Traditional hot cross buns recipe for Easter (2024)

Learn all about the tradition of hot cross buns in Ireland before Easter Sunday.

Hot cross buns are traditionally more of an English Easter tradition than an Irish one, but the tasty sticky bread treats are just as popular in the Emerald Isle as they are across the Irish Sea.

One of the most famous foods associated with Easter, hot cross buns are typically baked and consumed on Good Friday to break the fast of the holy day.

The origins of this very English custom are not entirely clear. It has been suggested that hot cross buns originated in the pagan cult that preceded Christianity in Britain.

But the earliest historical mention of them is traced to a 12th century English monk who is said to have marked buns with the sign of the cross in honor of Good Friday. A 14th-century record tells how a monk of St. Albans distributed spiced cakes to the needy on Good Friday, inaugurating an annual tradition, though he carefully guarded his recipe.

Hot Cross Buns superstitions in Ireland

In Ireland, there are some superstitions surrounding the Good Friday tradition of baking hot cross buns.

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If hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday and kept until the next year, they were considered to protect a home from fire.

In the Middle Ages, hot cross buns were believed to have powers of protection and healing. People would hang a hot cross bun from the rafters of their homes for protection through the coming year.

If someone was sick, some of the dried buns would be ground into a powder and mixed with water for the sick person to drink.

Unlike common bread, hot cross buns supposedly do not grow moldy, and stale buns are retained for all kinds of purposes: grating into medicines, as charms against shipwrecks, keeping rats out of corn, and as a general "good luck" talisman for the household if hung from the ceiling on a string.

In the reign of Elizabeth I, when Roman Catholicism was banned, making the sign of the cross on the buns was regarded as popery and the practice was banned. But neither Church nor State could suppress the popular custom, so legislation was enacted to limit the consumption of hot cross buns to legitimate religious occasions such as Christmas, Easter, and funerals.

Traditional hot cross buns recipe for Easter (1)

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Hot Cross Buns rhyme

The familiar nursery rhyme, "Hot cross buns," derives from the call of the street vendors who sold them:

Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

If you haven't any daughters,

Give them to your sons!

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

If you haven't got a penny

A ha'penny will do.

If you haven't got a ha'penny,

Well God bless you.

Hot cross buns recipe

Traditional hot cross buns recipe for Easter (2)

2Traditional hot cross buns recipe for Easter (3)

Make some hot cross buns this Easter (Getty Images)


  • 2 cups scalded milk
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 cakes yeast, dissolved in 1/3 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups currants {or raisins}
  • 1 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg


Pour scalded milk over butter and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Cool to lukewarm. Add the yeast mixture and eggs. Mix well. Gradually add the flour and salt, reserving a small amount of flour to dust raisins.

Add spice and floured raisins to the dough and knead in thoroughly. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured board. Shape dough into 30 buns and place on buttered cookie sheets.

Cover and let rise 30 minutes, then very carefully press the shape of a cross into each bun, using a spatula or the back of a knife. Bake in a 375°F oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until buns are browned, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Frost either the entire bun or just the shape of the cross.

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White frosting recipe


  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp lemon juice, vanilla or almond extract
  • Confectioners' sugar


Beat egg white until stiff, adding confectioners' sugar until the mixture is thick. Add flavoring. If the frosting is too thin, add more confectioners' sugar.


What do you get when you drop boiling water down a rabbit hole?

Hot cross bunnies.

What recipes will you be preparing for the Easter holiday? Let us know in the comments!

* Originally published in Aug 2016. Updated March 2024.

Traditional hot cross buns recipe for Easter (2024)


What does a traditional hot cross bun contain? ›

They're yeasted sweet buns filled with spices and various fruits such as currants, raisins, and/or candied citrus. They're decorated with a white cross representing the crucifix, either marked right into the dough or etched on top with icing. Hot cross buns are a traditional Easter food, typically eaten on Good Friday.

What is the tradition of hot cross buns at Easter? ›

The Greeks in the 6th century AD may have marked cakes with a cross. In the Christian tradition, the making of buns with a cross on them and consuming them after breaking the fast on Good Friday, along with "crying about 'Hot cross buns'", is done in order to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.

