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Hot cross buns are a staple Easter holiday bread dating back—can you believe it?—all the way to the 11th century. According to The Smithsonian, a monk made the first version by etching a cross into the top of each ball of dough with a knife before baking the dinner buns on Good Friday. While some hot cross buns are still made by simply cutting an “X” into the dough, many modern versions get a pretty cross of sweet icing on top.
Our classic hot cross buns allow you to use both techniques: You’ll cut an “X” into the dough before baking the buns, then you’ll fill the indentations with sweet icing after baking. This technique lets you load on plenty of icing. It’s the perfect sweet treat to celebrate the day. Looking for Easter desserts? We’ve got you covered.
How To Make Hot Cross Buns
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
2 cups warm whole milk (110° to 115°)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup raisins
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 to 6 teaspoons whole milk
Sturdy spoon or electric mixer
Step 1: Make the dough
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Set it aside for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, soft butter, sugar, salt, spices, the yeast mixture and 3 cups of flour. Beat with a mixer if you have it on medium speed until smooth (or mix it with a sturdy wooden spoon). Stir in the currants, raisins and 3 to 4 cups more of the flour, until a soft, sticky dough is formed. Dust your counter well with flour and plop the dough out onto it. Knead dough until it’s smooth and soft. This takes about 6-8 minutes.
Test Kitchen Tip: Instead of using two ingredients, substitute either a full cup of dried currants or raisins for a half-cup of each.
Step 2: Let it rise.
Place the dough in a bowl you’ve lightly greased or coated with cooking spray. Once in the bowl, gently flip the dough so the bottom (which was touching the bottom of the bowl) is now on top. This gives you a nice, smooth, lightly oiled surface that won’t crack or dry out as the dough gently rises. Cover it with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 1 hour.
Test Kitchen Tip: A great place to raise your dough is in the oven. Let the oven run for just a few minutes to reach a slightly warm temperature (about 100 degrees). Get creative! Other good places to warm the bread is in the sunlight of a draft-free window or over the mantel if you’re burning a fire.
Step 3: Punch the dough down.
Bring the dough back to your work surface and punch it down in the bowl. That’s right, make a big fist and forcefully push down the ball of dough inside the bowl. Do this several times to help the air bubbles escape (this will give you nice, evenly shaped rolls).
Step 4: Shape the buns.
Turn the dough onto your lightly floured counter and shape it into balls (you’re looking to make about 30). To help you make rolls the same size, cut the dough into thirds with a sharp knife. Cover the other portions with a towel as you shape one portion into 10 buns. Place buns on greased baking sheets, allowing about 2 inches between them since they will rise again.
Step 5: Wait patiently as they rise.
Cover the buns with clean kitchen towels, return to a warm draft-free spot and let them rise for 30-45 more minutes. (They will almost double.)
Step 6: Slash a cross in each roll and bake.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk the egg yolk and water; gently brush over the tops. Use a small sharp knife to cut an “X” in the top of each roll right before you pop them in the oven. Don’t be shy—this will form an indent to catch the yummy icing! Cut a good 1/4 inch deep or more. Bake the buns until for golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you’re having trouble getting a clean cut, try using a small serrated knife. Slice decisively!
Step 7: Cool ’em a bit.
Remove the rolls to wire racks to let them cool slightly. This allows air to circulate around them so they stay nice and crisp—and don’t get soggy on the bottom.
Step 8: Ice those pretty babies.
In a small bowl, mix the confectioners’ sugar and enough milk to reach a thick but pipeable consistency. Pipe a cross on top of each. Serve the buns warm.
Test Kitchen Tip: Remember, the icing will thin a little when it comes in contact with the warm buns. So keep it on the thicker side.
Step 9: Enjoy!
Your sweet, lightly spiced hot cross buns are ready to devour. You just may have discovered a new tradition for your Easter or Good Friday meals.
Now that you’ve mastered shaping hot cross buns, it’s easy to expand your bread-baking repertoire. Here are a few ideas:
- Boost the flavor: Substitute orange juice for half of the milk in the dough and mix in 3 to 4 teaspoons of grated orange peel along with the dried fruit.
- Go healthy: Make a nod in the health-conscious direction by subbing in 3 cups whole wheat flour instead of using 100% all-purpose.
- Get baking: Show off your shaping skills and bake up a simple batch of homemade pan rolls in a 9×13-in. pan for your next dinner.