I know this may sound ridiculous but often when it comes to hot cross buns, we can’t finish the whole batch of 12 before they go stale! Yes, I can then use them for an Easter French toast or bread & butter pudding but sometimes I would just rather make a small batch of HCBs and finish them on the day they’re made whilst they’re at their best.
To me, a small batch of 4, plump hot cross buns is the perfect amount. It means me, my boyfriend and my dad can have one each when they’re fresh from the oven. Then someone (probably me) can have the last one for breakfast the next day. That’s why I’ve made this recipe! It’s really an ideal number of HCBs for 2-4 people to finish quite rapidly.
Tips for the best hot cross buns
- Make sure your mixed spice is fresh: As it’s likely that you don’t use mixed spice very often (it’s quite a ‘seasonal’ flavour), I advise that you check how old your mixed spice is before using it. Its flavour will start to degrade so fresh is best but if it’s over 2 years old, you may have to buy a new jar.
- Don’t add too much mixed spice: mixed spice contains cinnamon which has anti-microbial properties and can really mess with your yeast. Therefore don’t be tempted to add LOADS of mixed spice to the dough or it may stop it from rising! If you find that the flavour isn’t strong enough (a) check how fresh your mixed spice is (b) buy some mixed spice flavouring and add a few drops to the liquid in your dough for a more intense flavour.
- Mix together the cross mixture and let it sit for a while: making the cross mixture can be a bit of a pain in the arse. It needs to be runny enough that you can pipe it easily, but not too loose that it spreads everywhere when you pipe it. I’ve found that usually slowly mixing the water into the flour until it gets to the right consistency is the way to go. And I usually end up using roughly equal weights of water & flour. I like to mix it up when the shapes buns are rising and then set it aside for around 20 minutes. This gives a chance for the mixture to relax a bit which helps it pipe more easily.
- Knead the dough until it passes the windowpane test: when kneading bread doughs, the easiest way to tell that the gluten has been sufficiently developed is the windowpane test. Take a small piece of dough and gently stretch it out between your fingers until it’s thin enough to see the silhouette of your fingers through when held up to the light. If it breaks before it reaches this point, it means you have some more kneading to do! (See the video in the recipe card for a reference to the windowpane test).
- Don’t add too much extra flour when you’re kneading: I knead this dough by hand as it’s a small batch so it’s not too cumbersome. When kneading by hand it can be tempting to keep adding flour to prevent the dough sticking to everything but you must resist! Try to only add a small sprinkle of flour occasionally as you knead. As the gluten develops, the dough should become less and less sticky by itself.
- Fold the fruit into the dough after a brief rest: I let me dough rest for 10 minutes before incorporating the fruit. This gives the gluten time to relax which means its easier to stretch the dough out thinly and sprinkle on the fruit.
- Soak the fruit in hot water before using: the dried fruit benefits from a soak in hot water as it’ll absorb some of the liquid and become more plump & juicy, leading to softer buns too.
- Use a strong white flour: we need the higher protein content of a bread flour (strong flour) in this recipe to help the buns become puffy and light!
- When they’re a day old, TOAST THEM!: this is probably obvious but the day after baking, the best way to make the HCBs taste as if they’re fresh is to split and toast them. The toasting temporarily reverses the staling process, making them super soft and warm. It also adds that nice crispy layer on top for a textural difference to the soft inside.
Other hot cross bun recipes
Small Batch Hot Cross Buns
- 100 g (2/3 cup loosely packed) mixed dried fruit (or 70g raisins + 30g chopped candied citrus peel)
- 1 Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea bag optional
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- ~150 ml boiling water
- 180 g (1 ½ cups) strong white bread flour
- 1 tbsp granulated or caster sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine table salt
- 1/2 tsp instant dried yeast
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tbsp vegetable/sunflower/rapeseed/light olive oil
- 1 medium egg (55g without shell)
- 40 g plain flour
- ~40 g water
- apricot jam, maple syrup, golden syrup (for glazing) optional
Soak the fruit:
- Place the mixed dried fruit, tea bag (if using) and mixed spice into a small bowl. Cover with the boiling water and set aside for 5-10 minutes until the water has cooled to lukewarm.
