Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

I didn’t grow up with the Easter tradition of eating Hot Cross Buns. But you know what – I love them. They’ve become one of my favorite festive bakes in my adult life. I love the warm, sweet spices and the sweet bun studded with currants. I love the cross and the orange zest and the orange glaze. Everything comes together into the most soft and delicious bun. And I’ve learned that not everything has to be a tradition from my childhood. I can make my own traditions here and now – and you can too. Add these sourdough hot cross buns to your spring baking list this year.

Why You’ll Love Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

You too will love how soft these hot cross buns are. Many ingredients come together quickly to make a delicious enriched bun. You will love the orange flavor coming from zest and fresh orange glaze. These sourdough hot cross buns will be the hit of your Easter brunch or the perfect gift to take to a friend on Good Friday. And one of the best parts about them is the long fermentation time, which means you can mix up the dough the night before you need the, let them rise and ferment overnight and then bake them in the morning. Check out my sourdough baker’s timeline below. You will love how easily these sourdough hot cross buns can fit into your schedule this year.

Important Ingredients in Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Don’t let this long list of ingredients scare you off. This is a very manageable recipe that is broken up into a few steps and worth the effort.

  • Sourdough Starter: This recipe uses ripe, bubbly, active sourdough starter to make a sweet levain before mixing the brioche dough. Using a sweet levain balances the flavor, resulting in a very mild or non-existent sour flavor if you manage the fermentation well.
  • Whole Milk: Whole milk is warmed and then added to the dough. Using milk tenderizes the dough and enriches it. You can substitute 2% milk if desired.
  • Brown Sugar: Brown sugar pairs so well with the sweet spices in these sourdough hot cross buns. I love the sweet flavor of brown sugar. You can also use white sugar if that’s your preference.
  • Egg: Egg keeps the texture of the buns soft and chewy.
  • Bread Flour: This recipe is made and tested with bread flour. Bread flour keeps the buns chewy and helps them rise tall. If you want to substitute all-purpose flour instead, add a little vital wheat gluten for best results.
  • Spices: The sweet spices in sourdough hot cross buns are one of the reasons I love this recipe so much – cinnamon, allspice and cloves are used to give these buns a delicious flavor.
  • Salt: Just a little bit of salt helps temper the fermentation and adds flavor to the buns. Don’t leave it out.
  • Orange: Orange zest and orange juice from the zested orange give a bright and delicious flavor to these sourdough hot cross buns.
  • Unsalted Butter: The dough is enriched with butter – a little bit at a time during the kneading process, making this dough tender and more rich in flavor.
  • Currants: I love currants because they are a little smaller than raisins and don’t plump up quite as large as raisins in the dough. You can substitute raisins if desired.
  • Piping Mixture: The cross piped on the dough is made from a mixture of flour and water.
  • Glaze: After the buns are baked, this orange glaze made from powdered sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice makes the buns taste incredible.

Sourdough Baker’s Timeline

A sample baking schedule helps me when baking with sourdough. Sourdough takes much longer to rise than commercial yeast bread. This schedule helps me plan my bake.

A few notes: This schedule assumes the dough temperature is 78°F throughout the process. If you’d like to make the bread all on the same day, start early and finish baking these buns later in the evening. You can also break this up into a few days by cold fermenting the dough after the bulk fermentation. Roll the dough into buns the next day and let rise before baking.

Day 1Mix Levain / Mix Dough / Bulk Fermentation
8:00 AMMix Levain
6:00 PMMix Dough and begin Bulk Fermentation
10:00 PMShape dough into balls
Overnight Rise at 78ºF for about 8-10 hours
Day 2Top and Bake
8:00 AMPipe cross on risen buns
8:10 AMBake
8:40 AMGlaze

How to Make Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Mix Levain

This recipe calls for a sweet levain mixed the same day before you mix the dough. It is fed at a 1:8:8 ratio, which allows you to feed it in the morning and then have time to mix the dough in the afternoon. You can change up the ratio as needed to fit better in your schedule. If you keep the levain at 78-80ºF, it should take 8-10 hours to rise and peak. Levain is ready when it has at least doubled in size, has lots of bubbles, a slightly sour aroma and is just about to start going down from its peak height. Mix together:

  • 8 grams ripe/mature starter
  • 64 grams warm water
  • 64 grams all-purpose or bread flour
  • 10 grams granulated sugar

If you prefer to substitute ripe sourdough starter for the levain, this can work. Make sure your starter is 100% hydration (fed equal weights of flour and water) and is active and bubbly before using. Substitute for the levain in the recipe. You can also use this post on ratios to change up the ratio of feeding the levain to make it work for you and your schedule.

