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Orange scented Hot Cross Buns recipe
Flavor packed, slightly sweet hot cross buns
I love the orange zest and spice combination in these hot cross buns, especially paired with juicy, sweet raisins.
While these buns are easy to make with minimal time hands-on, they do need 4 to 4 1/2 hours for the two rise times.
Unfortunately, this lengthy time makes it hard to serve these buns for breakfast. However, we’ve included make-ahead directions so you can mix, assemble, rise, cover and refrigerate, then bake the buns in the morning for breakfast!
Hot cross buns are traditionally served during Lent and for the Easter holidays. English folklore says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or mold during the coming year.
I don’t know about you but these never last that long in our house! I guess we’ll never know.
For the buns:
- raisins – you can use dark or golden raisins or a combination of both as I’ve done here. You can also substitute currants if desired.
- fresh orange zest and juice
- warm water between 100 and 105 degrees F
- 3 large eggs
- unsalted butter, melted
- all-purpose flour
- granulated white sugar
- instant or rapid-rise yeast
- cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
For the egg wash and glaze:
- one large egg lightly beaten
- apricot jam for brushing on hot buns (optional)
For the icing:
- powdered sugar
- fresh orange juice
- a pinch of table salt
- a drop of vanilla extract (optional)
Overview: how to make hot cross buns
1. Soak the raisins
The first step is to hydrate the raisins and plump them up before adding to the dough. Combine the raisins, orange juice and orange zest in a microwave safe small bowl or measuring cup.
Microwave on high for 30 seconds, stir then repeat. Set aside while preparing the dough.
2. Prepare the dough:
Combine the warm water, eggs and melted butter.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Attach the dough hook to a stand mixer.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and knead the dough on medium speed until smooth. The dough will be sticky and wet, this is normal. Add up to 2 extra tablespoons of flour if needed.
Drain the raisins and add to the dough. Coat a clean large mixing bowl or food storage container with vegetable cooking spray. Turn the dough out into the clean bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 1/2 hours.
3. Form the rolls:
Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle additional flour over the top of the dough. Gently form into a log. Cut the log in half, then cut each half into 6 equal size pieces.
Form each into a ball by pulling the sides down to the bottom pinching the pieces together to seal. This creates a smooth top for each bun.
Place the dough balls in the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Bake the buns:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush each bun with a lightly beaten egg to give them a nice shiny exterior.
Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 190 degrees F.
Remove from the oven and immediately brush on the warm apricot glaze, if using.
5. Make the icing cross on the buns:
Allow the buns to cool slightly on a wire rack before icing.
Whisk together the icing ingredients and transfer to a small zipper bag. Cut off one corner of the bag then pipe the icing into a continuous line across each bun.
Next pipe the icing in lines perpendicular to the first to form a cross.
To prepare a baked on flour cross instead of the orange icing cross:
- In a clean bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter, water and flour together until smooth. Spoon the paste into a pastry bag. Cut a 1/4-inch opening at the tip and pipe the paste on top of the buns in a continuous line forming a cross over each.
It’s probably a bit more traditional to add the flour and water paste cross before baking instead of the confectioners sugar cross added after they’re baked.
We’ve made hot cross buns both ways but my family prefers the orange icing added after the buns are baked.
However if you want to go the traditional route, we’ve included directions for both on the printable recipe card.
How to store and reheat hot cross buns
Seal the cooled buns in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Rewarm gently in the microwave on 50% power if desired. The icing may melt a little but should stay intact.
How to serve hot cross buns
These lightly sweet buns are a terrific morning bun, especially when served with coffee or tea. We love a little fresh fruit on the side and a slathering of butter seals the deal for me.
Hot Cross Buns are always a big hit with our family and a sweet reminder of our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross.
Origin of Hot Cross Buns
If you’re a long time SRFD reader, you may know my husband finds old recipes fascinating and often asks about the background, history or origin.
He asked me why these are called Hot Cross Buns and if they have a Christian heritage. I thought he was asking about the cross on the buns but what he really wanted to know is why they’re called “Hot” Cross Buns.