What is the pagan history of hot cross buns? ›

Pagans worshipped Eostre, the goddess of dawn and spring. As spring arrived, the pagans would celebrate a month long festival of the transitioning time from winter entering into spring. This festival saw the Saxons making buns marked with a cross, which represented the four phases of the moon, to offer to the goddess.

How unhealthy are hot cross buns? ›

Hot cross buns contain a little fat from butter/shortening (around 5%) and are high in carbohydrate so consideration is needed around portion size for people with diabetes. Hot cross bun sizes vary a lot. For example, one commercial variety sold in a 6 pack contains 40g carbohydrate and 920 kJ (220 calories).

Can Muslims eat hot cross buns? ›

Your hot cross buns are made entirely out of vegetable products so there's no need for anyone to pray over the batter while the baker stirs in currants and citrus peel. The stamp on the package simply signals to Muslims that it's okay to eat those buns — not that someone prayed over them.

Why were hot cross buns banned? ›

Spiced buns were banned when the English broke ties with the Catholic Church in the 16th century. However, by 1592, Queen Elizabeth I relented and granted permission for commercial bakers to produce the buns for funerals, Christmas, and Easter. Otherwise, they could be baked in homes.

Are hot cross buns a Catholic tradition? ›

Hot Cross Buns are inextricably linked to Easter and to Christianity. But in reality, they probably have pre-Christian origins. 'Cross Buns' were baked to celebrate Eostre, a Germanic Goddess of Fertility, after which the season of Easter is said to be named.

Why do Catholics eat hot cross buns on Good Friday? ›

The traditional food for Good Friday is the Hot Cross Bun. These are spicy fruit buns, marked with a cross on the top, and eaten hot from the oven. The origin of the hot cross bun is simple: it is eaten on this day of fasting as a replacement for other food. Good Friday is a day when normal meals are not eaten.

What is the religious meaning of hot cross buns? ›

Hot cross buns became commemorations of Good Friday, and across Christendom the cross came to represent the crucifixion and the spices symbolised those used to embalm Jesus at his burial. The bun had been blessed.

Why are hot cross buns only made during Lent? ›

"Hot cross buns have Catholic roots," Hopwood says. "Primarily because of the use of dairy, hot cross buns were often forbidden during Lenten periods—when Catholics would instead eat non-dairy breads. The shape of the cross, of course, also represents Catholic imagery of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ."

Why do people in Britain eat hot cross buns? ›

No one knows for certain when the tradition began, but in 16th century England, bakers were limited by law to occasions when these special doughs could be made. Good Friday was one; 'cross buns' marked this holy day towards the end of the Lenten fast.

Which day should you eat hot cross buns? ›

Traditionally, hot cross buns are associated with Easter—a Christian holiday and festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus—and eaten on Good Friday, or the Friday before Easter.

Can you eat hot cross buns without toasting them? ›

Toasting your HCB is the correct way. Microwaving your HCB is for psychos. While yes, they sort of resemble fruit toast, HCBs have embellishments that you don't find in fruit toast, e.g. the cross and the fancy glaze. Toasting gives a nice, firm, crunchy surface for optimal butter spreading.

Can you eat out of date hot cross buns? ›

Food that has passed its use-by date is not safe to eat.

Are traditional hot cross buns healthy? ›

And here's the thing – you have a dietitian's word for it – hot cross buns are neither unhealthy nor healthy – they're neutral. They're just a food. And you only eat and enjoy them at one time of the year, so there's absolutely zero point feel guilty about sinking your teeth into the perfect bun.

Are traditional hot cross buns vegan? ›

The soft, lightly spiced fruity buns are the ultimate Easter food here in the UK but traditionally they aren't vegan friendly as they contain milk, butter and egg.

What is the flavor profile of hot cross buns? ›

Sugar and Spice

A traditional hot cross bun is made up of strong flour, mixed dried fruit and some element of spice such as cinnamon or nutmeg. Although this base recipe remains largely the same, bakers and retailers tend to mix up the spice element every year in order to keep customers interested.

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