Mix the Dough

To make hot cross buns, we first develop the gluten strands in the dough before we add in the butter. Once the butter is added, it will coat the gluten strands, making it more difficult for the strands to connect and develop, so we will perform an initial mix of all of the ingredients except the butter; adding the butter in after the dough is kneaded.

  • Mixing: Add all the bun ingredients together except for the unsalted butter and currants. Turn the mixer on and knead for 5 minutes until a strong and cohesive dough is formed.
  • Adding in butter: Once that dough has formed, begin adding in the butter. Butter should be added small chunks at a time until all the butter is incorporated. Continue kneading for 5-10 more minutes until a strong, smooth and cohesive dough forms
  • Add currants: Once the dough is mixed, add the currants on top of the dough and mix for another minute until the currants are spread throughout the dough.

Bulk Fermentation

Once the dough has been kneaded it will feel soft but cohesive. Take the dough out of the mixer and put it in a container to ferment. Keep the dough right around 78ºF to ferment for about 4-5 hours. If your dough temperature is cooler than 78ºF, it will need to ferment longer. You are looking for a very slight aeration of the dough during this time. It will not rise much, but it will become more aerated and strong as it ferments.

Shape and Proof the Hot Cross Buns

Prepare a baking pan and separate the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball by taking a the dough and pulling/pinching the sides until it forms a ball. Then roll the ball on the counter using your hand in a cupping shape (see video here) to seal the balls and create tension for the bun to rise. Place shaped dough balls in a 9 by 13 pan (lined with parchment is my preference) and cover.

Overnight Proofing

I am not usually an advocate of overnight proofing because it can often lead to over-proofed dough, but in this case, it works well if you keep the temperature a consistent 78ºF. If your dough is warmer, the proofing will go faster. If it’s colder, the proofing will take much longer. Let the dough proof for 8-10 hours overnight in a warm 78º place. The enriched dough combined with cinnamon and sourdough make this dough take awhile to rise – but it’s worth it!

Baking Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

As soon as the dough is puffed up, doubled in size and touching each other, they are ready to bake. Do NOT bake these hot cross buns if they have not risen. Instead find a way to warm up the dough.

  • Egg Wash: Whisk together one egg with a splash of water. Gently spread the egg wash over the tops of the hot cross buns until all buns are covered. This helps the crust brown beautifully.
  • Piping A Cross: Mix together flour and water to make a paste. Stick it in a piping back and pipe a cross on every bun.
  • Baking: Bake the hot cross buns in a preheated 350ºF oven for about 30 minutes until baked all the way through
  • Orange Glaze: Brush the buns with an orange glaze for even more delicious orange flavor. Enjoy!

Amy’s Recipe Tips

  • This is an enriched dough with added cinnamon – both of which make the dough take longer to rise. In order for the overnight fermentation to work, make sure your dough is right around 78ºF. If it is warmer than this, your buns will rise much quicker. If it’s colder, they may need longer to rise before baking.
  • Some hot cross buns are made by icing a cross onto the bun instead of using a paste of flour and water. If you prefer that method, leave out the flour/water paste, bake the buns and ice them after.

Substitutions in Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are traditionally filled with spiced dried fruits. But there are many variations and traditions. Here are a few substitutions you could consider for this recipe:

  • Add candied citrus in place of the orange zest
  • Replace currants with raisins or other dried fruit.
  • Add a little extra powdered sugar to the glaze making it thicker and pipe glaze on the buns instead of the flour/water cross.

How to Store Leftovers

Leftover sourdough hot cross buns can be stored in an airtight container or bag and frozen for a couple of months. Thaw and re-heat just a bit before enjoying.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do sourdough hot cross buns taste sour?

