The ultimate Easter bun – soft, sticky, beautifully spiced and wonderfully fruity. This easy vegan recipe is every bit as heavenly as traditional versions; I’d defy anyone to tell the difference. Serve warm with lashings of vegan butter and a cup of tea, for ultimate Spring vibes.
Hot cross buns have been served at Easter in the UK for hundreds of years. Unlike chocolate eggs, they do at least seem to have some connection with the holiday’s religious foundations; the cross on top is meant to symbolise the crucifixion, apparently the spices are meant to represent the embalming concoctions (bon appetit), and the fruit is… nice? I’m no culinary historian, but what I do know, is that these buns are delicious.
While the shops are rarely short of hot cross buns this time of year, I would highly recommend making your own if you have the time and resources. The scent that will waft through your kitchen is equally as glorious as the buns themselves, and even if you don’t intend to eat them all in one go (though this is also an excellent option), they freeze really well so you can have a fresh one whenever you desire.
The version I present to you today is fairly traditionally spiced, with cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg, and packed full of orange zest. You can half the quantities of orange if you prefer a more subtle zesty note, and lemon zest can also be used if you prefer. I’ve gone for a classic combination of sultanas and mixed peel for the dried fruit component, and you can switch this up depending on what you have and what you like – raisins, chopped dried apricot, currants, and dried cranberries are all tasty additions, even some stem ginger if you want to really push the boat out.
How to make vegan hot cross buns
Hot cross buns are made from an enriched bread dough (i.e. a bread dough with the addition of fat, eggs, milk or sugar) and plenty of dried fruit and spices. A vegan version is pretty straight forward; simply replace the milk with non-dairy milk, and the butter with a vegan alternative (as always, Naturli Vegan Block is my go-to, but another vegan block, spread or even coconut oil would be fine). Most traditional recipes contain an egg, but this isn’t strictly necessary as the gluten will hold your buns together just fine. You can get a slightly lighter bun by replacing some of the milk with aquafaba (the water from a can of chickpeas). Whenever I open a can of chickpeas, I freeze the liquid in ice cube trays for such moments as this, but if you don’t have any to hand then all milk will still work well. Try to use a richer non-dairy milk like oat or soya (Oatly Whole is wonderful).
So to begin with, put the non-dairy milk in a small saucepan along with the butter and aquafaba (if using) and warm over a low heat. You can zest your oranges over the pan and stir the bright orange shreds through the milk mixture. As soon as the butter has melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool until luke-warm.
In a large mixing bowl, measure out the flour (strong white bread flour is ideal, but you can use plain at a pinch, or half and half). Add the dried yeast, salt, sugar, cinnamon, mixed spice, grated nutmeg, and dried fruit and give everything a really good stir. There seems to be differing ideas about when to add the fruit; some recipes add it after the first prove and leave it for a second bulk prove, others add it just before shaping. I can’t see any reason not to add it at the beginning, and it’s much easier to distribute dried fruit evenly through an unmixed dough than one that is already formed and kneaded.
Once the milk mixture is approaching a tepid temperature, add to the dry ingredients and mix with your hands until you have a sticky dough. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8–10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (it will still be a little tacky). Try not to add any additional flour, unless the dough is completely unmanageable. You can also use a dough hook in a stand mixer if you prefer. Pop the dough in a large lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and leave to rise until doubled in size (somewhere between an hour and a quarter and an hour and three quarters should do it, depending on how warm the weather is).
Once it’s at this stage, line a baking tray with lightly greased baking paper, and lightly flour a large chopping board or work surface. Knock the air out of the dough and tip onto the floured surface. Now you have two options; for speed and ease you can just break off golf-ball size pieces of dough and squish them into a rough ball shape and arrange them on the baking tray. Or, for a little more finesse, divide the dough in half, then half again, then divide each of these into three so you have 12 pieces of dough, and take each little piece and flatten it into a (very) rough square. Fold each corner into the middle, then flip over. Rotate the piece of dough between the palms of your hands to form a neat ball, and flatten ever so slightly with your palm before arranging on the baking tray. This method gives the dough a little more strength to it will retain it’s shape while rising and baking.
