Hot Cross Buns, a Holy Week tradition

Want to try your hand at making Hot Cross Buns this Holy Week? The Rev. Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer, The United Thank Offering, offers a little history and several recipes to get you started. According to Heather:

“I first decided to make Hot Cross Buns because I had this amazing experience at my field education parish during seminary of Good Friday.  At Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, the service ends in silence, but when you walk outside folks with giant baskets of Hot Cross Buns greet you.  They are delicious after a long service and welcome hospitality after the depths of Good Friday prayers, Holy Week and reflecting on the sacrifices God makes and the depths of God’s love that we are asked to respond to.  Here’s the issue, I hate raisins and candied peel but love cinnamon. I wanted to create a Hot Cross Bun that would appeal to folks like me…raisin-haters.  (Before raisin fans get upset, this recipe shows you how to make Hot Cross Buns in the traditional way as well as two alternative ways.)  What I found when I started making these was that often the dough was tough, dry or too sweet.  I decided to go to the experts, the British, to see how they make theirs (they have flavors from Earl Grey Tea to marmalade) and what might be going wrong with mine.  What follows is an adapted recipe from Paul Hollywood of British Bake Off fame (if you like to bake and haven’t seen this show, I highly recommend taking off the week after Easter and watching them all.) with some additions I learned from a failed King Arthur Bread batch (I was tempted by the word “easy” in the title) and a halfway successful Pioneer Woman batch.  In case you are a purist, the links to each of those recipes is below.

In case you’re wondering where the Hot Cross Bun come from, there are a few stories floating around.  The one I go with is that a 12-century Anglican monk who made buns marked with a cross in honor of Good Friday.  It wasn’t until the 16th century that the buns became popular in Elizabethan England.  Queen Elizabeth I pass a law limiting the sale of Hot Cross Buns to funerals, Christmas and the Friday before Easter.  At that time, folks were fairly superstitious and they believed that sweet buns had medicinal or magical powers ant that those powers were being abused.  Limiting the sale was to help decrease these beliefs.”

Here are some of the stories of Hot Cross Buns from Smithsonian Magazine:

They stay fresh for a whole year.

If you hang a hot cross bun from your kitchen rafters on Good Friday, legend has it that the bread will remain fresh and mold-free throughout the entire year. This harkens back to the body of Christ, which, according to the Bible, did not show any signs of decay after his crucifixion and prior to his resurrection. The bun should be replaced each year on Good Friday. Later in the year, the buns were sometimes broken up, mixed with water and treated as a medicine, FoodTimeline reports.

They expel bad spirits.

Due to the blessed cross on top, hot cross buns hung in the kitchen are supposed to protect from evil spirits. They’re also said to prevent kitchen fires from breaking out, and ensure that all breads baked that year will turn out perfectly delicious. Likewise, taking hot cross buns on a voyage at sea endows the boat with some protection from shipwreck, according to legend.

And cement friendships.

Those who share a hot cross bun are supposed to enjoy a strong friendship and bond for the next year. A line from an old rhyme captures this lore, says Irish Central: “Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be.”

They’re too sacred to eat any old day.

In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could no longer be sold on any day except for Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. They were simply too special to be eaten any other day. To get around this, FoodTimeline explains that people baked the buns in their own kitchens—although if they were caught they had to give up all of the illegal buns on their premises to the poor.

Read more:

How To Make Hot Cross Buns

Be aware that this is a fairly labor-intensive recipe, don’t start making them an hour before Good Friday services and expect them to be ready.  This would be best done on Maundy Thursday, iced (if doing it the American way) on Good Friday and eaten before Holy Saturday.

The best method for making bread is to weigh your ingredients, so I’ve included the weight in grams.  The Pioneer Woman recipe is close to this one and has cups if you don’t have a kitchen scale.


For the Dough:

  • 1 1/2 scant cups of full-fat milk
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking Powder
  • 1 ½ t. Cinnamon
  • ¼-1/2 t. Nutmeg
  • vanilla
  • 100g sugar (you can add more if you like a sweeter roll, if you’re not adding dried fruit)
  • 1 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed, you can also use sunflower or vegetable)
  • 1 Packet of Yeast
  • 1 egg

“Filling” Options:

  • 75g sultana
  • 50g mixed peel
  • zest 1 orange
  • 1 apple: peeled, cored and finely chopped, or
  • 1 apple: Peeled cored and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup of pecans chopped, or
  • 1 apple: peeled cored and finely chopped
  • 75g of dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup chopped almonds

For the cross

  • English Style: 75g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • American Style: 1 heaping cup powdered sugar

For the glaze: 3 tbsp apricot jam


  1. Bring the milk to the boil, then quickly remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to cool until it reaches 100-110 degrees. (I pour mine into a liquid measuring cup and put it in the fridge checking the temperature and stirring often.) Once it reaches the desired temperature, add the yeast to proof.
  2. Put the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and spices into a bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture, vanilla and then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well, then bring everything together with your hands until you have a very sticky dough.
  3. Tip on to a lightly floured surface and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heal of the other hand, then folding it back on itself. Repeat for no more than 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.
  4. With the dough still in the bowl, add your filling ingredients. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed. Leave to rise for 1 hour more, or until doubled in size, again covered by a tea towel to stop the dough getting a crust.
  5. Divide the dough into even pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface. Arrange the buns on one or two baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space for the dough to expand. Cover with a tea towel, then set aside to prove for 1 hour more.
  6. ENGLISH STYLE CROSS: Mix the flour with about 5 tbsp water to make the paste for the cross – add the water 1 tbsp at a time, so you add just enough for a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.
  7. Heat the oven to 375. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes depending on the size of your buns, until golden brown.
  8. Once you remove the buns from the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack. Gently heat the apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks. While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool.
  9. AMERICAN STYLE CROSS: Once the buns are completely cool, mix the powdered sugar with milk or water, about 4 tbsp in all, but do it slowly so that you get a thick paste. (If it’s too runny just add more powdered sugar). Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.

For the original, unadulterated Paul Hollywood recipe go here:

For the Pioneer Woman recipe:

And in case your baking luck is better than mine, the King Arthur Easy Hot Cross Buns:

For a downloadable/printable version of this recipe, click: HOT CROSS BUNS

Submitted by: the Rev. Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer, The United Thank Offering