If you use a well-maintained, ripe, active starter to mix the levain and manage your fermentation throughout the mixing and baking of the buns, no – they don’t taste sour. The sugar in the levain and the temperature throughout the process helps keep the flavor very mild and lets the sweet spices of the hot cross bun shine through.

What is the symbolism of a hot cross bun?

Hot cross buns originated in England in the 12th century. They are traditionally given on Good Friday and eaten over Easter weekend to commemorate and celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Amy
Sweetly spiced buns studded with currants, orange zest and made with 100% natural yeast (sourdough), these sourdough hot cross buns are perfect for your Easter celebration. Serve them for brunch or gift them on Good Friday, however you choose to serve them, you will love the bright citrusy flavor and warm spices of sourdough hot cross buns.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Fermentation Time 1 day
Total Time 1 day 1 hour
Course Breakfast
Cuisine English
Servings 12 buns

Ingredients
  

Levain (1:8:8 at 78ºF takes about 8-10 hours)

  • 8 grams ripe, bubbly, active sourdough starter
  • 64 grams all-purpose or bread flour
  • 64 grams water
  • 10 grams granulated sugar

Sourdough Hot Cross Bun Dough

  • 120 grams levain ripe, bubbly, active, about 1/2 cup
  • 240 grams whole milk warmed, about 1 cup
  • 90 grams brown sugar about 1/2 cup
  • 1 large egg about 50 grams
  • zest of one orange
  • 535 grams bread flour
  • 6 grams salt about 1 teaspoon
  • 4 grams ground cinnamon about 1 teaspoon
  • 1 gram allspice about 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 gram cloves about 1/2 teaspoon
  • 72 grams unsalted butter softened and reserved to add in during mixing
  • 100 grams currants reserved to add in during mixing

Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg
  • splash of water

Piping Mixture for the Cross

  • 40 grams all-purpose flour 4 Tablespoons
  • 50 grams water 4 Tablespoons

Orange Glaze

  • 90 grams powdered sugar
  • 20 grams freshly squeezed orange juice use the juice of the zested orange

Instructions
 

Day 1

  • Mix Levain (1:8:8 at 78ºF takes about 8-10 hours)
  • Mix together ripe sourdough starter, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar and water. Cover and keep in a warm 78ºF place for about 8-10 hours until bubbly, doubled in size and active. You can adjust the feeding ratio to have the levain ready when you want it.

Sourdough Hot Cross Bun Dough

  • Mix Dough: Warm the milk in the microwave to right around 90ºF. To the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, add the ripe levain, warmed milk, brown sugar, egg and orange zest. Add the bread flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice and cloves on top. Turn on the mixer and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and all the ingredients well incorporated.
  • Add Butter: Cut the butter into 8-10 chunks. Butter should be firm but soft enough to leave a dent when you press your finger into the butter. Turn the mixer on and add chunks of butter into the dough a little at a time. Continue adding chunks of butter until all the butter is added and incorporates into the dough.
  • Knead: Continue kneading the dough on medium speed for about 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and soft. Add the currants and knead for another minute until currants are mixed throughout the dough.
  • Bulk Fermentation: At this point the dough will be soft and cohesive. Dump the dough into a container and cover. Set the dough in a warm, 78ºF place for 4 hours. Take the temperature of the dough as needed to make sure the dough temperature stays right around 78ºF. This temperature is the optimal fermentation. If your dough temperature is cooler than 78ºF, it will need to ferment longer than 4 hours.
  • Shape and Proof: Dump the dough out onto a (clean) countertop. Cut the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces. Take each piece of dough and pull/pinch up the sides until it forms a ball. Roll the ball on the counter using your hand in a cupping shape (see video here) to seal the balls and create tension for the bun to rise.
  • Line a 9 by 13 pan with parchment paper (so the buns stay soft and don't stick on to the bottom) and place dough balls in the pan, 3 across and 4 down. Cover the pan and let the buns rise overnight for about 8-10 hours at 78ºF. If your temperature is warmer than this, the fermentation will go FASTER. If the temperature is colder than 78ºF, the fermentation will go SLOWER. I use a bread proofer to keep the temperature consistent. If making these in the summer, be very careful because they could over-proof in warmer temperatures if you proof them overnight.

