I like to weigh the dough and divide that number by the number of buns I want to make, then weigh out each piece to that weight. That way all the buns will be exactly the same size.
Place into greased baking pan(s).
Set buns out to rise until doubled in bulk.
Bake in a preheated 350° F. oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped (or at least 190F when tested with an instant read thermometer). *Check them at 30 minutes and cover loosely with aluminum foil for the last part of baking, if already browned enough. They can seem "done" at about 30 minutes, but are probably not. Baking time should be at least 35-40 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare the sugar glaze by stirring together the sugar and hot water.
Remove from oven and immediately brush tops of buns with the sugar glaze.
Allow buns to cool for 8-10 minutes in pan, then remove (in one large piece) to a cooling rack to cool completely. (Do not separate buns until ready to eat, to keep them nice and soft inside).
Once cooled or before serving, prepare the icing by beating together all the icing ingredients. Start with 2 tsp cream or milk and add more, a tiny bit at a time, until icing is piping consistency. Use a pastry bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off to pipe a cross of icing on top of each bun.
*Scalding the milk: Place milk in a small saucepan and heat until it reaches 180F or until it is steaming and there are small bubbles forming around the outside edge of the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool to just lukewarm or room temperature before using. Scaleding removes some proteins in milk that can inhibit yeast production. While not absolutely necessary, it is always a good idea to do it, if you can.
**To Plump Raisins: place raisins in a bowl and cover with very hot or boiling water. Allow to sit in the water for at least 15 minutes, then drain and dry well before adding to dough.
If you like a spicier hot cross bun, you can increase the spices to 1 tsp of each.
Be sure to read the "Cook's Notes" included with this post, where I share some valuable tips, options, substitutions and variations for this recipe!