- Remove the tea bag and discard. Strain the fruit and reserve, catching the soaking liquid in a bowl below. Reserve 60g of the soaking liquid.
Make the dough:
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt, briefly stirring together to combine. Mix in the dried yeast and mixed spice.
- Pour the 60g of the soaking liquid you reserved earlier into a jug. Crack the egg into the jug and mix until smooth. Pour the liquid into the bowl of flour along with the oil.
- Stir to get a rough dough then tip out onto a work surface and knead, dusting lightly with flour as needed, until you have a smooth dough which passes the windowpane test*.
- Place the dough back into the bowl you mixed it in, drizzle with some more oil and turn to coat. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes so it can relax.
Incorporate fruit into dough:
- Tip the rested dough out onto a work surface and press out with your fingertips into a large rectangle.
- Sprinkle the drained fruit evenly over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter. Rotate 90 degrees and fold into thirds again.
- Place the dough back into the bowl, cover and let rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled in volume.
Shape and bake:
- Punch down the dough and tip out onto a clean work surface. Cut into quarters and roll each quarter into a tight ball.
- Place the balls onto a lined/greased baking tray (or in a cake tin) and cover. Leave to rise somewhere warm for 30-40 minutes, until puffy and, when gently poked, an indentation is left in the dough.
- About 15 minutes before your buns are fully risen, preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F fan (200°C/400°F non-fan).
- Mix the cross ingredients together by gradually stirring the water into the flour (you might not need all the water) to get a spoonable mixture (see video for the texture) and transfer to a piping bag (or small sandwich bag) and snip off the very tip (it's better to have a smaller hole than a larger one, IMO). Pipe the mixture in a cross shape on top of each bun.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and puffy.
- Glaze the warm buns with warmed apricot jam/maple syrup/golden syrup if you wish! Eat the buns warm or let them cool then halve & toast. Serve with butter and jam.
Ingredients for Small Batch Hot Cross Buns – explained
- Mixed dried fruit – this is an essential part of a traditional hot cross bun! Usually a mix of sultanas/raisins and mixed, candied citrus peel (lemon & orange) which has been chopped into small squares. It brings a sweet and fruity flavour to each bite.
- Tea bag – I like using an Earl Grey tea as it has a soft fragrance but an English breakfast tea is also delicious. This is optional! It just brings a new level of flavour to the dough.
- Mixed spice – also an essential part of hot cross buns. Mostly made with cinnamon but has coriander seed, caraway, ginger, clove and nutmed in there too. See below for how to make a DIY mixed spice if you don’t have any. If you’re in the US, use pumpkin pie spices!
- Boiling water – the hot water helps the fruit to plump up quickly so you don’t need to soak it overnight. This makes the fruit extra juicy.
- Strong white flour – the higher gluten content in this flour helps the bread dough to form a strong gluten network which in turn holds the gas created by the yeast, helping the dough to rise.
- Sugar – this lightly sweetens the dough but also provides some easy-access food for the yeast to start digesting so they can produce carbon dioxide.
- Salt – the salt helps to strengthen the gluten so makes for a stronger dough. It also enhances the flavour of the bread so is essential!
- Oil – a small amount of oil keeps the buns soft and fluffy. You can use melted butter instead if you like, in which case use 20g of unsalted butter.
- Egg – the proteins and fat in the egg make the dough fluffy and helps to keep the baked buns softer for longer.
- Apricot jam/ Maple syrup/ golden syrup – these are used to glaze the buns, making them shiny. They’re optional so no worries if you don’t have any.
How to make Small Batch Hot Cross Buns (step-by-step explained)
- Soak the fruit: By soaking the fruit with a tea bag and mixed spice, we help to infuse those flavours into the fruit which gives them extra depth of flavour and makes them super juicy.
