This step-by-step post will teach you how to make soft & fluffy sourdough hot cross buns with active sourdough starter. They’re perfectly spiced, not too sweet and enjoyed by all. Simply the best!
I didn’t grow up eating hot cross buns at Easter. But my friend Celia did, and every year she makes the most gorgeous, perfectly plump hot cross buns for her family and friends to share. Talk about baker’s envy! (fun fact: she taught me how to bake sourdough bread too).
Inspired to start a new tradition, I created my own hot cross bun recipe with tangy sourdough starter for an updated twist. SO GOOD! Want to know my secret? Combine the butter and flour together first before adding the rest of the ingredients. This creates a soft, fluffy, tender bun with a texture that’s so signature, you’ll want to take a nap inside. You’ll see. It’s an excellent addition to your collection of sourdough bread recipes for sure!
What Are Sourdough Hot Cross Buns?
Generally speaking: hot cross buns are soft, sweet bread rolls typically leavened with commercial yeast. They’re filled with raisins and candied fruit (like orange peel) and scented with cinnamon and other spices that smell like Christmas (like pumpkin pie spice). A shiny lacquered glaze goes on top. The white cross, as I understand it, can be made from powdered sugar or a flour paste.
For my version, I use bubbly active sourdough starter to naturally leaven the dough. It adds wonderful flavor and a slight chewy texture. The rounded tops are glazed with fruity apricot jam. In lieu of making a flour and water paste for the cross, I use a quick cream cheese icing. Celia says this icing is very “American.”
Hot Cross Buns Ingredients (You Will Need):
For the dough
- Whole milk
- Bread flour
- Sugar (I use organic blonde cane sugar from Costco)
- Fine sea salt
- Unsalted butter
- Bubbly, active sourdough starter
- Large egg
- Pure vanilla extract
- Pumpkin pie spice
For the glaze
- Apricot jam (I like Bonne Maman)
- Splash of water
For the cross
- Cream cheese
- Unsalted butter
- Powdered sugar
- Whole milk
TIP: Before you begin, this is an overnight dough which takes 12+ hrs to rise in cool weather, approximately 68 F. Start the night before, in the evening, and plan to bake the following day. For additional guidance, jump to my personal baking schedule at the end of this post.
Make The Dough
- Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the softened butter, one cube at a time, while the machine is running. Add the sourdough starter, milk and egg. Mix to incorporate.
- Using your hands, form the dough into rough ball and leave it in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting…
- Soak the raisins in vanilla extract. Dried fruit is typically soaked in water to plump their shape and to add moisture to the dough. I love the taste of vanilla extract instead.
- After the 30 minute rest, add the raisins, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice to the bowl.
- Knead the dough, using the dough hook this time, for 8 minutes. It will be smooth and supple when finished. It should not stick to your hands.
- Shape the dough into a ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. The dough is now ready to rise.
- Let the dough rise overnight, about 12-18 hours at room temperature (68 F). The dough is ready when it has almost tripled in size.
- Note: rise the dough directly in my 5 qt. KitchenAid mixing bowl covered with plastic wrap. It should rise about 3/4’s of the way up when ready. You can also use a 2 quart dough tub.
Optional Step: about 1 hour into the bulk rise, stretch and fold the dough. I do two sets, spaced 1 hour apart. This will increase the overall volume of the baked buns. You can see how I do it, with video, here.
TIP: Do not be alarmed if the dough is not ready at the 12 hour mark, especially if your kitchen is colder than 68 F! Cinnamon slows down the rise of the dough. To speed things along, either place the dough in a proofing box set to 75-80 F. Or, preheat your home oven to 75-80 F and then shut it off immediately (use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature doesn’t go above 80F!). Place the covered bowl inside until it bulks up.
Shape The Dough
- When the dough is perfectly risen, remove it onto your work surface. Shape it into a log and divide into 12 equal pieces.
- To shape into balls: working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the sides over towards the center. Flip it over, keep it on the counter, and roll it into a ball with the palm of your hand.
- Place the balls seam side down in a generously buttered 9×13-inch pan. Make sure they’re spaced evenly apart, 3 pieces across and 4 down. Now, the dough needs to rise again.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and rest at room temperature for 2 1/2 – 3 hrs (yes, it really takes that long…).
- Again, to speed things up, use the proofing box or oven trick mentioned in the box above. The rise time will decrease to 1 – 1 1/2 hrs @ 75-80 F. The dough is ready when it has puffed up and doubled in size. DO NOT RUSH THIS STEP! THE BUNS WILL BE DENSE.
- I use this resting time to make the icing for the cross; it needs to firm up in the fridge before using.
Bake The Dough & Glaze
- When the dough is nice and puffed up, bake on the center rack for for 28-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the glaze: Gently stir together the apricot jam and a splash of warm water. The texture should be syrupy, but not too thin. Brush onto the baked buns while they’re still hot.
Pipe the Icing Cross
- When the buns are COMPLETELY COOL, pipe the cream cheese icing on top going in one direction first, and then in the other. Do not make individual crosses over the tops as you go- it will drive you crazy.
Like all fresh bread, these sourdough hot cross buns are best enjoyed on the same day they’re made. I wouldn’t bake them ahead of time. But do share with everyone you know when they’re ready. Yum!
