These lightly sweet yeasted hot cross buns are delicately spiced and studded with plump currants. Synonymous with the Easter holiday, a cross is marked on top of each bun. They are traditionally eaten in reverence on Good Friday.
I’m making my keyboard a bit of a disaster as I type this blog post with jam on my fingers. These buns are to blame with their fluffy cotton-soft interiors. Just after baking I coated the batch with a fine sheen of melted apricot jam. This makes them lightly sweet. And so irresistible.
Most of you probably already know this bread has rich history with ties to the Easter holiday. Historically, they are eaten by people in Christian countries on Good Friday. The cross on top symbolizes the crucifixion. In some countries they are offered year-round, but to me they’ll always be a harbinger of spring.
Make the dough on a standing mixer, or it can easily managed by hand. The recipe begins in the usual way of making yeast rolls. Which is foaming the yeast. After the yeast is climbing the sides of the bowl, add in the rest of the ingredients. Mix until a shaggy, sticky dough forms.
Set a timer and knead with a dough hook or by hand for about 8 minutes. Allow it to stand until doubled in a buttered bowl, which takes about an hour in a warm kitchen.
Shaping the buns.
After the first rise, pat the dough into a rectangle and cut into 12 pieces (I used a pizza wheel). Shaping the buns is really easy, and this technique yields perfect buns every time.
Begin with a piece of dough laying flat on the work surface. Bring the edges together in the center and pinch them closed. Turn the dough over and lay it on the work surface. Lightly cup the bun under your hand and begin moving it in a circular motion so that the dough rolls under your hand.
I made two GIFs so you can see the technique in action!
Here I’m bringing in the sides of the dough. So simple.
Pinch the dough together. The pinched part of the dough will be slightly tacky. Loosely cup the bun under your hand as if you are holding a butterfly without harming its delicate wings.
Move your hand in a circular motion. The tacky part of the pinched dough will catch on the work surface. And the dough will roll itself into a tightened ball.
Pipe the cross.
Place the buns well-spaced on a large baking sheet. Some people like to place their buns touching, Parker House roll style, but spaced apart you can ‘cross’ the entire bun instead of just the tops.
There are two modes of crossing the buns. The first, and my preference, is to make a paste from water and flour and pipe it across the buns before baking. This is a mostly flavorless decoration that you won’t notice much during eating, except that it has a firmer texture than the surrounding bun. The second mode is to make a confectioners’ glaze which you’ll pipe across the buns after they’ve cooled.
These hot cross buns are very lightly sweet. If you have a sweet tooth as I do, glaze the buns with some melted apricot jam. They are really best the first day, but they’ll come back to their original softness with 20 seconds of heating in the microwave.
It’s always nice to have a bit of history on the table, and these buns hark back to medieval England (or even further back, which is a topic for a different blog entry). I plan to make these again as they were intended, for Good Friday. Aside from the religious and cultural significance they are delicious, puffy, yeasty buns that any baking enthusiast will want to try.
If you’re looking to fill Easter baskets, check out these Chocolate Chunk Malted Milk Brownies! They can be individually packaged and make a super chocolatey Easter treat!
Hot Cross Buns
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1/4 cup orange juice or red wine
- 1/2 cup water, (105-110F)
- 1/2 cup whole milk (105-110F)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast two 1/4 ounce packages
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus up to 1 cup more (120g)
- 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 large egg plus 1 tablespoon water beaten for egg wash
Flour cross option
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
- 4-6 tablespoons water
- 1/3 cup apricot jam melted, optional
Icing cross option
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Place the currants in a microwave-safe bowl and pour over the orange juice or wine; stir. Heat for 1 minute in the microwave; let stand until plumped, about 1 hour.
- Combine the water and milk in the large bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle in the yeast and add a pinch of the sugar and flour over the surface of the liquid. Set aside without stirring, until foamy and rising up the sides of the bowl, about 10-15 minutes. Using the paddle attachment mix in the butter, egg yolk and vanilla into the yeast mixture.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the flour, the remaining sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in a large bowl. Add to the yeast mixture and mix using the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon to make a thick, shaggy, and slightly sticky dough. Drain the currants and stir them in.
- Switch to the dough hook and set a timer for 8 minutes. Knead on medium low while adding additional flour to the bowl until the dough is elastic but still a little sticky (it should not cling to the top of the bowl, but may cling a little at the bottom of the bowl). Alternatively, Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 8 minutes. Shape into a ball. Coat a large bowl with butter. Put the dough in the bowl, turning to coat lightly with butter. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes.
- To form the rolls, turn the dough out of the bowl and pat into a rectangle about 16 x 8 inches. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, about 2.5 ounces each, with a pizza wheel or sharp chef’s knife. Bring the edges of a dough piece together and pinch together. Turn seam side-down on the work surface and cup lightly in your hand; roll bun in a circular motion until a tight bun is formed. Transfer to a large parchment-lined baking sheet; repeat process with remaining dough pieces. Space the buns 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 375F. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the tops of the buns with beaten egg wash.
- For the flour cross option, whisk the flour and 4 tablespoons of water together in a small bowl. Add more water if needed to make a pipeable batter. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag or a zip-top bag with a small hole snipped in one corner. Pipe a cross over each bun. Bake rolls until golden brown and puffy, and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the rolls registers 190 degrees F, about 25 minutes. Glaze with melted apricot jam while hot, if using.
- For the icing cross option, stir together confectioners’ sugar, milk, lemon zest and vanilla until smooth. Transfer icing to a zip bag or pastry bag, and make a small cut in the corner of the bag. Ice in a thick cross shape over the top the baked and cooled buns.