- Strain the fruit: The fruit should now have absorbed some of the water so we can strain off the soaking liquid. We keep some of this soaking liquid as we’ll use it in the hot cross bun dough in a bit.
- Mix the dry ingredients: We mix the sugar, salt, dried yeast and mixed spice into the flour to help the dry ingredients distribute evenly throughout the dough. I like to use an instant yeast as it can be mixed straight into the dry ingredients with no need to hydrate it first.
- Mix the egg and soaking liquid: combining the egg and reserved soaking liquid together makes it easy to incorporate them into the dough.
- Mix the wet into the dry: we add the egg mixture and the oil to the flour mixture and stir to get a rough dough. We don’t need it to be smooth at the moment as we’re kneading next.
- Knead the dough: the dough should look quite shaggy right now but by kneading it on a work surface we finish the mixing of the ingredients. The kneading helps to develop the gluten network (gluten is a protein found in wheat flour) which will help the buns to rise and hold the gas produced by the yeast.
- Rest the dough for 10 minutes: immediately after kneading, the dough will be quite tight. By resting the dough briefly, the gluten can relax which makes it easier to work with.
- Add the fruit: now the dough has relaxed we can stretch it out into a rectangle and cover with the dried fruit. The dough is folded into thirds twice which helps to incorporate the fruit into the dough.
- Prove the dough: we leave the dough in a warm spot for 1-2 hours until doubled in volume. During this time, the yeast will start to digest some of the starch/sugar in the dough and produce carbon dioxide. This makes air pockets in the dough which expand, supported by the gluten network.
- Punch down the dough, divide, shape: The risen dough is punched down to remove the air and divided into 4 pieces which we roll into balls. If you want you can weigh the ball of dough after punching down and divide by 4 to get perfectly even buns.
- Prove again: the shaped buns have their final prove now to let them get nicely puffy. If we didn’t do this, the buns would only rise a small amount in the oven before the yeast died, meaning the buns would be dense.
- Pipe on the cross mixture: this doesn’t affect the flavour but it’s a traditional decoration for the hot cross buns. The flour and water paste is piped over the buns before they’re baked – it doesn’t brown in the oven so you get a lovely white cross on the finished HCBs.
- Bake and glaze: the buns are baked until golden at 180C fan. The warm buns can be brushed with a glaze of apricot jam or syrup to give them a glossy appearance.
Glaze for hot cross buns
The glaze is really for appearance mainly as it will make the buns looks nicely shiny. I personally prefer them unglazed as the glazes can make them annoying to toast (the glaze can catch and burn in a toaster quite easily so you have to toast them in the oven instead). They also will make the buns sticky to the touch which can be unpleasant! So, if you don’t want to glaze the buns, don’t feel like you have to.
I’ve found mostly that hot cross buns are glazed with apricot jam which has been warmed in a small pan until loose. I think apricot jam is the most popular as it has a mild flavour and quite a neutral colour but you could use any other jam. You can also use something like maple syrup or golden syrup, heated until it has reduced slightly so it is more sticky.
Spices in hot cross buns
Typically hot cross buns contain ‘mixed spice’ – a blend of sweet spices which usually contain cinnamon, coriander seed, clove and nutmeg. Other spices it can contain are ground ginger, caraway and dill seed.
Mixed spice is actually quite a lot like pumpkin pie spice so if you’re in the USA, that’s probably the easiest substitute to use.
Homemade Mixed Spice Recipe:
Combine: 4 tsp ground cinnamon + 4 tsp ground coriander + 1/2 tsp ground caraway seed + 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg + 1/2 tsp ground ginger + 1/4 tsp ground cloves.
Store in a small, labelled, airtight jar.
How to eat hot cross buns
When they’re freshly baked, you can split them in half and eat warm with salted butter and jam (I like apricot jam!). Once they’ve cooled down, you can split them in half and toast them before topping with the jam/butter. As these buns are glazed they can cause issues with a toaster. Because of this, I prefer to toast my HCBs on a tray, in the oven with the grill setting on – just make sure you flip them over so both sides get toasty AND keep a close eye on them as they can burn FAST.