My Baking Schedule
This is an overnight dough, so make sure to start the night before. The buns will be ready for breakfast or brunch the following day. Feel free to adjust the times below to suit your own needs.
In the evening…
- 6:00 PM: Make the dough (we eat dinner while it’s resting).
- 6:30 PM: Add the raisins and spices, and run for 8 minutes in the stand mixer (this is when I clean up the kitchen).
- 7:30 PM: 1st Stretch & Fold
- 8:30 PM: 2nd Stretch & Fold
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight on the counter, for 12-18 hrs @ 68 F.
The following morning…
- 6:30 AM: Check the dough (give it more time to rise, if needed). Shape into balls.
- 6:45- 8:00 AM: Second rise (give it for more time to rise, if needed). Make icing while dough is resting.
- 8:00 AM: Bake buns
- 8:30 AM: Brush with glaze… pipe icing on top when completely cool.
We make these sourdough hot cross buns all year round. They’re delightfully fluffy, not too sweet, and enjoyed by all- especially the kids! If I’m pressed for time, I’ll do the glaze only and skip the cross.
A quick note about the flour: I use King Arthur bread flour for this recipe. It has a high protein content of about 12.7%. This is what gives the sourdough buns a lofty, high rise. If you’re using a different brand of flour, with a lesser protein content (i.e. Gold Medal) consider reducing the milk by 25 g for similar results.
For the Dough
- 240 g (1 cup) milk, whole or 2%
- 500 g bread flour (I use King Arthur)
- 50 g sugar (I use organic blonde cane sugar from Costco)
- 9 g fine sea salt
- 113 g (8 tbsp or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes (I use Kerry Gold)
- 100 g (1/2 cup) bubbly, active sourdough starter
- 1 large egg (50 g)
- 80 g (about a 1/2 cup) raisins, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
For the Glaze
- 2 tbsp quality apricot jam (I like Bonne Maman)
- Splash of water
For the Cross
- 4 tbsp cream cheese, softened
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 6 tsp half-n-half or milk
Before you begin: This is an overnight dough which takes approximately 12-18 hrs to rise @ 68 F. Start the night before, in the evening, and plan to bake the following day. See my note below on how to speed up the rise time in chilly weather. Enjoy!
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan or microwave and set aside. Note: if you use cold milk straight from the fridge, the dough will take longer to rise.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt with the paddle attachment. Add the softened butter, cube by cube, with the machine running. The goal is to evenly disperse the butter throughout the flour; rub any large pieces together with your fingertips.
- Add the warm milk, starter, and egg to the bowl. Mix for 1 minute to combine. With your hands, work the dough into a rough ball incorporating any dry bits of flour at the bottom. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and rest for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, soak the chopped raisins in the vanilla extract.
- After the dough has rested, add the raisins (and any liquid), cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice to the bowl.
- Using the dough hook, mix on medium-low speed, about 3 on a KitchenAid for 8 minutes. If the dough starts to climb up the side of the bowl, stop the machine and push it back down. The dough will be smooth and supple when finished. It should not stick to your hands. If it does, add a sprinkle of flour.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise overnight at room temperature (about 68 F) for 12-18 hours. The dough is ready when it has tripled in size. Optional Step: about 1 hour into the bulk rise, I like to do 1 set of stretch and folds. I’ll do another set about 1 hour later. This technique will speed up the bulk rise time and the overall volume of the baked buns. **See note below.
- The following day, generously coat the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch pan with butter.
- Remove the dough onto your work surface- no need to flour the surface first. Gently shape the dough into a log. Cut into 12 equal pieces, about 92 g ea.
- To shape into balls: working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the sides over towards the center. Flip it over, keep it on the counter, and roll it into a ball with the palm of your hand. Place the balls into the pan, evenly spaced, 3 across and 4 down.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size. This can take up to 2-3 hours at 68 F. Personally, I like to use the proofing box or oven trick at this point (again, see me note below). The rise will only take about 1 1/2- 2 hours @ 75-80 F. The dough should look very puffy and plump when ready. Do not rush this step; the buns will be dense.
- While the dough is resting, make the icing for the cross. In a small bowl, whisk the softened cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and half-n-half. Add additional liquid as needed; the texture should be thick enough to pipe. Put the icing into a ziptop bag with the tip snipped off, or in a squeeze bottle and refrigerate to firm up before using. You will not use all of the icing. Save the rest for another use.
- Preheat your oven to 400 F. Place the dough inside, center rack. Reduce the heat to 350. Bake for 28-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the apricot jam and a splash of water in a saucepan.
- Remove the buns from the oven. Brush the tops with some of the glaze while they’re still hot.
- When the buns are COMPLETELY COOL, pipe the cream cheese icing on top going in one direction first, and then the other. Do not make an individual cross on top of each as you go- it will drive you crazy.
- Serve the buns fresh at room temperature.
**Do not be alarmed if the dough is not ready at the 12 hour mark, especially if it’s colder than 68 F in your kitchen. It’s because of the cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice- it slows down the rise time. To speed things up, you can either place the dough in a proofing box set to 75-80 F. Or, preheat your home oven to 75-80 F and then shut it off immediately (use an oven thermometer to make sure it’s set to exactly 80 F and not higher!). Place the covered bowl of dough inside until it bulks up.
Keywords: sourdough, sourdough hot cross buns, hot cross buns, sourdough recipe, artisan sourdough, easter recipes