Healthy Hot Cross Buns

A classic Easter bake made healthy. Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns enriched with buttermilk & naturally sweetened with fruit & honey – delicious !

Cooled buns on a cooling rack with a pat of butter and a split bun buttered.

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 ?

Buns ready to be buttered with butter and knife and napkin.

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.

This blog post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please refer to Disclosure Page for further details.

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.


I used a 50:50 ratio of wholemeal bread flour to Canadian strong white bread flour. My bread flour of choice is Marriage’s Manitoba Very Strong Bread Flour.

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.

Buttermilk substitute

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.

Buns on cooling rack with one on a napkin ready to eat and a knife and butter.

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.
  • Sultanas.
  • 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 !

Buttered bun with a tray of buns.

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.

Sweet dough balls on a baking tray with the first line of pastry piped for 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.

Finished pastry crosses on a batch of buns ready for the oven.

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 freshly glazed with honey.

you might also like:

Homemade Belgian Buns

Peach Streusel Traybake 

Tear & Share Christmas Tree Bread


Healthy Hot Cross Buns

A classic Easter bake made healthy. Healthy Wholemeal Hot Cross Buns enriched with buttermilk & naturally sweetened with fruit & honey – delicious !
4.86 from 14 votes
Print Pin Rate Save Recipe
Course: Breakfast, Snack, Afternoon Tea
Cuisine: British, Home Baking
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Rising time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes
Servings: 16
Calories: 177kcal
Author: Sarah James


  • 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.


Oven Temperature: 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.
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.
Nutrition Facts
Healthy Hot Cross Buns
Amount per Serving
Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat
Polyunsaturated Fat
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Pin for later

Healthy Hot Cross Buns Long Pin.
I’m entering Homemade Healthy Hot Cross Buns to a few food challenges this month:

And linking to:

Fiesta Fridays , Sunday Fitness Food Link Up co hosted by Marathons & Motivation and Ilkas Blog

66 thoughts on “Healthy Hot Cross Buns”

  • Thanks for the recipe, looks good! To substitute the buttermilk, what kind of yoghurt should you use please (full-fat, light etc)?

    • Thanks Jasmine, a good question. I use full fat yoghurt but it’s the acid that’s the important ingredient so i can’t see any reason why you couldn’t use a low fat yoghurt. You can also substitute buttermilk with milk and add 1 and a half tablespoons of lemon juice to 325 ml milk, stir and wait five minutes and it will be ready to use. It’s a pleasure to share the recipe and do let me know how you get on.

  • 5 stars
    I make your recipe every week in my bread machine. I’m pressed for time so I make it into a loaf and it is glorious. Thank you! I fast once a week on bread and water and your bread has helped me do it joyfully. May God bless you.

  • Pingback: BEST Easter Hot Cross Buns! | Hayeon. Naomi. Lim
  • What beautiful looking buns! I love that they are enriched with buttermilk – I think it adds so much to the flavor and texture of baked goods!

  • Wow, these sounds and look delicious! I totally need to make these for Easter this year. They will be a huge hit!!

  • 5 stars
    They look delicious. I never heard of hot cross buns until I came to the UK many, many years ago. Still I have never tried to make them myself yet. I think it is time to change it this year, thanks for sharing the recipe.

  • 5 stars
    I love healthier treats, nice job creating this recipe. Do you think the sultanas could be left out or are they an integral part of hot cross buns? I’ve never had hot cross buns but I don’t like raisins, and I’d love to try this out!

  • 5 stars
    Using agave syrup to make these Hot Cross Buns is such a great idea. I’m going to make sure these are on our next holiday dinner table.

  • 5 stars
    Your Hot Cross Buns look and sound amazing. I just made some dough this morning but haven’t baked them yet. Mine are not as healthy as yours. Next time I’ll try your recipe instead.

  • 5 stars
    This reminds of the nursery rhyme “Hot Cross Buns”. I haven’t had them in a while, and yours look so good like always. Thanks for sharing Sarah!

  • 5 stars
    These look more delicious than any store bought buns. I love that you made them with buttermilk and fruit. Yummy! I really want to try these.

    • That’s great to hear Simon and thank you. I made my first hot cross buns of the year last week.

    • Thanks Mandy, glad you like the photos, I’m learning how to use my camera but have so much more to learn.

  • Pingback: Easter Treats & #CookBlogShare March 22-28 – Snap Happy Bakes
  • I love your recipe way more then the original recipe! Even that Easter is gone, I will be making them tomorrow for my birthday! x yes! I can’t wait! x

  • Wow, they look very professional (and put mine to shame somewhat!)
    Thanks so much for sharing with Tea Time Treats 🙂
    Janie x

  • These look so perfect and so delicious too. I’ve left it a bit late to bake hot cross buns now, although I really did mean too. Now, I just want one (or two) of yours.

