New Recipe: Hot Cross Buns
Sweet, tart, warm, and wholesome, these traditional Easter buns are easy to make — and even easier to eat. Our modern take on the classic will make you fall in love with hot cross buns all over again.
Hot cross buns are an Easter favorite; in fact, these traditional pastries have a history that began before Christianity. Our take on them here tastes modern and fresh, with diced candied orange peel in a rich yeasted dough. The active, hands-on prep time for these is pretty quick, so it's an easy recipe to fit in amongst other holiday meal prep (or afternoon movie watching). Serve these buns warm if possible, with the sweet touch of a quick powdered sugar-orange icing to truly gild the (Easter) lily.
Hot Cross Buns? Aren’t these really old? What’s the story here?
Hot cross buns are a traditional English treat baked in anticipation of Easter — but have become an American favorite in their own right. According to legend, if these buns were baked on a Good Friday, then they’d never turn moldy, and could be kept as a good luck charm all year long. While that tale has yet to be successfully fact-checked, it turns out the history of these buns started way before the holiday of Easter existed. The ancient Saxons made the yeasted treats marked with an X to honor the goddess of light and dawn, Eostre. When her name was repurposed for the celebration of the Christian holiday, hot cross buns came along, too.
Be honest: Isn’t this just a dinner roll with a cross shape on top of each bun?
Not at all! The buns are rich and decadent, almost dessert-like, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or next to your eggs at Easter brunch. The yeasted dough for this hot cross buns recipe is enriched with whole milk, butter, eggs, lemon zest, and warming spices like ground cinnamon and cloves. But it doesn't stop there: The dough is also studded with dried currants, golden raisins, and candied orange peel (you can substitute orange zest for the candied peel if you can't find it). And to top it off? Our classic sugar glaze is spiked with orange juice and vanilla extract for a little extra citrusy punch. These are not your grandmother’s Parker House rolls!
How do I know if my yeast is still alive?
Active dry yeast (commonly sold in 1/4-ounce packets) is a single-cell organism that is alive but dormant. When stirred into a warm liquid and given food (like the white sugar in this recipe), it comes to life and helps develop complex flavors as well as give the lift necessary for fluffy bread. Store your yeast in the refrigerator; you’ll know it's dead if no foamy cap with tiny bubbles appears on top of the warm milk and yeast mixture after sitting for five minutes. It is worth using a food thermometer, if you've got one, on the warm milk mixture to make sure it's around 110° F, because too-hot liquid can kill the yeast.
What if I can’t find dried currants? Aren’t they the same are raisins?
Currants, also known as cassis, are cousins of gooseberries; they taste a little tart and were originally used to flavor wine in medieval times. They come in about 150 varieties, and several species are native to the U.S. — although 17 states currently ban their cultivation! Sometimes labeled as zante currants, they're typically found next to other dried fruits. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, you can increase the golden raisins and candied orange peel until you reach 1 1/4 cups. In a pinch, dried cranberries can be substituted — they'll taste great with the orange, even though they’re not traditional.
Can I skip the second time the dough rises? I’m in a hurry!
Unfortunately, both risings are required to achieve the goal of tender and tasty hot cross buns. If you skip the second rise, they won’t taste as good and will have the airiness of a hockey puck. Baking always requires a bit of planning, but with a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes of rise time (coupled with a quick 12-minute cook time), there are plenty of opportunities to run errands or do laundry.
The other option is to bake the buns in advance, let cool to room temperature, and then wrap in foil (not plastic wrap!) and pop them in the freezer for up to seven days. Take them out to thaw at room temp, then reheat at 350°F (still wrapped in foil, lest they dry out) for 5 to 7 minutes and serve.
Looking for something to serve with your buns? Check out our favorite easter brunch recipes!