As Easter approaches, I’m thinking about all the goodies that will be filling up my grocery cart pretty soon:
Marked with a cross, these spiced bread rolls are a fixture on many Easter tables, along with beautiful seasonal decorations and tableware.
While the cross now symbolizes the crucifix, there are many superstitions and legends that precede the popularized Christian meaning.
Though its exact origins are still unknown, there are numerous pagan references that the cross represents not a crucifix, but the astronomical moon and its four quarters.
Supposedly, with the Romans’ arrival in Britain, the clergy believed this bread threatened the church. However, because hot cross buns were so popular amongst the public, a complete abolishment of the recipe was futile.
Instead, the clergy blessed the buns, and switched the meaning of the cross from the moon to the crucifix.
English folklore said the hot cross buns baked on Good Friday would not grow mold or spoil throughout the coming year. Some believed that these buns held medicinal properties.
Others thought that if you hung one in the kitchen, fires would be prevented and all breads would turn out perfectly. Sailors would bring these buns along with them to ensure a safe voyage.
The sweetest of all folklore was that hot cross buns exchanged between friends would guarantee a lasting friendship.
Baking this recipe is a great tradition to start this Easter season – make a batch this year!Print
A traditional British Isles bread popular during Easter, sweet and fluffy hot cross buns are thought to be a sign of lasting friendship.
For the Dough:
- 1 cup whole milk, divided
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
- 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
For the Egg Wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
For the Icing:
- 2 cups vanilla buttercream frosting
- In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together on low speed the flour, salt, spices, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Switch to the dough hook and mix in the yeast mixture, softened butter, eggs, vanilla, and remaining 3/4 cup milk at medium-high speed. Mix in the currants, raisins, lemon zest, and orange zest.
- Knead the dough until soft and elastic, but still a little sticky, about 5-8 minutes.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl greased with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Roll the ball entirely in the oil. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and rest the dough at room temperature for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough. Turn the dough out of the bowl and pat into a large rectangle. Divide the dough into 3 roughly even ropes. Divide each rope into 5 pieces, yielding 15 pieces total. If using a scale, each piece should weigh about 3 ounces.
- Roll each dough piece into a smooth ball shape. Place each ball, seam side down, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Leave about 1/2 inch of space between each one, arranged 5 across and 3 down.
- Place a towel over the dough. Let it sit at room temperature until the balls double in size, about 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Prepare egg wash by beating 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush each bun with egg wash.
- Bake 20-25 minutes, or until the buns are browned and shiny on top.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Place the buttercream frosting in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe two lines of frosting across each bun to create a cross. Serve!
Foodal recommends using half of a batch of this rich and fluffy American-style Buttercream for the decorations.
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Bread
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Baked Goods
Keywords: hot cross buns, Easter, bread
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Make the Dough
In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup whole milk and 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. Mix in the yeast and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. This helps to jump-start the rising of your bread, to make it soft and fluffy.
We love the mix of warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice found in this recipe! You might need to find some extra storage for all of these, if you don’t have them on hand already – check out our review of the best spice racks.
Fit the bowl to the stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment. On medium-high speed, mix in the yeast mixture, softened unsalted butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Add the dried currants, raisins, and the lemon and orange zest.
If you don’t already have a zester or a microplane, then read our article on the top models to help you choose one.
Knead the dough on medium-high speed until soft and elastic, but still a little sticky. This will take about 5-8 minutes.
Step 2 – First Rise
Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl greased with a thin layer of a neutral-flavored vegetable oil. Roll the ball entirely in the oil.
Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and rest the dough at room temperature for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
If you have a warm spot in your home, definitely put it there to speed the rising process.
Step 3 – Shape
Punch down the dough. Turn the dough out of the bowl and pat it into a rectangle on a clean, flat work surface.
Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, divide the dough into 3 roughly even ropes. Divide each rope into 5 pieces, yielding 15 pieces in total.
I suggest using a kitchen scale for an accurate measurement to get even rolls. Each piece should equal about 3 ounces.
Using your hands, roll each dough piece into a smooth ball shape. Place each ball, seam side down, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Leave about 1/2 inch of space between each one. Place them in rows with 5 across, and 3 down.
Step 4 – Second Rise
Place a clean kitchen towel over the dough. Let the dough sit at room temperature until the balls double in size, for about another hour.
During this step, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Step 5 – Egg Wash
Combine one egg and a tablespoon of milk in a small bowl, and whisk them together. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the top of each roll with the egg wash.
This will give the buns a beautiful, shiny appearance when they are baked.
Step 6 – Bake
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the buns are browned and shiny on top.
Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before transferring the buns to a wire rack to cool completely.
Step 7 – Decorate
Use your favorite vanilla frosting to pipe crosses on the top of each cooled bun. I prefer to use a stiffer icing that will hold its shape, like Foodal’s American-style buttercream or Swiss meringue buttercream.
Serve and enjoy!
A Legendary Easter Treat
I hope you enjoy all of the fun origin stories and legends behind this recipe, just as much as you enjoy eating a freshly baked batch of hot cross buns with your family this Easter!
Have you heard of any of these legends before? Do you have any new tales to share that pair with this recipe? Entertain us all by leaving a comment below, after you rate the recipe.
If you had fun making these, check out our entire collection of breads that you can bake all year long.
For more Easter sweet treats, we have a delicious list for you to try:
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 27, 2015 by Jennifer Swartvagher. Last updated: November 11, 2020 at 13:39 pm.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.