Sourdough hot cross buns are as amazing as they sound. Soft, lightly sweet, and perfect for spring, these are well worth the time to make.
Hot cross buns are spiced sweet buns baked with yeast and dried fruit or candied mixed peel. Hot cross buns are typically topped with simple crosses and eaten on Good Friday, especially in the UK, Canada, and other commonwealth countries.
This yeast-free sourdough bun is likely more similar to how they would have been historically, made with wild yeast rather than commercial. Our buns are naturally leavened with only sourdough starter, and have a signature sourdough tang you can't get with regular bread yeast.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Dried fruit: change the added fruit around if preferred. Cranberries and currants are both excellent subs for raisins, though we recommend chopped cranberries rather than whole. If you want to be less traditional, add some chocolate chips.
- Spices: the spices can be changed to suit your preference. Increase one and omit another if preferred.
- Make it dairy-free: use a good creamy non-dairy milk and a high quality vegan butter. We recommend Miyoko's or Naturli blocks.
- Starter: this should be 100% hydration sourdough starter at its peak. It can be made with any flour containing gluten – white, whole wheat, rye, etc.
Day One - Evening
Make The Dough - 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes stretch and folds
Combine the ingredients according to the recipe below to make a shaggy dough. Do stretch and folds every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
Bulk Fermentation - 6 hours + chilling
Bulk fermentation happens after the stretch and folds are complete. Place a damp tea towel and/or large plate over the bowl of dough and set aside to rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 6-8 hours in a warm place. Once this is complete we recommend refrigeration for a couple of hours (see below).
Day Two - Morning
Shape The Buns - 20 minutes
Once the dough is doubled, separate it into 12 equal pieces. Shape all of the buns into balls and place them into a greased baking dish as you go.
Second Proof - 2 to 3 hours
Cover the buns with a damp tea towel and let them rise for 2-3 hours at room temperature, or until doubled in size again.
Bake - 35 minutes
Preheat the oven and bake the sourdough hot cross buns for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the tops with a generous amount of melted butter. This both softens the buns and adds flavour. Cool 10 minutes and enjoy!
Step 1: whisk the starter and milk, mix in the eggs, then whisk in the soft butter to break it into small pieces.
Step 2: mix in the dry ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. You may prefer to use your hands for this step.
Step 3: add the dried fruit and mix again, then complete the stretches and folds.
Step 4: let the dough rise until doubled in size, then divide.
Step 5: divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (a scale is helpful for this step).
Step 6: shape the pieces into buns, rotating on a worktop to create surface tension.
Step 7: let the buns rise until puffy, then add the egg wash and crosses.
Step 8: bake until golden and cool before serving.
- Chill the dough: refrigerating the dough after it has risen makes it easier to work with and shape. It also adds a better flavour to the buns. This step is optional but please note that it will be more difficult to form the buns if the dough has not been chilled.
- Use room temperature ingredients: it is absolutely mandatory that all room-temperature ingredients are used. This applies not only to the eggs and butter, but also the milk, flour, and everything else. With cold ingredients you will almost definitely see a very slow rise, more than double the time needed.
- Be patient: keep in mind that even when using the correct ingredients, these buns have a slower than usual proving time. This is due to the high amount of fat added, but also because of the additions of spices and dried fruit. Be patient.
After chilling the dough, the buns will need longer than you might expect to come back up to room temperature, especially if you're using a good quality high-fat butter. The fat in the buns becomes hard when chilled and slows the dough down – this isn't a typical fat-free sourdough and enriched dough simply takes longer.
The cross on the top is optional (see more below) but it is right there in the name. It's an easy addition.
If you're unfamiliar with the terms used, please see our guide on how to stretch and fold sourdough. You don't need to use our shaping method for the buns if you have another way that works well for you - the goal is to get some surface tension and a nice round bun.
How to Store
Storage: The buns will keep in an airtight container (or in beeswax wrap) at room temperature for a few days but are better toasted after the second day. If you have leftovers, they'd also be great transformed into sourdough bread pudding.
Freezing: transfer fully cooled buns to an airtight container and freeze for up to three months. Warm up after thawing for the freshest-tasting bun.
Cross the Buns
The crosses on hot cross buns are a decorative paste made from flour, water, and oil, that's piped onto the buns before baking. This makes a pretty white contrast and doesn't have a taste.
For a non-traditional take on the cross, try subbing orange juice for water in the cross paste. If you prefer to have a sweet topping rather than one that's just for looks, use vanilla frosting or cream cheese frosting instead. This should be piped on after the buns are baked and cooled rather than before baking.
