A classic Easter bake made healthy. Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns enriched with buttermilk & naturally sweetened with fruit & honey – delicious !
Hot Cross Buns made healthy
I made traditional British Hot Cross Buns every year at the Kitchen Shed in France because for me, Easter wasn’t Easter without a hot cross bun.
But it wasn’t a totally selfish affair since, in truth, our French neighbours loved my hot cross buns just as much as the British expats who’d “put their orders in” as Easter drew near. Over the years I experimented with different approaches to the bun flavours, with the results including Simnel Hot Cross Buns and Stem Ginger Hot Cross Buns.
One year, after experimenting with a healthier version of carrot cake muffins and Easter being just around the corner, my thoughts turned to combining healthy and Easter. After all, how good would it be if we could tuck into a guilt free Easter treat ?
To acknowledge the irony of this question, I’m referring to the notion of ‘calorific guilt’ and not the spiritual redemption at the heart of the Easter message 🙂
As a result, the Healthy Hot Cross Buns in this recipe are possibly the best Hot Cross Buns ever. Enriched with buttermilk and naturally sweetened with fruit and honey. As an alternative, the sweetness can easily be provided by maple syrup or agave syrup.
Once you’ve made your own Hot Cross Buns, you won’t go back to buying the commercially available version. Free from palm oil, artificial flavours and preservatives, homemade Hot Cross Buns outshine shop bought any day.
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What are Hot Cross Buns ?
A hot cross bun is a yeasted sweet bun, usually made with fruit and spices. Hot cross buns are marked with a cross on the top and traditionally eaten on Good Friday, although in recent times they have become widely available throughout the year.
What do I need to make Healthy Hot Cross Buns ?
You won’t be needing sugar or butter !
Otherwise the recipe requires the essentials like flour, yeast and salt to make a bread dough.
Canadian bread flour, often labelled very strong bread flour, contains more protein than flour labelled strong bread flour. This extra protein is the secret to a deliciously light, soft bun, delivering a perfect texture and rise.
Very strong white bread flour ideally compensates for the heavier more dense bun you find when using wholemeal flour on its own.
The 50:50 ratio of white to wholemeal is just right to keep these hot cross buns nice and light.
I like to use instant yeast (often called fast action yeast or quick yeast) because it’s so easy to use.
You can mix instant yeast directly in with your other ingredients whereas active dry yeast needs to be dissolved first and left to bloom.
Can I use active dry yeast in this recipe ?
Yes you can !
Add 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast to the warm buttermilk along with a tablespoon of honey. Stir and leave for 10 to 15 minutes to bubble up.
It’s now ready to be added to the rest of the ingredients.
Remember that high temperatures will kill your yeast and just like us, yeast works best at around 37 °C / 98°F .
Buttermilk is low in fat so it’s a natural choice for Healthy Hot Cross Buns. It also has the advantage of keeping the buns lovely and soft.
If you can’t get hold of buttermilk you can use half natural yoghurt and half semi skimmed milk.
Honey is still a sugar but has the advantage of being sweeter so you can use less of it.
I love the flavour of honey and prefer to use a more natural ingredient in making my hot cross buns healthier.
Hot Cross Bun flavourings
I’ve gone with the traditional flavours of spice and dried fruit in my Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns.
You will need:
- Mixed Spice.
- 1 grated apple – I used a Braeburn.
- The zest and juice of a medium orange.
The grated eating apple not only adds sweetness but an extra moistness too. Similarly, the reduced orange juice plumps up the sultanas into bursts of sweet juiciness.
Even though mixed peel is a traditional ingredient, I’ve used the zest of the orange as a subsitute as mixed peel has a high sugar content.
For me the orange zest was enough to give a citrus hit and I didn’t miss the mixed peel.
These Healthy Hot Cross Buns have no added fat so you can indulge yourself and spread them with a touch of butter. Especially as butter is no longer such the big bad wolf of spreads !
How to make and bake
Healthy Hot Cross Buns are much easier to make than you think. If you have a stand mixer, it’s even easier – I use my Kitchen Aid.
I don’t knead the fruit into the finished dough as it’s hard to get the fruit evenly distributed. Because the stand mixer is on a low setting it doesn’t squash the dried fruit.
It’s simply a case of the ingredients going into the bowl and mixing until you have a soft smooth dough.
Don’t get too worried about over kneading. It really is hard to over knead a dough especially if you’re mixing by hand.
It’s more likely to happen in a stand mixer but the key is to stop when your dough is smooth and elastic.
The Windowpane Test is a consistently reliable way to check your dough is ready. Pinch off a small piece of dough and gently stretch it apart, pulling and rotating the dough into a thin membrane, or window pane, which is translucent when you hold it up to the light.
Once you’ve tried the Windowpane test, leave your dough to rise in a warm place without any draughts until almost doubled in size.