    • Thanks Choclette, they are delicious. I’m happy to swap a couple of my hot cross buns for a slice or two of your delicious simnel cake x

  • These turned out perfect! they look like they are in a bakery! i’ve never used agave syrup as a substitute before but I will have to try it and see if I notice the difference. I love that these are a healthier alternative to the normal ones too! #YumTum

    • So pleased your hot cross buns turned out perfect for you. I’ve only started using agave syrup this year, I usually use honey or maple syrup as an alternative to refined sugar which work equally as well in the buns but I’m giving a neutral tasting agave a try.

  • Oh these are so gorgeous! I’ve been drooling over them on Instagram & Twitter! I am pinning the recipe as I definitely want to try making them. I love the ingredients – orange sounds amazing in them! Thanks so much for sharing with us at #bloggerclubuk x

  • I would love to try this recipe, do you think will be ok if i use some vegan yogurt and vegan milk ? #BloggerClubUK

    • Lovely, I’ve never used vegan yogurt and milk in a bread dough before but in principle it should work. The reason buttermilk or natural yogurt and milk works so well in the Hot Cross Buns is its acidity, so just to be on the safe side you could add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice with the grated apple. Let me know how you get on and I can add the details to the post x

  • These don’t just sound healthier than normal buns but they sound better! I like the idea of the added apple and orange juices to give a fruit hit and make it less bland than shop bought ones.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe with #BloggerClubUK

  • I actually love the idea of healthier hot cross buns – I’m quite addicted to them. Thanks for sharing your recipe. 🙂

  • These look absolutely perfect! I would love to give these a try – fingers crossed I manage to find the time. Thanks for linking up to #CookBlogShare

  • Oh they look great – I really should give them a go as my boys love them (I don’t)Like the tip for making them look good too I probably wouldn’t have thought of that #cookblogshare

  • What a fab recipe – I love the idea of healthy hot cross buns. With all the creme egg madness, it’s good to have a few healthier recipes out there too! Now we just need someone to invent the healthy creme egg and we are sorted! Eb x

  • These look wonderful! Thank you for sharing at the Sunday Fitness and Food Link-Up, I pinned the recipe to try over Easter. Have a Great Week 🙂

    • Thanks Angela, a pleasure to link up with Sunday Fitness and Food. Thanks for pinning & I hope you enjoy Healthy Hot Cross Buns as much as we do 🙂

  • These sound lovely Sarah and they look perfect. I’d be happy to leave out the mixed peel as that’s my least favourite bit anyway.

    I’m surprised you can’t buy hot cross buns in France, I had no idea they were such a British only tradition.

    • Thanks Charlotte, mixed peel isn’t my favourite ingredient either. I’m not sure if they’re available elsewhere in France but you certainly can’t get them here in Brittany, our neighbours look forward to a batch of hot cross buns at Easter, they’re quite a novelty.

  • I love the sound of these Sarah with the added apple and soaked sultanas. The glaze really finishes them off a treat too. It’s been a number of years since I last made hotcross buns, your recipe is enticing me to change that situation.
    Angela x

    • Thanks Angela, you can really taste the difference when you make your own, happy hot cross bun baking x

  • You’ve just reminded me of the healthier hot cross buns I made myself last year, I must make some again. Yours look lovely and I love the sound of what you have in there.

    • Thanks Caroline, the flavours work really well together & so far friends & family have been surprised when I tell them they’re a healthier version.

  • I’m not a fan of candied peel. I just love that you made these with healthy ingredients, though I would never guess by looking at them. What marvelous results!

  • I am going to adopt your recipe for my annual hot cross bun baking. I love that you have added fruit and no candied peel.

  • Loving these hot cross buns. There’s just so much goodness in each bite I’m sure. I wonder if I could switch the flours around, in other words 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat and 1 cup of white?

    • Thanks Loretta, switching the flours around would work well, they might not be quite as light but that proportion should still give good results. Let me know how you get on.

    • Thanks Julie, they’ve been a popular bake here at the Kitchen Shed this year, I can’t keep up with the requests.

  • Gorgeous buns Sarah! I always make my own every year too and it’s almost time for me to get my piping bag out! Thanks for adding them to Tea Time Treats! Karen

    • Thanks Karen, happy hot cross bun baking. A pleasure to link up with Tea Time Treats 🙂

    • Thanks Jhuls, you’re right, you can’t beat homemade hot cross buns. Always a pleasure to link up and thanks for hosting x

  • Wow, these are the best hot cross buns I’ve ever seen, and so healthy too! With all the flavors of orange and apple, I’m sure these are going to be big hit at the Fiesta this weekend. I’m taking a couple of these to feast on already! Thank you for linking up to FF!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating