Super soft and fluffy sourdough hot cross buns are achieved by using a stiff levain and the tangzhong method used in milk bread recipes. This is an egg-free and vegan-friendly recipe. Edible flowers are added for fun!
Making Sourdough Hot Cross Buns for Easter
Hot cross buns originated in medieval England and are made and eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent. They have become a traditional food served around Easter. The inclusion of fruit and spices plus the addition of sweetener and fat in this enriched dough can often result in hot cross buns that are dense and become hard after a short time. This hot cross bun recipe uses simple techniques that keep the buns soft, moist and fluffy longer.
Because we are working with sourdough this recipe takes about 36 hours from start to finish but most of that time is just letting the starter build and the dough rise and proof. There are only about 1 ½ hours of active time involved in making these hot cross buns. The baking schedule outlined below starts in the evening on Day 1 and ends with baking the buns off on the morning of Day 3. So you can have warm hot cross buns ready for Good Friday or Easter morning, which is when I usually make them.
Better with Edible Flowers
Our garden is coming to life with spring flowers including tons of cheerful violas. The idea to stick edible flowers onto the buns comes from my dear friend Aimee Twigger of Twigg Studios. When I saw her primrose adorned buns last spring I could not stop thinking about them and had to try this technique for myself. I absolutely love how they turned out! They really look like a celebration of spring. This step is totally optional and can be skipped.
Making a Stiff Levain for Enriched Sourdough Bread
A stiff levain or stiff starter, known as lievito madre in Italian, is simply a starter that is fed with a higher percentage of flour and a lower percentage of liquid (water or milk) resulting in a starter that has the consistency of a stiff dough when it is fed. Stiff starters will take longer to become active but will stay active for a longer period of time than say a 100% hydration starter, which is a starter that is fed with equal amounts of flour and water. They tend to be stronger and more resilient than higher hydration starters and have a less sour flavor, making them ideal for enriched sourdough breads like this sourdough hot cross buns recipe.
Follow the Tangzhong Method for Softer Loftier Buns
The key to making extra soft and fluffy sourdough hot cross buns is to follow the tangzhong method of pre-cooking a small portion of the flour and liquid (milk or water) to create a thick gummy paste. Tangzhong, also known as water roux, is an Asian technique with roots in Japan's yudane. The idea behind this technique is to pre-gelatinize the starches in the flour so they can absorb more liquid and retain more moisture throughout the entire bread-making process resulting in bread that stays soft and fresh longer. It is particularly useful when making enriched dough, or dough with added sweeteners and fats, which tend to be dense and can become stale rather quickly.
The added moisture also helps the dough to rise more when baked, which is known as oven spring, because more steam is created as the water molecules heat up and evaporate.
How to Make Hot Cross Buns
Step 1: Make the stiff levain
Day 1: In the evening mix the stiff levain ingredients together to form a small round of dough. Then place it into a clean jar and cover it loosely with a lid. Let the stiff levain ferment overnight at room temperature (roughly 68˚F/20˚C) until it doubles to triples in volume with a domed top. You can push the fermentation further with a stiff levain than with a higher hydration starter, meaning it will remain active with enough food to keep it going longer.
Step 2: Make the tangzhong for soft hot cross buns
Day 2: In the morning cook the tangzhong, which is a mixture of flour and milk in this recipe, until it forms a thick gummy paste. Tangzhong is a Chinese method of creating super soft and springy bread by cooking a small portion of flour with water or milk to add to the bread dough. It helps enriched bread stay moist and soft for longer.
Step 3: Mix the dough for hot cross buns with sourdough starter
First melt the butter and honey together then add the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer followed by the milk, vanilla, orange zest, and spices. The milk should cool the warm butter/honey mixture down so that it feels lukewarm to the touch. If it feels too warm then let it cool more before adding the levain.
Add all of the stiff levain and tangzhong to the bowl and break them up with a fork. Then add the flours and salt then let the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook run on its lowest setting for about 15-20 minutes until a soft tacky dough forms and passes the "windowpane" test, meaning the dough is ready when it can be stretched thin enough to let light through without tearing.
Step 4: Soak the fruit
Soak a mixture of dried fruits such as raisins, currants, chopped dates, chopped apricots, and candied orange peel in orange juice with an optional tiny splash of orange blossom water while the dough is being mixed.
Step 5: Laminate the hot cross bun dough with the soaked fruit
Turn the dough out onto an oiled or water-moistened countertop/breadboard and stretch it out into a large thin rectangle. Drain the dried fruit and scatter it over the stretched dough. Press the fruit into the dough then fold the dough in thirds like a letter. Then roll the dough up and knead it into a round.
