Not long now until Easter! Every day there is more green on my daily walk and the sun shines a little brighter and hotter. Among the patches of wild garlic, bright yellow daffodils are bobbing about and the supermarkets are piled high with as many tulips as Easter eggs. And what would Easter be without some sticky Fruity Hot Cross Buns?
Why do we eat Hot Cross Buns at Easter?
While we eat them now at Easter, the origins of buns marked with crosses are much older. Dating at least back to Roman times, they were originally dedicated to the goddess Diana, and later baked for Pagan celebrations of the goddess Eostre. It was only later that they were brought into the Christian culture.
So these are some seriously holy buns!
Yes! In fact, the buns became such a symbol of holiness during the Tudor period that Queen Elizabeth I forbade the sale of hot cross buns at any other time that burials, Good Friday and Christmas Day (take note modern supermarkets, we see you selling them in January and we don’t like it 😂.)
Bread baking in spring is part of many cultures
While Hot Cross Buns have come to be associated with Christianity, sweet bread baking is a ritualistic part of this season in many cultures. Greek ‘Tsoureki’, Hungarian ‘Kalach’, Italian ‘Colomba Pasquale’, German ‘Osterbrot’ are all served around Easter time.
Here in Bavaria, Easter Sunday is usually a true feast day, after the long Lenten fast. A day for good food, time spent with family and friends and the promise of sunny days to come as winter draws to a close. I like to bring a little bit of my own culture here by baking Hot Cross Buns to share with friends and family.
OK, enough with the history lessons, what’s so good about hot cross buns?
I don’t know whether these buns have holy powers as the Elizabethans believed, but I do know the wafting aroma of sweet spiced bread has a magical way of filling the house and encouraging hungry hoards to descend on the kitchen. For those of us who grew up eating them, the smell of hot cross buns toasted and buttered is like a time machine straight back to childhood.
So what is in hot cross buns?
I like to load my hot cross bun dough up with fruit like dried apricots and raisins or sultanas. I also add candied orange peel, then serve them hot, smothered with salty butter. Delicious. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, you can simply leave it out altogether, or try it with chocolate chips instead. (The Queen’s former chaplain is not a fan of this idea, but I think it is fabulously decadent!)
Are hot cross buns hard to make?
Not at all! This is an easy Hot Cross Bun recipe. These buns are fairly forgiving and with all their lumps and bumps from the fruit and raisins they don’t need to be perfect to be tasty. They are great for making with kids too, so a great way of filling in some time during the Easter holiday. Give them a try and see!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t have a kitchen machine to knead the dough! Can I still make hot cross buns?
Of course! As usual, the machine is just a way to make things a little easier, but if you are prepared to use a little muscle you can make hot cross buns by hand. Rather than kneading with a machine, stir together with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured surface, dust the dough with a tablespoon of flour and knead by hand for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add extra flour as necessary so that the dough isn’t too sticky to handle. Knead the fruit and sultanas through at the end.
I hate raisins!! Is there an alternative?
Yes! Replace with dried cranberries, chopped apple, or to be super indulgent, chocolate buttons or chocolate chips. Feel free to experiment with spices but it is worth being heavy-handed with the cinnamon and mixed spice, the aroma alone is worth it.
Can you freeze Hot Cross Buns?
Of course! Wait until the buns are completely cold, then wrap individually and freeze.
What can I do with leftover Hot Cross Buns?
They are great toasted the next day. After that, why not try bread and butter pudding or French toast?
Baking with kids? Don’t forget the Hot Cross BUn Song!
- 200 ml milk
- 21 g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
- 500 g (3 cups) flour, separated 300g / 200g flour
- 50 g (4 Tbsp) sugar
- zest of 1 lemon or orange
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice (U.S: Pumpkin Spice)
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1 tsp salt
- 50 g (3.5 Tbsp) unsalted butter, very soft
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 100 g (3.5 oz.)raisins or sultanas
- 100 g (3.5 oz.) dried apricots, diced
- 2 Tbsp candied orange peel, optional
for the crosses:
- 50 g (6 Tbsp) plain flour
- 4-5 Tbsp water
for the glaze:
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 3 Tbsp hot water
- WARM THE MILK: Begin by heating the milk slightly in a small saucepan until it is just warm. Remove from the heat, sprinkle or crumble over the yeast and set aside.
- MAKE THE DOUGH: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook fitted (see note 1) combine 300g flour, sugar, zest, spices and salt. While mixing, add the butter and egg, then stir the milk and yeast mixture and pour it into the bowl. Run the mixer on high until the ingredients are combined, then with the mixer on low add the remaining flour. Knead for 5 minutes.
- CHECK THE DOUGH: After 5 minutes the dough should be moving freely around the bowl of the mixer, and only lightly sticky. If it is still a little liquid or sticking to the sides of the bowl add one tablespoon of flour and knead for another minute.
- ADD FLAVOURINGS: Add the raisins, chopped apricots and peel (if using) to the dough and knead until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
- LET THE DOUGH RISE: When the dough has finished kneading, shape it into a ball - it should feel soft, springy and elastic - don’t worry if it’s a little sticky, this is normal, just dust it with a little flour if it makes it easier to handle. Place it back in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth or some cling film and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour until doubled in size.
- HEAT THE OVEN: Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F and line a rectangular dish with baking paper. Turn the dough out of the bowl, divide into 8 equal-sized pieces (I find it is always easier to weigh the pieces to make sure the hot cross buns are uniform in size).
- SHAPE THE DOUGH: Roll each piece of dough into a tight ball and place into the prepared baking dish - just barely touching each other. Cover the dish with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for half an hour while you prepare the paste for the crosses.
- BAKE: To make the crosses, stir together the flour and water to make a thick paste. Spoon the paste into a piping bag or disposable freezer bag (you'll need to snip off the corner) and carefully pipe crosses onto the buns which should be beginning to rise again. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the tops are golden brown and the buns are well risen.
- GLAZE: While the buns are baking, stir together the ingredients for the glaze. As soon as you take the buns out of the oven, generously brush the glaze over them while they are still piping hot.
- COOL AND SERVE: Allow to cool a little, then enjoy warm, smothered with salted butter.
If you don't have a kitchen machine, stir together with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface, dust the dough with a tablespoon of flour and knead by hand for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add extra flour as necessary so that the dough isn’t too sticky to handle. Knead the fruit and sultanas through at the end.
Imperial and Cup measurements are approximate. For best and most accurate results I recommend using a digital scale like the one below.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 bun
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 518Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 39mgSodium: 323mgCarbohydrates: 105gFiber: 6gSugar: 41gProtein: 12g
Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.