This should take about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours.
Once doubled in size your dough can be taken out and shaped into buns.
Divide into 16 pieces, approx 75g to 80g each.
Shape into balls and place on a baking tray fairly close together and flatten each ball a little.
Cover with greased cling film or a clean tea towel and prove for one hour in a warm place.
How to make crosses for Hot Cross Buns
While your Hot Cross Buns are proving, make your hot cross ‘pastry.’ In real terms, it isn’t a pastry at all, it’s more of a flour paste.
It’s so much easier than making and rolling out pastry strips.
To get a professional looking finish, apply your hot cross pastry using a piping bag.
I used a plastic food bag snipped at one corner.
Pipe all your vertical lines first and then pipe the horizontal lines to form crosses.
Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. I’ve included the settings for a fan assisted oven at 20 degrees less than a conventional oven.
You would be amazed at how much oven temperatures vary. Some fan ovens may only need 10 degrees less.
It’s worth checking your oven temperature by using an oven thermometer.
Brush with honey to give a nice shiny glaze and leave to cool on a wire cooling rack.
How many buns does this recipe make ?
The recipe makes 16 to 18 buns. The recipe is easily scaled down if you want to make half the amount.
All you have to do is click on the servings on the recipe card and slide down to 8 and the ingredients will automatically be changed.
How long do they keep ?
Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns like most home baked bread are at their best eaten on the same day.
That said, they will still be good to eat the next day.
We love them toasted the next day, if there are any left of course !
Can they be frozen ?
Yes, they can !
Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns freeze really well.
Open freeze and transfer to a freezer bag or sealed container.
Will keep for up to three months.
Healthy Hot Cross Buns
- 1 large baking tray / sheet
- piping bag or a plastic food bag snipped at one corner
- Pastry brush
- 1 orange, zested and juiced
- 100 g sultanas
- 325 ml buttermilk (or half yoghurt and half milk)
- 1 dessert apple – grated
- 1 tbsp honey can substitute with maple syrup or agave syrup
- 250 g very strong white bread flour I used Marriage's Manitoba Very Strong Bread Flour
- 250 g wholemeal bread flour
- 1 tbsp instant yeast I used Doves Farm
- ¼ tsp bicarbonate soda
- 1 ½ tsp mixed spice
- ½ tsp salt
Hot Cross Pastry:
- 6 tbs plain flour
- 5 tbs water
- 3 tbsp honey or maple syrup
- Place the orange juice in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes to reduce by about half. Add the sultanas and set to one side.
- Warm the buttermilk for one minute on high power in the microwave. Stir in the grated apple and honey.
- Stand mixer: Place flour, yeast, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and salt into the bowl. Briefly mix with the dough hook.
- Add buttermilk mixture and sultanas in orange juice.
- Mix until a smooth elastic dough forms – 5 to 10 minutes on Speed 2 of stand mixer.
- Check your dough using the window pane test.
- Hand kneading: Alternatively, place flour, yeast, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and salt in a large bowl.
- Add buttermilk mixture and sultanas in orange juice and mix into a rough dough.
- Dust a work surface with flour and knead by hand for 10 minutes until you have a smooth and elastic dough.
- Place the dough in a large greased mixing bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.
- Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide into 16 pieces, approx 75 to 80 g each. Shape into balls and place on a baking tray fairly close together and flatten each ball a little.
- Cover with greased cling film or a clean tea towel and prove for one hour in a warm place.
- While your Hot Cross Buns are proving, make your hot cross mix. Sift the flour into a jug, add the water and mix well until you have a smooth paste.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F / 200°C / 180°C / Gas Mark 6
- When your hot cross buns are ready for the oven, pipe or use a spoon to form the crosses on your buns.
- Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
- Brush with honey or maple syrup for a shiny glaze and leave to cool on a wire rack.
You would be amazed at how much oven temperatures vary. Some fan ovens may only need 10 degrees less.
It’s worth checking your oven temperature by using an oven thermometer. Makes 16 to 18 buns: The recipe is easily scaled down if you want to make half the amount.
All you have to do is click on the servings on the recipe card and slide down to 8 and the ingredients will automatically be changed. Freezing instructions: Open freeze and transfer to a freezer bag or sealed container.
Will keep for up to three months. Nutrition information is approximate and meant as a guideline only.
Pin for later
I’m entering Homemade Healthy Hot Cross Buns to a few food challenges this month:
- The Teatime Treats Challenge hosted by Karen over at Lavender & Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers, hosted this month by Janie.
- Charlotte’s Food Year Link Up Challenge over at Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen.
- Treat Petite created by Stuart over at Cakeyboi and Kat at The Baking Explorer, hosted this month by Kat.
- Bready Steady Go co hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and Lucy over at Baking Queen 74, hosted this month by Michelle.