Day 2

  • Pre-heat Oven and Egg Wash Buns: The next morning, the dough should be puffed up and doubled in size. If the rolls are not puffed up and risen, place them in a warmer place to finish rising. Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF. While the oven is preheating, prepare a simple egg wash by whisking an egg with a little splash of water. Brush on top of all the buns.
  • Pipe Cross: The signature look of a hot cross bun is the piped cross on top of the bun. Mix together 40 grams flour with 50 grams water. Add mixture to a piping bag (or ziplock bag). Snip off the end and pipe a line down the center of each row of buns. Turn the pan 90º and pipe a straight line across the buns in the other direction, resulting in a cross on all the buns.
  • Bake: Bake buns in 350ºF pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until baked all the way through until the internal temperature is 190ºF.
  • Glaze: Mix together powdered sugar with the juice of an orange. A few minutes after the buns come out of the oven, brush the glaze all over the tops of the buns. Let cool a little bit and enjoy!

Notes

I use an overnight rise for these sourdough hot cross buns and keep the temperature right at 78ºF. This works well when I have good control over my dough temperature. The cinnamon slows down the fermentation a little bit and the addition of butter, egg and milk in the dough makes the fermentation go more slowly. To be able to have hot cross buns in the morning, this overnight method works well. 
If you want to change the timing on these buns, you don’t have to let them rise overnight. Levain can be made the night before and the dough mixed in the morning. Increase the temperature of the dough and the buns will rise quicker, meaning you could make this entire recipe in one day. Find this guide on ratios to help you decide how to alter the levain for your bake.
Currants: I use these currants, but you can also substitute raisins or other dried fruit if desired. 
Keyword hot cross sourdough buns, sourdough Easter recipe, sourdough hot cross bun, sourdough hot cross bun recipe, sourdough hot cross buns
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Recipe Rating




13 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Happy Easter! These look delicious! Can’t wait to enjoy them! ❤️🙏🏻🧑🏼‍🍳💒✝️🙏🏻

  2. Just baked them this morning! Wish I could send a picture! I actually made mine smaller and got 2dozen! ⭐️

  3. 5 stars
    Can I put these in the fridge after the counter rise until I am ready to bake them in the afternoon?

    These look amazing!!

  4. 5 stars
    These were a hit with the whole family for Easter morning! Our kitchen was more like 70ish degrees, so I did allow longer rise times. 10pm make levain, 9am mix dough and bulk ferment, 7pm form rolls, 7am pipe crosses and bake. It worked out wonderfully! Thank you!

  5. 5 stars
    I loved this recipe and the dough seemed really good when I first mixed it, but then it just didn’t prove well :\ I left it around 6 hours and then shaped the dough in to twelve balls, and left them overnight. They were barely touching by the morning so I then tried proving them in a very low oven. They did get a bit bigger but not much. I baked them, they looked not too bad, but when I cut one open they were awful, really underproofed and very very doughy, inedible. Just not sure why, is it because I’m UK based and it’s not a warm time of year here? I make a lot with sourdough and had a similar issue with stollen in December, that used a dough hook and mixer method rather than stretches and folds. I think I will try them again, but do my normal stretch and fold method and not add the inclusions and cinnamon until a bit later on, in the hope that the dough will prove much better. Was really sad to have to throw them all away after alot of effort and ingredients (I did cranberry and Dark chocolate) but they couldn’t have been eaten. Any advice would be gratefully received, thank you! Liz

    1. It sounds like it was a temperature issue. The dough really does need to be kept warm to proof within those times. If it’s not, then they need to rise longer. Next time, make sure they have risen/doubled in size and are very airy and puffed up before baking or else they will be dense and underproofed. This dough is enriched with butter, sugar, eggs and has cinnamon in it which can make the proofing take a long time. I’m sorry they didn’t work out.

  6. When doubling recipe, the grams are the only measurements that change, the cup measurements for milk etc don’t change. Just made a royal mess of my dough…i should’ve just used grams to measure everything

    1. Yes, it automatically calculates it based on the first number which is almost always grams in my recipes. It won’t change the cup measurements because those are written as “notes” for anyone who wants to use cup measurements. I’m so sorry it messed up your dough. Were you able to double the cup measurements and salvage it? Sorry about that.