Step 6: Bulk ferment the dough
Place the dough into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a shower cap, plastic wrap, or beeswax wrap, and let it bulk rise at room temperature for 8 hours or until it has almost doubled in volume.
Step 7: Shape and proof the hot cross brioche buns
Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a proofing bag and let the buns proof at room temperature for 2 hours then transfer them to the refrigerator overnight.
Day 3: In the morning, take the buns out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature, and finish proofing if needed. They should be noticeably puffy and will hold an indentation when gently pressed with a floured fingertip when they are proofed enough.
Step 8: Pipe the crosses onto the buns
When the buns are nearly done proofing, preheat the oven to 400˚F/205˚C.
Brush the proofed buns with eggwash and optionally decorate the tops of the buns with edible flowers.
Mix all-purpose flour with 5-6 tablespoons of water to form a thick paste for the crosses. Add the mixture to a small piping bag or Ziploc bag and snip off the point or corner with scissors. Then pipe the crosses over the flowers on top of the buns.
Step 8: Bake the buns
Bake the buns covered for 10 minutes. Then remove the cover and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes or until the buns are golden on top and their internal temperature reaches 190-200˚F.
Step 8: Glaze the buns with jam or marmalade
Warm the apricot jam/orange marmalade in a small saucepan or in the microwave to loosen up its consistency. Then brush the jam liberally over the tops of the buns. Serve them warm or at room temperature.
Tips for Making This Sourdough Hot Cross Buns Recipe
Weigh the ingredients
I always recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh ingredients when making doughs, especially sourdough. It is the most accurate way to follow the recipe and ensures that you will get the correct results from any recipe. For this reason, I did not include volume measurements in the recipe.
The "windowpane" test
Use the "windowpane" test to test when the dough has developed enough gluten. To do this wet your hands and pinch off a small piece of the dough, then stretch it out as thin as it can go without tearing. If it is thin enough to let light through without tearing then the dough was kneaded enough.
Let the brioche hot cross buns proof fully
Enriched breads and breads with inclusions like these sourdough fruit buns require long proofing times. The added fat, sugar, fruit, and spices all inhibit yeast activity and slow down the fermentation of the dough. It is nearly impossible to overproof this dough so make sure to give it enough time to proof properly. The buns should look puffy and double in volume and hold an indentation when gently pressed.
Cover the pan
Cover the sourdough brioche hot cross buns for the first 10 minutes of baking to trap the steam, which helps improve oven spring and the loftiness of the final buns. Use an inverted quarter sheet pan, which would fit a 9x13 pan perfectly, or use tin foil.
Types of Spring Edible Flowers to Use
- violas (these are what I used)
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I freeze sourdough hot cross buns?
Yes, the best way to store baked hot cross buns is to slice them in half and freeze them in a bag. Thaw or warm them before serving. I have not tested freezing unbaked buns, but they may be able to freeze after the buns are shaped and proofed. Thaw and let them come to room temperature before baking them.
Can I use icing instead of flour and water to make the crosses?
Yes, the crosses can be piped with icing after they are baked and glazed. Use a simple thick icing of powdered sugar and lemon or orange juice, or royal icing.
Can this sourdough hot cross bun recipe be made gluten-free?
No, this particular recipe cannot be made gluten-free as it depends on the gluten in the flour to strengthen the dough.
Can this hot cross bun recipe be made vegan?
Yes, the recipe includes vegan-friendly swaps in the ingredient list and notes for sourdough vegan hot cross buns.
For more Easter menu ideas check out these recipes:
- Violet Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
- Lemon Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Sourdough Hot Cross Buns - Bunny Buns
- Ricotta Pie (Torta di Ricotta) with Lemon and Honey
- Vegan Spring Carrot Cake
- Vegan Sourdough Danish
- Our Vegan Easter Feast with Recipes
- Naturally Dyed Wood Easter Eggs ~ Vegan Friendly DIY Easter Crafts
Love this recipe?
If you made my Soft and Fluffy Sourdough Hot Cross Buns with Edible Flowers recipe I would love to hear your feedback! Please leave a star-rating review of the recipe and let me know what you think in a comment below. This small act is a great way to show your support for the food blogs you read and love. Please tag me in your photos on Instagram so I can see your creations. I might miss it if you only tag me with the caption because those notifications fall off quickly, but I can always find it if I’m tagged in the photo itself.