Whichever method you chose, cover your buns with a proving bag, or lightly greased plastic bag (I use an unused bin bag), and leave to rise until they have once again doubled in size – about 45 minutes to 1 hour. I turn the oven on after half an hour, then when the dough is just about ready, measure a little flour and water into a bowl and mix to a thick but pipeable paste. If you don’t have a piping bag, just put the mixture in a sandwich bag and snip off the corner, and pipe a cross on each bun. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the buns are golden brown.
There are a few options for the glaze. Most traditional recipes use a few tablespoons of apricot jam, melted and brushed over the top, and you can also use marmalade if you’re into that sort of thing. Seeing as this recipe contains orange zest, you should have a few oranges lying around, and I like to make a really quick glaze from equal parts orange juice and sugar. Simply juice half an orange and measure it into a small pan (there should be about 2–3 tbsp) then add the add amount of sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, then use a pastry brush to douse the buns with hot glaze, as soon as they are out of the oven.
Leave the buns on the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool a little more. Eat while they’re still warm with plenty of butter, or keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days. They are best fresh and warm, so I like to freeze them as soon as they are cool enough, then defrost in the oven or pop in the toaster for a mouth-watering Easter treat whenever the mood takes me.
Please let me know if you give these a try! You can comment below or use the star rating at the top of the post, or find me on Instagram and Twitter @greedybearbakes.
Vegan Hot Cross Buns
The ultimate Easter bun – soft, sticky, beautifully spiced and wonderfully fruity.
For the dough:
- 250ml non-dairy milk (I used oat milk)
- 50ml aquafaba / chickpea brine (or extra 50ml milk)
- 50g vegan butter (sub spread or coconut oil)
- 2 oranges, zested
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 2¼ tsp (1 sachet) fast-action dried yeast
- 60g caster sugar
- ¾ tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 125g dried fruit* (I used 75g sultanas and 50g mixed peel)
- 60g plain flour
- 65ml water
- juice of half an orange**
- 2–3 tbsp caster sugar**
- Measure 250ml non-dairy milk, 50ml aquafaba, and 50g vegan butter into a small saucepan over a low heat. Zest the 2 oranges over the pan and give everything a stir. Remove from the heat as soon as the butter has melted and leave to cool.
- In a large measuring bowl, add 500g strong white flour, 2¼ tsp dried yeast, 60g caster sugar, ¾ tsp salt, 2 tsp each of ground cinnamon and mixed spice, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, and 125g dried fruit. Stir thoroughly, then when the milk mixture is luke-warm, add this as well. Mix with your hands to form a sticky dough, and tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 8–10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic but still tacky. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and leave to prove until doubled in size (75–95 mins depending on room temperature).
- Grease a baking tray and line with baking paper, and lightly flour a work surface. Knock the air out of the dough, then shape into 12 balls (I flatten each piece into a rough square, fold the corners into the middle, then flip and rotate between my palms until it forms a smooth ball). Arrange on the baking tray and cover with a proving bag (or plastic bag lightly oiled on the inside) and leave to prove until doubled in size, about 45–60 mins.
- Pre-heat the oven to 190C fan, and just as the buns are coming to the end of their prove, whisk together 60g flour and 65ml water in a small bowl, so you have a thick but pipeable paste. Scoop into a piping bag (or sandwich bag) and pipe crosses on each of the buns. Bake for 15–18 minutes until the buns are beautifully golden brown.
- A few minutes before the buns are due out of the oven, juice half an orange and measure the liquid into a small saucepan (you should get 2–3 tbsp juice) then add an equal amount of caster sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved (this should only take 2 or 3 mins). Use a pastry brush to douse the hot cross buns in the orangey glaze, then leave for 10 mins, before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Eat with plenty of vegan butter while still warm, or keep in a air-tight container for 2–3 days, or freeze and re-heat in the oven or toaster.
**I really like this orangey glaze, but you could also use a more traditional jam glaze. Simply warm 2–3 tbsp apricot jam (or marmalade) in a small saucepan until runny, then spread over the buns as soon as they are out of the oven.