We will serve no buns before their time: Except hot cross buns

How do you track the seasons? By the temperature outdoors? The quality of light pouring in the window as you sit at the breakfast table? Or perhaps by which of your favorite professional teams is in action. (Go Sox!)

Me, I track the seasons by what’s for sale just inside the entry doors at Kmart; and what’s featured in the supermarket’s in-store bakery.

Though I haven’t been to Kmart recently, I’d imagine that by now, 7 weeks before Easter, they’re heavily into spring clothes, stuffed bunnies, and the ubiquitous Marshmallow Peeps—in more shapes and colors than ever before.

Yes, the past few years we’ve witnessed a Peeps explosion. Blue bunnies! Purple eggs! Green chicks! Yellow, white, pink, doesn’t matter to me, so long as they never lose that plain-jane marshmallow flavor, and signature soft-gritty Peep texture.

Supermarket bakeries, on the other hand, are still drafting on the high of Mardi Gras king cakes, while getting ready to jump into shamrock cookies, green-iced cupcakes, and golden rounds of Americanized Irish soda bread.

St. Patrick’s Day is a tough one for bakers. Green + baking aren’t two concepts that play happily together. Though pistachio cookies and Key lime pie try to carry the day, there’s not a single kelly-green baked good that doesn’t rely on a heavy dose of food color for its hue. Ewwww.

But Easter—ah, Easter is heaven for supermarket bakeries. Bunny cakes! Iced flower cookies! In Italian bakeries, gorgeous lamb cakes, and columba pasquale, Easter dove bread.

And everywhere, of course, hot cross buns.

These buns, historically baked 2 days before Easter on Good Friday, are now available well before that. Originally packed with candied peel and other dried fruits, and marked with a piped pastry cross on top—not sweet icing—they’ve devolved into plain raisin buns topped with a thick frosting cross.

I don’t know many kids who like hot cross buns, once they’ve licked off the icing. But lots of Boomers still seem to go for them, perhaps remembering pre-Kmart days when the seasons weren’t accelerated and extended, and the appearance of hot cross buns meant spring really was just around the corner.

So, forgive me. I’m pulling a Kmart here, and surfacing hot cross buns well before their calendar due date. We’re in the heart of winter still; February and March, here in Vermont, are traditionally our snowiest months.


Still, I can see the green tips of daffodils edging up along my south foundation. So maybe spring isn’t so far away after all. And perhaps it’s OK to celebrate the longed-for return of warm weather with a batch of hot cross buns well in advance of Easter.

Read our Easy Hot Cross Buns recipe as you follow along with these pictures.


First, let’s prepare the fruit; you should do this well ahead of when you want to make the buns, as it needs to sit for preferably a couple of hours (longer doesn’t hurt).

I like to use tiny, sweet dried currants; and our fruitcake blend, which combines diced apricots, pineapple, cranberries, raisins, and dates. Non-traditional, for sure, but oh-so-tasty. Combine the fruit with rum (or apple juice), cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for a minute or so, just to heat it up. Remove from the heat, and let it cool to room temperature. As it cools, it should absorb most of the liquid.


I decided to follow this recipe’s original directions by combining everything except the flour—butter, milk, eggs, yeast, sugar, spices, salt, and baking powder.


And here’s what happened—a mess. Globs of butter and spices floating in liquid. Next time, I’m combining ALL of the dough ingredients at once.


Here’s what the dough looked like when I added the flour. That’s more like it.


It’s very soft. I beat it with the flat beater for 3 minutes…


…then scraped down the sides of the bowl, and switched to the dough hook.


An additional 4 minutes of kneading with the dough hook turned it into a sticky, fairly smooth dough.


In goes the cooled fruit, including any liquid that hasn’t been absorbed.


This is sticky business, kneading the fruit in. Your best bet is to oil your hands, and do it right in the bowl.


Keep at it till the fruit is well distributed throughout the dough. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 1 hour.


Here it is after 1 hour. It’s not a vigorous riser, but should puff up a bit.


Gently deflate the dough by scraping it down.


Use a muffin scoop, if you like, to scoop out generous, billiard-ball-sized portions.


Grease your hands, and round the scoops into balls. I ended up with 13 full-sized buns, and one baby. They snuggled nicely in a 9” x 13” pan.


Cover the pan; a plastic shower cap works nicely. Let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they’ve expanded and started to crowd one another.


Next, whisk up a mixture of egg white and milk; this will give the buns a satiny shine.


Apply to the risen buns; a silicone brush does a nice, gentle job.


Here they are, ready to go into the oven.


Bake the buns for about 20 minutes, till they’re a rich golden brown.