Are they a “hot” commodity meaning hard to find, get ’em while you can? Are they “hot” as in spicy? Or are they served “hot” from the oven? Inquiring minds!
I tried very hard to find an answer but could not supply him with a definitive reference to how they were named. My answer is “they were hot when they came out of the oven” or at least that’s the story I’m sticking with.
While researching recipes many years ago I came across the lyrics to the nursery rhyme dating back to 1798 London.
Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny,
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons
One ha’ penny,
Two ha’ penny
Hot Cross buns
In addition to this catchy nursery rhyme (which I vaguely remember from my childhood) I was able to confirm that in many Christian countries these buns are traditionally eaten hot during Lent through Good Friday with the cross serving as a reminder and symbol of the Crucifixion.
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Hot Cross Buns
For the buns:
- 1 cup raisins (160g) dark or golden or a mixture of both
- zest of 1 orange
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice (2oz) plus more for icing
- ¾ cup warm water (6oz) 100-105°F on an instant read thermometer
- 3 large eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted (3oz)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (504g) plus 2 tablespoons if needed
- ½ cup granulated sugar (110g)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the egg wash and glaze:
- 1 large egg room temperature
- ⅓ cup apricot jam slightly warmed (optional)
For the icing (OPTIONAL):
- 1 cup powdered sugar (115g)
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- pinch of salt
For a baked on cross in place of the icing (OPTIONAL):
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature (70g)
- 2 teaspoons water
- ½ cup all-purpose flour (66g)
To prepare the buns:
- Combine the raisins, orange juice and zest in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and heat for 30 seconds on high power. Stir and repeat for another 30 seconds. Stir and set aside to cool and soften, about 15 minutes. Drain raisins and discard liquid.
- Combine the warm water, 3 eggs and melted better together in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Attach the dough hook to the mixer. With the mixer running on medium-low add the egg mixture and mix until the dough starts to come together. Add the salt and increase the speed to medium. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, but still sticky, about 10 minutes.
- While the dough is kneading, drain the raisins. Reduce the speed to low and add the drained raisins. Add up to 2 tablespoons more flour as needed.
- Lightly spray a clean mixing bowl with vegetable cooking spray. Using a spatula, scrape or dump the dough into the clean container. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm location free from drafts for 2 to 2 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
- Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured clean work surface. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough then gently form into a log. Cut the log in half then cut each half into 6 equal size pieces for a total of 12 rolls.
- Form each piece of dough into a ball by pulling the sides down to the bottom pinching the pieces together to seal. This will create a smooth top for each bun. Cup each ball with your palm and roll into a smooth, tight balls.
- Place the dough balls in the prepared pan in 3 rows of 4 rolls. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow the buns to rise again until doubled in size, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat the remaining egg with a fork until blended. Brush each bun with the beaten egg. (* If baking on the flour cross, see directions below)
- Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 190°F. Remove from the oven and immediately brush on warm apricot jam glaze, if using.
- Allow the buns to cool before icing.
- Whisk together the icing ingredients. The icing will be thick. Transfer to a small zipper bag. Cut off the tip off one corner of the bag then pipe a continuous line of icing across the center of each bun. Next pipe the icing in lines perpendicular to the first to form a cross on each bun. Serve.
- To prepare the baked on cross instead of the orange icing cross:
- In a clean bowl use an electric mixer to beat the butter, water and flour together until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend again. Spoon the paste into a pastry bag. Cut a ¼-inch opening at the tip. Pipe the paste on top of the buns in a continuous line forming a cross over each.
- Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
- Hands on time is minimal with 4 1/2 hours rise time.
Simple yeast rolls packed with flavor
While hot cross buns are not difficult to make, they do require two long rise times to achieve the incredible soft texture and flavor we’ve come to love.
However, the rolls can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight before baking.
The warm spices add a lovely layer of flavor against the juicy and plump orange scented raisins. And the orange icing cross on the top is perfection!
Bake a batch for your family and enjoy.
Originally published March 2013 – photos and recipe updated March 2022