Nicola Galloway: Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

These sourdough hot cross buns, laden with complex flavours and subtle spices, require a little more TLC – but they’re worth it. 

Words and Images: Nicola Galloway 

I recommend making at least one batch of hot cross buns before the Easter season is over. I particularly enjoy making them with sourdough starter to naturally leaven and add a subtle sour flavour to complement the spices. Sourdough results in more complex flavours compared to using bakers yeast, however, it does take some extra TLC – I have included some tips below.

The key to sourdough baking is planning ahead. The slower rise time means better flavour and crumb, but you also need to be prepared. Personally, I enjoy working with bread dough in this way, as it is not rushed, with the different stages relatively short and spread out. A slow rise also means less kneading is required. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.

To enjoy these over the long Easter weekend prepare the dough Saturday dinner-time for Easter Sunday brunch. Or make the buns ahead of time and warm in the oven, or simply halve and toast.


When making a denser dough like this the starter must be very bubbly before use – at least doubling in height within 4-6 hours after a fresh feed of flour and water.

The (lactic) acid load of the starter must be very low. If your starter smells sour then you won’t get a good rise in a dense dough like this. A healthy starter won’t smell overly sour, instead more sweetly sour and yeasty.

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Timing with sourdough is always suggestive and if it is a cool day then the rise time may be longer (for both the pre-rise and bun rise). Go with the look and feel of the dough over timing – taking a photo at the beginning of the rise to compare can be helpful.

You will notice weights listed in the recipe. Using scales and weighing ingredients is recommended for baking success.

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns (or Bread)

This sweet and spiced enriched (sour) dough makes the most wonderful hot cross buns. If you are already a sourdough bread baker add these to your repertoire. The most important thing is to ensure the sourdough starter is very active and not too sour when making an enriched naturally-leavened dough like this. Plus, keeping the starter and dough in a warm position while rising is essential.

Need a sourdough starter recipe? Find Nicola’s recipe for creating and nurturing a sourdough starter here

Prep time: 40 minutes
Rise time: about 16 hours
Cook time: 25 minutes

300ml milk – can use any milk – cow or dairy-free
30g butter or coconut oil
50g raisins or sultanas
50g currants
30g mixed citrus peel
425g high grade white flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
150g bubbly sourdough starter (fed 5-6 hours prior)

Cross Paste
3 tbsp flour
2½ tbsp water
1 tsp oil
Pinch each of sugar, salt and mixed spice

Marmalade Glaze
2 tbsp marmalade or apricot jam
2 tbsp boiling water

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Around 6pm the evening before baking the buns, make the dough.
Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and gently heat just until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the raisins, currants and mixed peel. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and plump up the dried fruit.
Combine the flour, sugar, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the milk mixture and bubbly sourdough starter. Use a spoon to mix together into a rough dough. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
After this time, use your hands to fold the dough directly in the bowl for 2-3 minutes until smooth, then form into a ball and cover with a plate. Leave to rise in a WARM place for 3-4 hours until the dough rises by about a third, then put the covered bowl into the fridge overnight.
The next morning, around 7-8am, remove the dough from the fridge and scoop it onto the bench. Use a dough scraper or butter knife to divide into nine even pieces (about 120g each if you want to be exact). Roll each dough piece into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough and moving in a circular motion on the bench.
Arrange the dough balls in a baking tin about 25cm square (or similar). Leaving a little space between each bun to rise. Cover the tin with a plastic bag so the dough doesn’t dry out and leave to rise in a WARM place for about 3 hours until risen by about a third.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan 180°C).
Prepare the cross paste by combining the ingredients in a bowl into a thick paste. Spoon into a small ziplock bag and use scissors to snip off a corner about 5mm wide. Squeeze the paste onto the risen buns to make a cross pattern.
Place the buns in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
While the buns are cooking make the glaze by combining the marmalade and boiling water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Once the buns are out of the oven immediately brush with the glaze. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then move the buns to a cooling rack. Leave to cool for 30-40 minutes before eating for the crumb to set. Serve warm with butter and jam.

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*This dough can also be made into a single large bread. Follow the recipe to make the dough and slow-rise in the fridge overnight. The next day, shape the dough into an oblong loaf and place into a large bread tin. Rise in the tin for 3-4 hours until doubled in size then bake at 200C for 40 minutes until golden.

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