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Hot cross Chelsea buns with an iced topping on a piece of parchment paper on a wire rack

Hot Cross Chelsea Buns

Hot cross buns have been a Christian Easter tradition in the UK for centuries, enjoyed as a way to end Lent.  The distinctive cross on top symbolizes the cross on which Jesus died; sources even claim that a sweet, fruit-filled bun was first marked with a cross  all the way back in the 12th century — and by a monk, no less. Talk about staying power! 

But even longtime favorites need an update every once in a while. Cornwall-based recipe developer, sourdough bread baker, pizzaiolo and filmmaker Grant Batty experimented tirelessly to develop a recipe that combined the hot cross bun with two other great tear-and-shares, the positively modern Chelsea bun (modern, that is, when compared with the almost thousand-year-old hot cross bun), and the better-known cinnamon roll. 

For the uninitiated, both hot cross buns and Chelsea buns are traditional, celebratory affairs made with enriched dough (yeasted dough that contains fat and/or dairy ). They’re both filled with dried fruit, like currants, raisins or candied citrus. And they’re both spiced, usually with Mixed Spice — cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice — which to those on the other side of the pond, is essentially pumpkin spice minus the ginger and cloves. Hot cross buns get marked with a cross, whereas Chelsea buns, created in 1800s London and a favorite of the royal family, are filled and rolled into a spiral, then finished with apricot jam. Cinnamon rolls, to close the loop, while also enriched and coiled, contain no fruit, are spiced only with cinnamon, and instead of being glazed, get iced or frosted.

Taking cues from all three sweet recipes, these Hot Cross Chelsea Buns begin with an enriched dough that gets filled with cinnamon, lemon, and dried fruit, marked with a flour-and-water cross, and set to bake for 20 minutes. Then, this already remixed sweet treat gets another layer of fusion with cinnamon-roll inspired cream cheese frosting applied post-bake and left to melt ever so slightly into the warm rolls. 

Notes: While our recipe maker resides in the UK, if you’re not living in a country where you can pick up mixed dried fruit easily, sub in your favorite mix. Raisins, sultanas, cranberries and others would all work nicely.

12 Buns

2 hours, 50 minutes (40 minutes active; 2 hours, 10 minutes passive)

parchment paper 
13- x 9-inch baking tray or baking sheet
rolling pin
Ooni pizza oven
Ooni infrared thermometer
dough scraper
piping bag

For the dough
1 ¼ cup (285 grams) full fat (whole) milk
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons (7 grams) dry instant yeast
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg yolk
3 cups (500 grams) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon (2 grams) sea salt
1 teaspoon (3 grams) cinnamon
1 tablespoon (15 grams) golden caster or granulated sugar

For the filling
5 tablespoons (75 grams) salted butter, room temperature
½ cup, packed (125 grams) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons (5 grams) cinnamon
1 ¾ cups (285 grams) mixed dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, and candied orange and lemon peel)
zest of one lemon

For the flour cross and glaze
1 egg
⅔ cup (75 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (50 grams) water 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting
⅚ cup (100 grams) cream cheese
⅔ cup (75 grams) confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon (2 grams) vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Place the milk and the lemon zest into a saucepan and heat on the stovetop on medium low until steaming. Remove from the heat and let cool until it’s warm to the touch, but not hot (ensure that the milk is less than 130°F/54°C to avoid killing the yeast). Then add the yeast, butter and egg yolk and mix (or whisk) until dissolved. 

Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and sugar together in a separate bowl. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Place the dough on a worktop and knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth and shiny. The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger.

Shape your dough into a ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately one hour.

While the dough is rising, make your cinnamon butter by mixing the butter, sugar, and cinnamon together in a bowl until well combined.

Dust your work surface with flour. Use the rolling pin to evenly roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 12 by 16 inches, or 30 by 40 centimeters. Brush the surface of the dough with cinnamon butter. Scatter the mixed fruit over the butter and zest the lemon evenly on top.

Beginning with the long edge of the rectangle, roll the dough into a sausage shape. 

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Use a dough scraper to slice the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces and place each slice on the baking tray. Cover with a tea towel and leave to proof until the buns have doubled in size, approximately one hour. 

Once proofed, beat one egg in a small bowl and brush over the tops of the buns. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).

Mix your remaining flour with water until a thick, smooth paste forms. Transfer to a piping bag and cut the end off to make a small, round hole. Pipe a cross over each bun.

Bake the buns for 20 minutes, turning the tray halfway through to allow for an even bake. Remove from the oven and leave in the baking tray to cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the cream cheese, vanilla, and icing sugar together until smooth. Brush over the tops of the warm buns and serve any leftover frosting on the side for dipping.

Tear, share, and enjoy.

Hot cross chelsea buns covered in icing next to a small plate with a piece torn off
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