Hot Cross Buns are sweet spiced buns filled with dried fruit (typically raisins or currants), marked with a cross on top, and are traditionally eaten during Lent – especially on Good Friday.
Dating as far back as 12th-century England, these doughy buns have become a holiday staple all over the world, with rich history, unique traditions, and tall-tales surrounding them. Superstition has it that hanging these buns from your rafters on Good Friday would not only ward away any bad spirits, but they would not grow stale or show any signs of decay (but they must be replaced the next Good Friday!). Legend also has it that anyone who shares a hot cross bun will guarantee a strong friendship for the upcoming year.
Hot cross buns were considered to be so sacred that in 1952, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law stating that hot cross buns could only be sold by bakers on Good Friday, Christmas, and during burials. This caused more people to make buns in their own kitchen in secret, and eventually the law became too difficult to enforce.
I had been wanting to try my hand at these buns for some time and found a recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen. Natasha’s beautiful blog features hundreds of Ukrainian and Russian recipes, and I loved how simple her version was.
The steps were simple to follow and most of my time was spent letting the bread rise. Many soak their dried fruits in rum before baking, but this recipe called for the raisins to soak in boiling water for 10 minutes, which allowed them to soften and plump. And while her original recipe uses whole milk, I only had almond milk on hand, which worked just fine. (It’s important to remember to use warm milk and not hot milk. The first time I tried this recipe my milk was too hot which instantly killed the yeast. Don’t be like me, folks!)
Traditionally, the cross on the buns were either cuts in the dough or a paste made of flour and water, but in more modern times, the cross has become a sweet glaze of powdered sugar and milk.
These buns smelled amazing coming out of the oven last night and were the perfect amount of sweet and fluffy. It’s best served warm, so heat leftovers in the microwave for 10 seconds and spread with butter, if desired.
- ½ cup raisins, currants, or craisins + 1 cup boiling hot water
- ¾ cup warm milk, divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup (I used almond milk)
- ½ cup white sugar + ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ cup (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened 15 seconds in microwave
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 envelope active dry yeast (about ¾ Tbsp or 2¼ tsp)
- 2 large eggs, well beaten
- 3½ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp (a large pinch) ground nutmeg
- 1 egg, well beaten with 1 tsp water
- ½ cup Powdered sugar mixed with 2½ tsp Milk
- In a small bowl, combine ½ cup raisins/craisins with 1 cup boiling hot water. Let sit 10 min then drain well and set aside.
- In a large measuring cup, combine ¼ cup very warm milk with ½ tsp sugar and sprinkle ¾ Tbsp yeast over the top. Stir and let sit at room temp until bubbly and doubled in volume (10 min).
- In a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer), combine ½ cup very warm milk with ½ cup sugar, 4 Tbsp softened butter and ½ tsp salt. Stir until butter is melted. Add 2 well beaten eggs and proofed yeast mixture. Stir in ¼ tsp ground cinnamon and pinch of ground nutmeg.
- Using the dough hook attachment mix in 3½ cups flour, 1 cup at a time until soft dough forms. Knead 8-12 min or until smooth and elastic. Dough will still stick a little to the bowl but not to your fingers.
- Add drained raisins/craisins (pat them dry with paper towels if they still seem too wet) and transfer dough to a large buttered bowl, turning it to bring the buttered side-up. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free room 1½ hours or until doubled in volume (you can also proof in a warm 100˚F oven).
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half then continue cutting dough until you have 12 equal sized pieces. Roll dough into balls and transfer to a buttered 9x13" baking pan. Cover with a tea towel and let them sit in a warm, draft-free room 30 min until puffed.
- Now you should preheat your oven to 375˚F. Generously brush the tops with egg wash and bake for 15-17 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan.
- Once buns are just warm (not hot), stir together the ½ cup powdered sugar and about 2½ tsp milk. You can add more powdered sugar to thicken it up if needed. Transfer glaze to a ziploc bag, cut off the tip of the bag and pipe a cross shape over each of the buns.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
- If kneading by hand, use a wooden spoon to stir at step 4, then turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead 8-12 min using just enough flour to prevent sticking to your hands.