Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Makes: 12 medium buns

Time required:

  • Activating starter 6-12 hours
  • Fermentation 3-5 hours
  • Proofing 1.5-3 hours
  • Baking 20-24 minutes

Tools Needed: food scale, large bowl, spoon, plastic dough scraper, citrus zester, parchment paper, baking sheet, pastry brush, steam pan, water spray bottle, whisk, piping bag or use a ziplock bag as a substitute


For the sweet starter

30 grams (2 tablespoons) sourdough starter (active or discard)
15 grams (1 tablespoon) white sugar
50 grams (3 ½ tablespoons) water
100 grams (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour

For the dough prep

50 grams (¼ cup) dried sweetened cranberries, roughly chopped
1 orange, zested and juiced

For the dough

165 grams (¾ cup minus a teaspoon) warm milk (preferably whole)
30 grams (2 tablespoons) brown sugar
180 grams (nearly all of the mixture) of the activated sweet starter
400 grams all-purpose flour (or 300g all-purpose)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon clove
Zest of one orange
7 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
1 egg
50 grams (about ¼ cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
28 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

For the crosses

¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons water

For the glaze

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon water

For the vanilla icing (optional)

65 grams (about ½ cup) powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 3 teaspoons milk or orange juice


1. Make the sweet starter: Mix ingredients for the sweet starter in a medium sized bowl. It’s a thick mixture so you may have to use your hands to get all the ingredients combined into a thick dough. If it is too dry after mixing by hand, add a sprinkle of water then knead together until there’s no dry flour left. Cover and leave at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours. It will double in size and become puffy and full of air.
2. Chop cranberries: Roughly chop up cranberries and set aside.
3. Prepare the orange: Zest one orange and set the zest aside. Juice the orange and set the juice aside to add later.
4. Warm milk: Add 175 grams milk (add extra since some will evaporate) to a small saucepan or pot. Warm until steaming and about 110 to 120º F.
5. Mix: Tare a bowl so that the weight shows zero. Add 165 grams of the warmed milk, the brown sugar, and the active sweet starter. Give it 3 to 5 stirs to begin breaking the starter apart. Add the flour, spices, and orange zest. Mix dough until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the salt, egg, and orange juice. Mix until dough is nearly smooth
6. Fold in butter and cranberries: Add the softened butter, fold in until dough is smooth. Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes (in a stand mixer on lowest two speeds, knead 3 to 6 minutes). Add the cranberries and fold the dough until they are dispersed throughout the dough. Once dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl or work surface cleanly it has been mixed and kneaded enough.
7. Bulk fermentation: Cover the dough and allow to ferment 3 to 5 hours, until doubled in size.*
8. Stretch and fold: During bulk fermentation, stretch and fold the dough. Recover dough.
9. Divide dough: Divide dough into 12 pieces (about 77 to 78 grams each) to make medium-sized buns.
10. Prepare baking sheet: Cut a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a baking sheet (if you don’t have parchment, liberally grease the baking sheet or a rectangular casserole dish).
11. Shaping: Flatten a piece of divided dough with your hand, then gather edges into the middle. Turn over and roll dough against the work surface to tighten the dough into a smooth ball. Transfer shaped bun onto baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces dough. Arrange buns in baking dish to be spaced evenly apart, about 1 to 2 inches apart.
12. Proof: Cover shaped buns and proof in a warm place 1 ½ to 3 hours* until nearly doubled in size. Test proofing with a moistened finger gently pressed on surface. If finger leaves an indentation, go to the next step.
13. Preheat: Preheat oven to 400º F with a metal pan filled halfway with water on lowest rack.
14. Make crosses: Mix together flour and water for crosses. (If you are sensitive to gluten, but tolerate sourdough, skip this step and opt for iced crosses instead) Whisk flour and water well. Add to a piping bag or a plastic ziplock bag. Snip a tiny corner off the bag and pipe crosses on the buns from the bottom of one side across the top and down to the bottom of the other side.
15. Bake: Place rolls into oven and generously spray walls of oven. Close oven door and bake 20 to 24 minutes (start glaze—step 16), time will vary depending on size of buns and baking dish used. The rolls should expand and have a deep golden-brown color on top with the baked crosses standing out.
16. Make glaze: While buns are baking, melt the butter in a small pot or saucepan. Add the honey and water. Stir frequently until mixture is beginning to bubble.
17. Glaze: Right after buns come out of oven, generously glaze the buns all over until all the glaze has been used.
18. Cool: Cool until you can handle them safely and enjoy or allow to cool down until barely warm if you would like to add vanilla icing over the crosses.
19. Prepare vanilla icing: Sift powdered sugar and add remaining icing ingredients. Whisk until smooth and thick for piping. Place in a pastry bag with a thin round tip (substitute with a plastic ziplock bag with a very small corner snipped off) and pipe crossed on the tops of the buns with vertical and horizontal lines going through the middle of the buns.

• Use the fridge to space out the fermentation or proofing. Proof overnight and bake fresh in the morning or mix the dough in the evening and place in fridge to continue the process in the morning. This allows your timing to be more flexible. About 5 hours in the fridge is roughly equivalent to 1 hour at room temperature.
• You may substitute lemon for the orange if no orange is available. Add another tablespoon of sugar to the dough to account for the tarter flavor.
• You may also subsititute the spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, and allspice would all work well.
• Add 1 more tablespoon butter to the dough if are not using whole milk.
• Raisins or dried currants can be substituted for dried cranberries.

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