Hot cross buns

This is a revised version of the original recipe from Nigella.

When we made these last year, we faithfully followed the recipe to the letter, and while the result was very nice, at heart we knew that it could have been better.

So this year I decided to repeat the recipe and not go for better but for PERFECT. I printed the recipe so I wouldn’t miss a beat while cooking, but afterwards I did so many things in slightly different ways and added so many annotations that it almost is a different recipe (while still being a recipe for hot cross buns), hence I am posting it here.

Two hot cross buns, halved, toasted and with butter on top, melted in parts and showing the dates and raisins
Two hot cross buns, ready to eat


For the dough

  • 150 g milk
  • 60 g water
  • 12 g sugar
  • 50 g butter
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 400 g strong white bread flour
  • 7 g dried yeast
  • 125 g mixed dried fruit
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 large egg
  • Olive oil (for kneading), or any other oil you like using

For the bun wash

  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the cross on the buns

  • 6 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp sugar


  1. Infusing the liquids and fat
    • Slightly crack the cardamom pods with the side of a knife or similar, this is so they expose more of the seeds and the flavour is stronger.
    • Heat the milk, butter, orange zest, clove and cardamom pods until the butter melts. Turn heat off and leave to infuse.
  2. Activate the yeast
    • Mix in a bowl:
      • 25g of lukewarm water (temperature below 35C)
      • 7 g dried yeast (or 14 g from fresh)
      • 12 g sugar
    • Stir until dissolved
    • Cover and leave to rest for a minimum of 15 minutes or until you start seeing a lively froth on the surface and it smells nicely of yeast (it took 20 minutes here, but it’s very temperature dependent)
    • You can also wrap it with a cloth so it stays warm and cosy while the yeast wakes up.
  3. Measure the dried fruit, but leave it aside for later.
  4. Add the dry ingredients (flour and spices) to a big bowl. Stir them together now so they are nicely mixed.
  5. (You might need to wait for things to cool down enough and yeast to activate).
  6. Mix the flour and liquids for the cross mixture
    • When the infused milk and butter have cooled down (around 20C but basically below 35C), and the yeast is activated,
      • remove the cloves and cardamom pods from the milk
      • add the milk and the yeast liquid to the big bowl with the flour and spices.
    • Add 35 g of water to the bowl (this completes the 60g specified in the recipe).
    • Add the egg, beaten.
    • Mix the flour and liquids, and end up making a rough dough ball,
  7. Cover with a damp cloth or shower cap, and come back to it after 10 minutes.
  8. Lighlty add oil over the dough, and add oil to your hands so they don’t stick to the dough. Lightly knead in a circular motion, squeezing the edges of the ball as if you’re flattening it by pinching it, then lightly stretching and bringing it back to the center, until you complete the diameter of the ball. Then cover again, wait another 10 minutes and come back. I normally do this about two or three times, and each time the dough is more elasticated and malleable; when it feels like it’s getting quite smooth, I wait 30 minutes instead.
  9. After the last rest + knead interval, flatten the ball into a sort of disc (use oil to avoid things sticking!) and mix in the dried fruit we had measured and set aside. You might want to fold the disc several times so that there is no visible “layer” of fruit.
  10. End up with a ball, cover again, and leave to proof at room temperature. Around 2 hours at room temperature were sufficient for the ball to raise and become quite plumped up!
  11. Time to punch down the fluffy ball of dough, then divide and shape the buns. I divided into 2, divided again into 4, 8 and 16 parts, using my dough scraper.
  12. Then I shaped them as if they were small boules i.e.
    • as if I was shaping a bread loaf:
      • flatten into a disc first
      • working in two halves, upper and lower, as if we had an hexagon, take three edges into the center
      • fold the two halves together
      • flip the ball around so the seam is sitting at the bottom
      • slightly create tension by dragging the bun towards you while applying a bit of pressure on it, and spinning it on a vertical axis (you use the two hands on a parallel shape and use the edges of the hands to apply this pressure).
      • Voilà! You have a bun shaped as a mini bread loaf
      • Alternatively just treat the bun as plasticine and make balls.
  13. Place the buns on a tray, somewhat close together but not super close, and place the tray somewhere warm and enclosed… like your oven! I also added a jug with boiling water so it would bring the temperature up and add moisture, so the crust of the buns does not dry.
  14. Wait from 45min to until the buns are plumped up and when you apply a finger to their surface they bounce back. It took 1:30h here.
  15. Take the tray out of the oven and turn it on to 200C/220C without fan.
  16. Brush the buns with the sugary wash.
  17. Apply the piping making crosses on top of the buns.
  18. Once the oven is hot, bake the buns for around 20 minutes. Because our oven does not heat uniformly, I turned the tray around about 10 minutes into baking. Your goal is to achieve a nice colour, so you’ll want to keep checking and see how they’re doing regularly.
  19. When you take them out of the oven, you can give them another wash with sugary glaze to make them “sweet and shiny” as Nigella says! If they absorb the liquid, feel free to wash them again!
  20. Wait until they cool enough to handle, then place on a rack or grill so they cool down on the bottom rather than get moist.
  21. Eat and enjoy!

A video demonstrating the shaping technique:

Differences from the original recipe

Too dry

The original recipe was awfully short on water, which is why our initial attempt turned out stiff buns, and why many people in the comments mention that as well.

