Vegan Hot Cross Buns with melty pockets of dark chocolate and tart dried cherries dotted generously throughout a fluffy spiced dough. A brush of sticky vanilla bean infused glaze on top amps up the flavour.
It’s nearly Easter! All the chocolate! I’m not religious, so it’s purely a chocolate holiday for me — though I do appreciate the meaning of the holiday as my upbringing was Christian. I refuse, however, and always have, to restrict hot cross bun eating to Good Friday as per tradition. ONE DAY to eat one of the best baked things getting around. No. Nuh-uh. Not happening. I try to save them for April, I really do. You know, to preserve their special-ness. Their sticky, spiced magic. But one month is the best I can do folks. Please tell me I’m not alone in this? At least I’m not a bun hoarder anymore (though that is likely due to a lack of freezer space rather than self-control)…
Vegan Hot Cross Buns with Dark Chocolate + Sour Cherries
- 1 cup / 250 ml plant-based milk heated until lukewarm (not hot or you will kill the yeast)
- 14 g / 2 x 7g sachets / 4 tsp. dried instant yeast
- 55 g / 1/4 cup raw caster sugar
- 1 vanilla bean seeds scraped (keep the pod for infusing the glaze) or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- zest of 1 medium orange
- 500 g / 4 cups strong bread flour or all‐purpose flour
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 55 g / 1/4 cup vegan butter, melted (or neutral tasting oil)
- 25 g / 1/4 cup chickpea flour mixed with 60ml / 1/4 cup almond milk or water
- 100 g roughly chopped dark vegan chocolate 60 – 70% cacao
- 80 g / 1/2 cup dried sour tart cherries, roughly chopped
- 6 tbsp flour mixed with about 5–6 tbsp water to create a very thick paste you may need to add more water/flour to achieve the correct consistency
- 55 g / 1/4 cup raw caster sugar or vanilla bean sugar for extra vanilla‐y flavour
- 60 ml / 1/4 cup water
- reserved vanilla bean pod from making the buns or 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Place the warmed milk in a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes to dissolve the yeast and allow it to become activated and frothy.
- Place the sugar in a medium bowl, then add in the vanilla bean seeds and the orange zest. Rub the seeds and zest into the sugar with your fingers until combined and fragrant.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the flour, salt, spices, and the vanilla‐orange sugar together until combined. Make a well in the centre and pour in the melted butter, followed by the yeast mixture and the chickpea flour mix.
- Either using the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer or with a fork, mix the wet ingredients into the dry until a rough dough begins to form. Then either increase the speed of your stand mixer to knead the dough, or transfer the dough to a flour-dusted work surface and knead until the dough is soft, smooth and springs back slowly when you gently press a finger onto it, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer, or 10 minutes by hand. It should be slightly tacky to the touch, but not overly sticky. If it's too sticky, add a little extra flour whilst kneading. If it's too dry, add a little more milk.
- Sprinkle over the chopped chocolate and cherries, knead for another minute or two, just until the mix‐ins are evenly incorporated through the dough. If kneading in a stand mixer, make sure that the dough is not too warm when adding in the chocolate or it may melt through your dough. Gather up the dough and place in a large lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius / 400 fahrenheit. Lightly oil a large, shallow baking dish (I used a shallow enamelled cast iron Le Creuset pan) or oil and line a large round or rectangular baking tray.
- Knock the risen dough back with your fist, then divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (roughly 90 – 95g each) and roll each into smooth, tight balls. Arrange dough balls on your baking dish / baking tray in concentric circles (I don't space mine out very much as I like them to cook closely together to reduce the amount of edges, making for softer buns – it also helps them to rise up rather than out). Cover with the damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for a further 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Place your flour‐water paste for the crosses in a piping bag with a small nozzle attached (or make a tight cone out of baking paper with a small hole at the end to use as a makeshift piping bag – see this youtube video for instructions) and carefully pipe a cross shape onto each risen bun.
- Place the pan of buns into the preheated oven, on the middle rack, to bake for 15 – 20 minutes – or until risen, golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. If you have an uneven oven, rotate the pan halfway through cooking for even browning.
- While the buns bake, make the glaze – combine the sugar, water, and leftover vanilla bean or paste in a small pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and allow the vanilla bean to infuse while the buns cook.
- Remove the buns from the oven and brush the glaze generously over the hot buns. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack and leave to cool. Eat the sticky hot cross buns warm or at room temperature, sliced and toasted (or not) and spread with a little vegan salted butter.
Other flavour suggestions:
Earl Grey – Add a tbsp of loose leaf earl grey tea (about 3 tea bags) to the milk and heat until just beginning to simmer. Turn the heat off, cover with a lid and steep for 15 minutes. Pour the infused milk through a strainer pressing on the leaves to remove as much flavour as possible, allow to cool to lukewarm before adding to the yeast. Add the zest of an extra orange to the orange-vanilla sugar to up the citrus flavour. Omit the chocolate, and increase the amount of sour cherries to 100g (2/3 cups), or replace them with currants/raisins if you’d like.
Mocha – Add 3 tbsp good quality, finely ground, instant coffee to the lukewarm almond milk when adding in the yeast. Stir well to dissolve. Replace 40g (1/3 cup) of the flour with an equal amount of cocoa powder. Omit the sour cherries, and instead up the amount of chopped dark chocolate to 150g.
Traditional – Omit the chocolate and cherries. Replace with 100g (2/3 cups) currants/raisins/ sultanas or a mix thereof, and 2 tbsp mixed peel if you are a mixed peel lover.
Back in school, when I used to work at a bakery, hot cross bun season was my favourite. I used to gobble up the chocolate chip hot cross buns the second the bakers pulled them from the oven, or close enough to the second; as soon as I could feasibly eat them without burning my insides in the process. I would take bags upon bags of hot cross buns home to freeze and eat — chocolate chip or mocha, always my favourites for obvious reasons, along with plain and traditional for my mum — enough to last at least until May. I’d eat a few a day for a while, then I’d realise the buns were quickly dwindling and I’d slow to one a day. Then, as the buns trickled down to the last few stuffed at the back of the freezer hiding away in their plastic bags, I’d space them out and allow myself only one a week. I’d hold onto the last glorious bun for as long as I could, then I’d cave and enjoy every last toasted, buttery bite.
I was always so sad knowing I’d have to wait months to eat another, not much has changed, but now I can make my own whenever I want another bun-hit! I really do like to save them for the month of April though, it’s a nice tradition. So, as it’s now April, it’s officially hot cross bun time!
Over the years I’ve cooked many a hot cross bun recipe, but this one has been my absolute favourite for the past two Easters. I’ve not looked at another recipe the same way since – the perfect amount of spice, a soft and fluffy bun and a sticky vanilla-infused glaze.
I’ve added melty pockets of dark chocolate along with chopped sour cherries in lieu of the classic raisins, sultanas or currants, though you could play with these mix-ins and add whatever you’d like. Oh, and feel free to play around with the level of spice to suit your tastes — more cinnamon, more mixed spice, all-spice, a little ginger or cardamom etc. Some serious flavour comes from rubbing orange zest and vanilla bean seeds into the sugar until fragrant before mixing it into the dough, it’s one of my favourite additions to these buns. This is a trick I picked up a while back, from the baking genius Yossy Arefi of Apt. 2B Baking Co. Rubbing things like citrus zest, vanilla, herbs etc. into sugar (or salt!) releases their fragrant oils and amps up their flavour, making whatever you are mixing them into that much more flavourful.