Hot cross buns are spiced sweet breads with currants or raisins in them that make a delicious breakfast or teatime snack. Traditionally, they’re eaten around the holiday of Easter by Christians in the UK and countries that have had UK influence in past centuries. The crosses on the buns and the spices inside have religious significance related to the crucifixion of Jesus, and the dough has milk in it to mark the end of traditional dietary restrictions during Lent.
You don’t have to be celebrating Easter to enjoy these tasty buns though, and you can use different wheat varieties and sourdough leavening too. The recipe I developed here uses a standard 100% hydration sourdough starter and less refined sugar than most recipes. But the buns have a soft sweetness from fresh whole grain Kamut wheat flour, which also boosts the fermentation.
This hot cross bun dough had a 5-hour first rise and a 3-hour second rise (relatively short for enriched dough) due to the high percentage of starter, the high dough temperature from warmed milk, and the high ambient temperature due to being placed in my oven with the light on. See the gallery after the recipe for photos of the dough at the beginning and end of the bulk fermentation and final proof. This will give you a sense of the targeted dough consistency and expansion.
I used a combination of golden raisins and dried cranberries in my buns, but you can use the traditional currants only or branch out into something like candied orange peel, or no dried fruit at all. For the crosses, I went with the flour-water paste, but some people use sugar icing, shortcrust pastry, or even cuts in the dough. And finally, for the orange icing, I used the approach of Sally’s Baking Addiction, but in the past, I’ve simply warmed up orange marmelade until it’s more spreadable, and brushed it on the buns (also delicious and a bit faster).
Quick notes on wheat variety and yeast leavening: You can use a different whole grain wheat flour in this recipe if you want. Simply heat up about 30g less milk than is called for, and then add additional cold milk if needed to get the dough consistency you see in the photo gallery. And if you want to use instant yeast instead of sourdough leavening, add 100g all purpose flour and 100g water to the dough instead of the sourdough starter. Also add 2 tsp of instant yeast, and expect a 1-2 hour first rise and a 1-1.5 hour second rise.
Sourdough Hot Cross Buns with Kamut Wheat
These fragrant, sweet, and tangy hot cross buns are made with 50% whole grain Kamut flour and sourdough leavening. They’re soft and delicious, with spices and dried fruit inside, and an orange icing on top. Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten around Easter, but can be enjoyed by anyone for breakfast or a snack any time of the year.
Juice of a mandarin or half an orange (3 Tbsp, 45g)
95g powdered sugar (3/4 cup)
I built 200 grams of ripe starter overnight by feeding 40g of starter with 80g water and 80g flour. This 1:2:2 feeding the night before worked well to have ripe starter by morning in a cold springtime kitchen. Other possibilities for timing and build are fine too.
Dough Mixing and Bulk Fermentation
These instructions are for using a stand mixer, but hand/spatula mixing is fine too, and you may find that slapping and folding works well to incorporate the ingredients anddevelop glutenwithout a mixer.
Heat the milk until it is quite warm but don’t worry about reaching the scalding temp of 170F. You just want the milk hot enough to melt the butter and sugar.
Chop the butter in pieces, then add it and the brown sugar to the hot milk. Stir until everything is mostly melted. Set aside to cool a bit while you prepare the other ingredients.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg, sourdough starter, flours, salt, and spices. Then add the warm milk-butter-sugar mixture.
Mix with the dough hook on medium speed until the dough comes together, about 3-5 minutes. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky because the dried fruit will pull some moisture from the dough over time. (See the photos below for a sense of the dough consistency.)
Finally, add the dried fruit to the mixer bowl and mix another minute or so.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and place somewhere warm to rise until the dough has expanded by about 75% in size (see photos in gallery below). This could take five or more hours.
Shaping and Final Proof
Grease one 9″x 13″ pan (15 rolls) or two round 9″ inch pans (16 rolls).
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently de-gas it by pressing down on the dough, and then divide it into 15 or 16 pieces.
Roll the pieces into balls and place them in your pan(s) with some space between them.
Cover and let the dough proof somewhere warm until the rolls have doubled, around three hours. (See the gallery below for pics of spacing and expansion).
Decorating, Baking, and Icing
Preheat your oven to 350F.
For the piped crosses, mix the flour and water in a small bowl and then spoon the paste into a small zip-top bag.
Cut a 1/4″ or smaller hole in one corner of the bag and pipe horizontal and vertical lines onto the buns.
Bake the buns for 24 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through if the buns are not browning evenly. You may choose, like I did, to then switch your oven to broil for 1 additional minute to further brown the tops of the buns. Keep a close eye on them if you do this.
Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a towel or cooling rack.
Mix a few tablespoons of orange juice (ideally fresh-squeezed) with 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, and then brush the icing on the warm buns.
You can serve these buns warm from the oven.
Extra buns can be covered and stored at room temperature for several days. Reheat them for 10-15 seconds in the microwave, or by toasting them in a toaster oven.