Traditional Hot Cross Buns

The world famous sweet yeasted buns enjoyed throughout the Easter holidays or all year long, these Hot Cross Buns are packed with flavor and all of the charm of their long, rich history!  This traditional hot cross buns recipe will ensure your success and is sure to become your go-to from now on!

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns yeast currants raisins mixed spice

What are Hot Cross Buns?

Hot cross buns are a sweet, yeasted buns made with currants or raisins, candied citrus peel, and mixed spices.  They are marked with a cross shape on top representing Christ’s crucifixion and are traditionally eaten on Good Friday and during the Easter holidays.

History of Hot Cross Buns

The concept of sweetened buns inlaid or decorated with religious symbols goes back to ancient times with the Egyptians, the Greeks, and later the Romans.  In fact the English word “bun” is a derivative of the Greek word “boun” which referred to breads and cakes used for ceremonial purposes.  The Christian adaptation of these buns, which would later become known as Hot Cross Buns, originated in England in the 14th century (likely introduced much earlier by the Romans) and have been associated with the Easter holiday ever since.

The precursor of the hot cross bun was the Alban Bun, developed by a 14th century monk, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, at St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, an hour and a half directly south of where I lived outside of Peterborough.  In 1361 he created a sweet yeasted bun with a cross cut into the dough on the top and distributed the buns to the poor on Good Friday.  Though no longer available for free, these buns are still made and sold every Easter at the cathedral in the Abbot’s Kitchen where you can enjoy them freshly baked to go or you can sit down with a cup of tea.  The recipe remains a carefully guarded secret but includes flour, eggs, yeast, dried currants, and cardamom (earlier versions likely included a spice from the ginger family known as grains of paradise).  The recipients of the Alban Buns enjoyed them so much that word began to spread and soon other areas of the country worked to imitate the buns.

st albans cathedral alban buns

St Albans Cathedral  © Anna Moskvina | Dreamstime

One such imitation was the hot cross bun and it featured a few differences:  it included additional fruit such as candied citrus, additional spices, and instead of a cross cut into the dough, a cross made from extra dough was laid across the tops before baking, and then brushed with a glaze.  While we don’t know exactly when hot cross buns first surfaced, the first official record we have of them is from a London street cry that was published in a 1733 edition of Poor Robin’s Almanac:  “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns!”  By the 1800’s, hot cross buns were well established and traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent.  While Alban Buns can only be purchased in St. Albans, hot cross buns can be purchased throughout the UK and in many parts of the world.

Hot cross buns are still traditionally enjoyed at Easter time but are available all year long in the UK.  Each bun is decorated with a cross, representing Christ’s crucifixion, and made with spices, representing the spices used to embalm Christ.

How Long Do Hot Cross Buns Keep?

As with most baked goods, these are best straight out of the oven.  However they will keep for a couple of days and they’re also delicious cut in half and toasted.

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns yeast currants raisins mixed spice

Hot Cross Buns Recipe

Let’s get started!

I like to soak the fruits first so that they’re plump and juicy.  I like to follow the Welsh and Irish tradition of soaking the fruits in black tea (see Bara Brith and Barmbrack) but you can use apple juice instead or, if you prefer a strong flavor, you can use rum.

Pour the hot tea or apple juice over the dried fruits, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for about an hour until the fruit has absorbed the juices.  This can be done well in advance such as the day ahead or overnight.

preparing dried fruits

Place the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.

Add the eggs, butter, and milk.

combining flour sugar yeast eggs milk

Use the dough hook to knead the mixture into a smooth and elastic dough, about 5 minutes.

Add the dried fruit and continue to knead the dough another 2 minutes or two until the fruit is incorporated.

kneading dough with dried fruits

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

I like to briefly heat the oven to 80-90 degrees F (not any hotter!), place the dough inside the oven, and close the door to rise.

Rising time will vary depending on the temperature.  Give it at least one hour but it might take closer to 2 hours.

letting dough rise

Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces.

For each piece into a ball and place it on a lined baking sheet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm place for up to another hour until they’re puffy and nearly doubled in size.

Halfway into the rise preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Baking Options

You can either place the buns closer together on the baking sheet so that once they’re baked you’ll need to pull them apart to separate them from each other and they will be more square-shaped.  This is how they often come packaged in the store.  Or you can space them farther apart so that you have distinctly separate and round buns (my personal preference).

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns raisins currants

The next step is to pipe or place crosses on top of each bun.

Piping Options

You have a few options for making the cross symbol on top: 1) Make a small batch of shortcrust pastry (follow this recipe for the shortcrust pastry), form it into thin strips and lay them in a cross pattern on top of the buns before baking.  2) Make a paste out of flour and water and pipe crosses on the buns (combine 1/4 cup flour with about 3 tablespoons of water to make a thick, gluey paste.  Use more or less water as needed.  Place the paste in a sandwich bag and cut off a corner of the bag to squeeze the paste onto the buns, or use a pastry bag.).  3) Make a sugar icing and pipe crosses on the buns after they’re baked and cooled (combine 1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3 teaspoons milk, give or take, to form a thick “pipeable” icing).

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns raisins currants

Bake the buns on the middle shelf for 15-20 minutes until they’re a deep golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom.

Glaze the buns as soon as they come out of the oven while they’re hot.

Glazing Options

You have a few options for the glaze:  1) Make a glaze with 1/4 cup water and 1/4 sugar by placing the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, and brush it over the hot buns when they come out of the oven.  2) Heat 3 tablespoons of golden syrup in a small bowl in the microwave and brush it over the hot buns.  3)  Gently melt some apricot jam in the microwave and brush it over the hot buns.

Let the buns cool.

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns yeast currants raisins mixed spice

Serve the buns while they still slightly warm or cooled.  Slice the buns and spread with butter, clotted cream, jam, or honey.

These will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days.  Leftover buns are best eaten sliced and toasted.

Enjoy!

hot cross buns recipe traditional english british authentic easter st alban buns yeast currants raisins mixed spice

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