Remove them from the oven.


See that soft shine? Take them out of the pan, and cool them on a rack.


When the buns are cool, make the icing. Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk or cream, a tiny pinch of salt, and vanilla.


Your goal is enough milk or cream to make icing that’s the perfect consistency for piping. Go easy with the liquid; icing can go from perfectly pipe-able to liquid with just a few extra drops.


Now comes the challenge: piping the crosses atop the cooled buns. I used to cut the corner off a plastic sandwich bag to do this; now, it seems every sandwich bag I find has a gusseted corner, or some other “improvement,” that makes it unsuitable for snipping off its corner to make a homemade piping bag.

Plan B: a parchment funnel.  (Or Plan B might be disposable pastry bags, if you’re into piping icing on a consistent basis.)

Roll the parchment into a cone.


Secure with a rubber band.


Spoon icing into parchment cone, and cut off its tip, if it’s too small.


Squeeze icing in cross shapes atop the buns.


Here’s what my homemade piping bag looked like by the time I was done. This is why disposable pastry bags were invented.


But in the end—success. These buns looked almost as good as they tasted. Welcome, spring!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Hot Cross Buns.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Entenmann’s hot cross buns, 41¢/ounce

Bake at home: Easy Hot Cross Buns, 12¢/ounce

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Lynn

    These look lovely. My recipe takes finely minced dried apricot and currants. I make up a small batch of English Spice Mix- 1″ of cinnamon stick, 1.5 t each whole cloves,ground mace, freshly ground nutmeg, coriander seeds, ground allspice or berries. Grind everything until a smooth powder results. This keeps for a few months and I like to use it up during spring and summer baking, also nice on oatmeal.

  2. Mary McC

    Well, mine look nothing like yours, fruit’s sticking out all over, but they smell wonderful! A suggestion: when you say mix in your bread machine, could you add ‘on the dough cycle’ for those of,us who only use it occasionally? And a question…if I’m not sure if the middle of the pan is done, can I use an instant-read thermometer, and what temperature should I look for? Thanls!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mary, the internal temperature of these buns should be around 190 degrees F. I hope this helps. Bryanna@KAF

  3. Jill

    I have both SAF Red and SAF Gold instant yeast. Would the Gold be preferred in the Easy Hot Cross Buns recipe, given the amount of butter, or should I stick with the Red? I made these last Easter and they were wonderful, but I can’t remember which I used. Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jill, you could use either. The recipe calls for Red Instant, but the gold would work well too because of the enriched dough. So use whichever your heart desires, but the recipe originally uses Red. Bryanna@KAF

  4. Elaine Oxford

    I am a Brit and these look wonderful I will bake some tomorrow ready for as we say in UK
    ” Good Friday ” thank you for this delightful explanation on the making and baking pictures

  5. Teresa

    Hello I was looking for recipes to use with a kitchenaid, saw that you dump in everything then the flour. Yeast and all ? No special warm up ?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This recipe calls for instant yeast, Teresa, which does not need proofing in warm water before adding to the mix. And these days active dry yeast performs very much like instant yeast, and should work fine this way as well. If you’re old school like me and feel safer proofing your active dry yeast in a little warm liquid, this certainly won’t hurt anything. Simply warm 1/2 cup of the milk from the recipe not higher than 110 degrees and then proof your yeast in it for 10 minutes. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly add it to the remainder of the ingredients and proceed with the recipe as written. Barb@KAF

  6. Jenni

    Just made these and they are fantastic, not because they were easy, but because they taste out of this world! My husband can’t keep his hands off these delights! I’m going to have to make another batch tomorrow!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jenni, we’re so glad you and your husband enjoyed this recipe! Happy baking! Barb@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Jenni, We are so happy that you and your husband enjoyed this rolls. Another batch tomorrow will make everyone’s Saturday great! Happy baking! JoAnn@KAF

  7. Lise

    Traditionally (in England) the cross on top of the buns is made with strips of thin pastry, added before the buns go into the oven. They aren’t supposed to be overly sweet!

    I live at in NM at 7,850 ft elevation. What adjustments should I make to this recipe?

    1. Susan Reid

      Lise, cut the leavening in accordance with our altitude chart. Use extra large eggs instead of lard, and increase the amount of milk to 1 1/2 cups. Try refrigerating the dough for its first rise (it will go much faster at your altitude). Bake the buns at 400F, and check them at 15 minutes. You may need to tent them with foil for another few to get them set inside without overbrowning. Good luck! Susan

  8. Donna D.

    Would I be able to use the Gluten Free Flour and if so, what measurements would change for the remaining ingredients….thanks


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