The traditional sticky glazed spiced fruit buns with a sweet icing cross are easier to make than you realise. This soft dough is easily shaped, and makes tender, aromatic buns, ready for an icing cross on top.
A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top, traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, South Africa, India, and Canada, and now available all year round in some places. Hot cross buns may go on sale in Australia as early as New Year’s Day or after Christmas.
Hot Cross Buns
- ¼ cup apple juice, or rum
- ½ cup mixed dried fruit
- ½ cup raisins, or dried currants
- 1¼ cups milk, room temperature
- 3 large eggs, 1 separated
- 4½ tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, or allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1¾ teaspoons salt
- ¾ tablespoon baking powder
- 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg white, reserved from above
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- Lightly grease a 25 cm (10") square pan or 23 x 33 cm (9 x 13") pan.
- Mix the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm, and the plastic starts to "shrink wrap" itself over the top of the bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, till the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.
- Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk.
- Divide the dough into 12 ball-shaped pieces.
- Use your greased hands to round them into balls and arrange in the prepared pan.
- Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 190°C. (375°F ; Gas Mark 5)
- Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
- Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
- Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.
Cooks Notes & Variations
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History of Hot Cross Buns
In many historically Christian countries, plain buns made without dairy products (forbidden in Lent until Palm Sunday) are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, beginning with the evening of Shrove Tuesday (the evening before Ash Wednesday) to midday Good Friday.
The ancient Greeks may have marked cakes with a cross.
In the time of Elizabeth I of England (1592), the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. The punishment for transgressing the decree was forfeiture of all the forbidden product to the poor. As a result of this decree, hot cross buns at the time were primarily made in home kitchens. Further attempts to suppress the sale of these items took place during the reign of James I of England/James VI of Scotland (1603–1625).
English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone ill is said to help them recover.
Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time, so some say they should only be cooked one at a time. Because there is a cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.
- In the United Kingdom, the major supermarkets produce variations on the traditional recipe such as toffee, orange-cranberry, and apple-cinnamon.
- In Australia and New Zealand, a chocolate version of the bun has become popular; coffee-flavoured buns are also sold in some Australian bakeries. They generally contain the same mixture of spices, but chocolate chips are used instead of currants. There are also fruit-less, sticky date and caramel versions, as well as mini versions of the chocolate and traditional bun.
- In the Czech Republic, mazanec is a similar cake or sweet bread eaten at Easter. It often has a cross marked on top.
The traditional method for making the cross on top of the bun is to use shortcrust pastry; however, more recently recipes have recommended a paste consisting of flour and water.