Candied mixed peel is the peel from citrus fruits that have been candied. Some recipes preserve the peel via a drying process, or other time-intensive steps. You can make it yourself (linked above) or buy pre-made.
If you want to make your own, our candied mixed peel recipe is easy! First, juice the citrus of your choice. Second, combine the juice with the fruit peel and cook in a simple syrup of water and sugar. It's ready to use right away.
That's pretty much it - you cook the peels twice and then store in the syrup. They'll last ages in the fridge and are a nice addition to any number of breads and cakes. It's also a staple ingredient for homemade mincemeat.
When should you eat hot cross buns?
Hot cross buns are associated with Easter and are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but many people make or buy them all through springtime now.
What country did hot cross buns come from?
Hot cross buns are English, and are seen in written records around the 14th century, but are probably older than that. This type of enriched sweet with dried fruit was common throughout the medieval period in England. Saxons also made buns similar to these, much earlier.
Do you toast hot cross buns?
If they're fresh, you don't need to toast hot cross buns. If they're a day old, have been frozen, or you just want melty butter, toast them in a toaster or frying pan until lightly golden and serve with lots of butter.
If you make this Sourdough Hot Cross Bun recipe or any other sourdough bread recipes on the Baked Collective, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more baking, follow along on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
- Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Teas towel
- 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33 cm) baking dish
- Parchment paper
- Piping bag
- Piping tip
For the Buns
- ¾ cup whole milk at room temperature
- 1 cup sourdough starter active
- 3 large eggs divided, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup butter softened, plus more for brushing and preparing the pan (or sub vegan butter)
- 2 ½ cups bread flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ⅔ cup candied peel small, diced into ⅕ - ⅓ inch or ½ - ¾ cm pieces
- ½ cup raisins or currants
- 1 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
For the Cross Paste
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ¼ cup water
DAY ONE: MAKING THE DOUGH
- Add the milk to a large bowl.
- Add the starter and whisk to combine, then whisk in 2 eggs until well mixed.
- Place butter into the bowl and use a wooden spoon to combine the mixture together. The butter will break and dissolve into small pieces.
- Add the bread flour, all purpose flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl.
- Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix, making sure to incorporate all of the flour, until a shaggy dough has formed.
- Next, sprinkle in the candied peel, raisins (or currants), and remaining spices, and use your hands to squish everything in as uniformly as possible.
- Cover the dough with a tea towel, and every 20 minutes for the next hour, perform a set of stretch and folds.
- Use your hand to take one edge of the dough, stretch it up toward yourself, then fold it toward the centre of the bowl.
- Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat 3 more times until all of the dough has been stretched.
- Repeat this process two more times with a 20 minute break between each.
DAY ONE: BULK FERMENTATION
- Place a lightly damp tea towel and a large plate over your bowl, then set aside to rise until doubled (at room temp). This should take about 6 hours with an active starter. If, at the end of this time, the dough hasn't doubled, just wait until it has.
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours or up to overnight if possible, to make shaping easier.
DAY TWO: SHAPING THE ROLLS
- Lightly flour a clean surface and turn the proofed dough out onto it. Separate the dough into 12 equal pieces. Grease a 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33 cm) baking dish with butter, line it on the bottom with a piece of parchment and set aside.
- Take each piece of dough and repeat the stretch and fold motion from earlier.
- Lightly coat one side of the dough ball in flour, then gently stretch one edge and fold it into the middle of the piece. Rotate, repeating the motion, until a ball has formed.
- Place the ball onto the lightly floured surface and use the outer edge of both little fingers to rotate the ball counterclockwise. This will help the roll to form a skin on the outer layer so that it keeps a nice shape when rising and baking.
- Repeat this until all of the rolls are shaped, placing each roll into the baking dish as you go.
DAY TWO: SECOND PROOF
- Cover the rolls with a tea towel and set them aside to rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or until almost doubled in size. If you want to extend the fermentation time even longer, you could refrigerate the shaped rolls overnight again.
DAY TWO: BAKING
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Prepare the cross paste: In a small bowl, combine flour, oil, and water, and mix to combine. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, whisk the remaining egg together with a tiny splash of water or milk and set aside.
- Brush each of the rolls with egg wash, then pipe a cross on each roll.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden.
- Brush the buns with butter as soon as they come out of the oven to soften if possible.
- Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Buns can be eaten warm or once at room temperature. They will soften more as they sit.