Even if you did not attempt to bake it and instead just looked at the recipe, the ratio of flour:liquids stands out as too high:

400g flour vs (150g milk + 10g water from the butter + 52.5g from the egg) = 212.5, so roughly 1.8 units of flour per unit of liquid, a 1.8:1 ratio.

This assumes that:

  • 20% of butter is water = 50g butter * 0.2 = 10g
  • 75% of eggs is water = 1 egg = 70g * 0.75 = 52.5g

In comparison, the typical ratios for a sourdough bread loaf using strong white flour are something like 540g:350g i.e. a 1.54:1 ratio which allows for the dough to be easier to handle and feel considerably less stiff.

The ratios in my revised recipe are 400g to (212g + 60g added water = 272g) = 1.47:1, which seems even lower than for the sourdough bread and that it would get us into elasticated dough with big holes territory, but remember that the dried fruit absorbed water!

In fact, I felt I could have added more water, but I didn’t want to mess with the expected texture of hot cross buns.

Consider also that strong white flour has more protein which needs more water to hydrate. It could be somewhat different if the recipe called for plain flour, but NO! Nigella demanded explicitly strong white flour in the literal first paragraph.

In her defence, there’s a mention in the recipe for maybe adding more water if it feels dry, but you’re starting from such a low point that I think it merits adjusting and increasing to the values I use in my version of the recipe.

A final note on water and the fruit: it also crossed my mind that maybe the dried fruits could have been soaked in water ahead of time so that they would not take water from the dough. Then I could have used the drained water from the soaked fruit instead of plain water. But I did not try that. Another option, depending on how subversive you’re feeling, could be to soak the fruit in some alcoholic drink, but maybe it is too much… maybe… then you can argue no kids can eat these because they had alcohol (even though it all evaporates when baking, teehehehe). 😈

More spices

I decided to double the amounts of spices. Where do you go with just one clove or a couple of cardamom pods? Nowhere!

Activate the yeast

I learnt this trick recently and I used it here because yeasts can struggle when there are so many things in the dough (spices, fat, fruits). Also, because the kitchen was quite cold, so a bit of added oomph is welcome.

Kneading at intervals, à la Dan Lepard

One of the best things I have learned for Dan is to let time do the hard work. All these recipes that call for “kneading until you have a silky elastic dough” or the use of a dough hook are asking for a lot of unnecessary effort… even more so if your recipe does not have enough liquid to end up with an elastic dough to start with!

I find it way more soothing to knead a bit, let the dough rest for 10 minutes, knead a bit more, etc. And also, each flour takes a different time to absorb the water.

Adding the fruits after the dough has been kneaded

This makes it easier to mix and knead and develop a bit of ‘gluten strands’ without the fruits breaking them by virtue of standing in the way. The original recipe calls for kneading with everything together, which is a sure way of not being able to tell when is the dough elasticated enough: is it lumpy because I need to keep mixing, or is it lumpy because there’s fruits on it?

Not proving overnight

I did not do this because fundamentally I did not have space in the fridge, but also I wanted the buns done on the same day. I guess you could still do if you wanted a deeper flavour.

Not scoring the buns

The original recipe called for making a dent on the buns with the blunt edge of the knife before proofing for the second time. I found this was a bit of a futile action, as once they proofed the dent was gone, because they had plumped up. And you’re covering the dent with piping later anyway…

Saving up an egg

I am still in my rebel “why sacrifice an egg for a wash” phase so my version simply uses some sugary water for the wash instead. But you could use a beaten egg as in the original recipe if you prefer!

Double the amount of paste

I ran short of paste for the crosses, and had to concoct more when I was half-way piping. I don’t know if it’s due to the size of the piping hose I was using, or why, but I doubled the amount in my recipe to account for this.

I also thought last year the paste looked too thin, and I had to pipe the buns twice as it felt as if the crosses had been drawn with a 0.01 mm pen rather than a thick marker. If we are to celebrate spring, we should do with a proper display of abundance!


I was extremely tempted to draw “LOL” instead of crosses on top of the buns, just to irk people who are so easily distracted by the idea of “ticks” instead of crosses that they self erupt in flames of indignation, but at the end I decided to opt for crosses because I wanted that particular aesthetic.

But it was SO TEMPTING! So tempting.

I won’t link to any of the news outlets that covered this “fury” at the sight of “ticks” instead of the “religious symbol” in this very much “traditional bun” because I am not giving zealots any of my web traffic, but you can easily find it if you’re interested in witnessing what “scraping the bottom of the barrel to attempt to stay relevant when you have nothing to say” looks like.

For reference, my favourite quote on the subject of the tradition of hot cross buns is this from the food historian that says:

The buns were made in London during the 18th Century. But when you start looking for records or recipes earlier than that, you hit nothing.

Ivan Day, 2010 article in BBC news.

For all the noise and indignation that we heard, you would have thought that someone was questioning whether the Romans ever set foot on the British isles or something fundamentally old like that, but turns out we’re just talking about something that started from the 1730s onwards, and just in London, not across the whole span of the country 🤭

Here’s another interesting article with Ivan in his Cumbrian cottage with plenty of data and old cooking implements.

Morale of the story: do your research before you erupt in flames. Then, realise you have nothing to say, and maybe quietly have a tea and eat some buns instead. We will all be much better for that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.