Is there anything better than the smell of hot cross buns straight out of the oven? That warming aromatic fragrance of sultanas, cinnamon and citrus combined with the utterly mouth-watering scent of freshly baked bread. In our foodie eyes hot cross buns are undoubtedly one of the best things about the Easter period. Toasted and slathered in butter, lightly warmed and drizzled in honey or just fresh out of the packet - soft and juicy - there's no beating these buns. They work really well incorporated in a bread and butter pudding too as the perfect show stopping Easter dessert when you’ve had enough of all that chocolate.
Hot cross buns were originally reserved for Good Friday having allegedly been first created by a 14th-Century Monk with the cross to symbolise the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices to represent those used to embalm him at his burial. Nowadays however the brioche-type buns line supermarket shelves nearly all year round, becoming particularly prominent from February onwards in the lead-up to Easter.
Regular consumers will be aware that hot cross bun recipes vary enormously and we all have our particularities when it comes to seeking out the perfect specimen. For some it’s all about the moistness – they’ve got to be bursting with fruit and covered in a sticky glaze. For others it’s the spicing that is the crucial factor – cinnamon is obviously an essential – but discrepancies emerge over the addition of mixed spice, nutmeg, ginger or sometimes even cardamom. Then comes the citrus element; some people love the addition of fruit peel whereas others loathe it. For the record, Mary Berry adds mixed candied citrus peel and lemon zest to her recipe whereas Nigella omits the peel and just uses the zest of an orange.
Whatever your preferences we think it important, no essential in fact, to try as many variations as you can, until you find your favourites. To help you on your mission we’ve rounded up some of the best that supermarkets have to offer plus the best in London to get you started. And even if you’re not a fan of hot cross buns themselves, maybe some of the variants we’ve included will help you view them in a new light! Use the text below to skip to the section you're after.
Best hot cross buns from supermarkets and shops
There's no doubt in our mind that the best hot cross buns are to be found in smaller shops, bakeries and restaurants across London, but they're not always handy to get to. For those everyday hot cross bun fixes, which you should allocate a lot of time for in the run up to Easter, supermarket hot cross buns really do provide a solid service. It's almost like the big brands compete now every year to make up the most intriguing flavours or unusual pairings to lure in shoppers. Consider us lured. These, we think, are the best hot cross buns you can find in the supermarkets.
What: Alongside a more classic style of hot cross bun Waitrose is once again offering its bramley apple and cinnamon variation, moistened with sultanas and Bramley apple and enhanced with pieces of dried apple and of course plenty of cinnamon.
How much: Pack of four, £1.50
Buy Waitrose Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns
What: There's quite the selection of hot cross buns on offer at M&S this year, with flavours available including blueberry and Marmite cheese. However our pick of the bunch are these ones, which come stuffed with dark chocolate chips and salted caramel and toffee pieces, and are the perfect sweet treat to go alongside a cuppa.
How much: Pack of four, £1.65
Buy M&S Salted Caramel & Chocolate Hot Cross Buns
Abel & Cole
What: These organic hot cross buns are handmade with traditional sweet spices and dried fruit by the Authentic Bread Company. The vegan recipe results in light wonderfully fragrant buns, perfect served with unsalted butter and a cup of tea!
How much: Pack of four, £3.15
Buy Abel & Cole Organic Hot Cross Buns
Selfridges Hot Cross Caramels
What: For those who just can’t get enough of those Easter spices, these Hot Cross Caramels from Selfridges are perfect for popping in your pocket for when you need a sweet pick-me-up but you’re miles from a toaster. Handcrafted by the Fudge Kitchen these milk chocolate caramels contain all the familiar spices of a hot cross bun and are even embellished with a white chocolate cross, so you’ll feel like you’re munching on the real deal.
How much: £7.99
Buy Selfridges Hot Cross Caramels
What: Tesco Finest Extra Fruity Hot Cross Buns are made from a lightly spiced, butter enriched dough which their bakers prove until it reaches the perfect rise. They add plump, orange soaked raisins, sultanas, flame raisins, currants and a delicate touch of honey for sweetness.
How much: Pack of four, £1.50
Buy Tesco Extra Fruity Hot Cross Buns
Best hot cross buns in London restaurants and bakeries
If you live or work in London and are within easy reach of a smaller bakery or one of these restaurants, then we highly recommend treating yourself to at least one (if not five) of these sweet treats before the big day. More carefully created than their supermarket contemporaries, these are worth taking your time over. If you prefer a more gourmet bun that doesn't come wrapped in cellophane then here's out pick of the best buns London's bakeries have to offer.
What: If you enter a Gail's store in the run up to Easter you will be hit by that irresistible smell of freshly baked hot cross buns. Bakers at Gail's stud their specially formulated spiced dough with aromatic citrus peel, currants, sultanas and cranberries before shaping and piping on the all-important cross. The popular buns sell out fast so we recommend ordering online.
How much: £1.60 each
Where: Various locations
What: Bread Ahead has deservedly earnt itself a reputation for baking some of the finest bread in the Capital. Luckily for us it also offers a mean hot cross bun which comes lightly spiced and contains diced apple as well as the traditional currants. With seven Bread Ahead stores across London, you shouldn't have to travel too far to pick up one of these glazed guys.
How much: TBC
Where: Various Locations
What: East End bakery Rinkoff has been producing fresh bread, cakes and buns for over a hundred years, so you can be sure that you're in good hands when it comes to its hot cross buns. The hand-made, fluffy buns are as traditional as they come and that's no bad thing when they taste quite as good as this.
How much: £3.29 for pack of four
Where: 224 Jubilee Street, E1 3BS or order online from Farmdrop
Fortnum & Mason
What: You’d expect hot cross buns from Fortnum & Mason to be strictly traditional but this year alongside their popular classic version the famous London store is offering two innovative variations for Easter; a sweet date, pecan and coffee version, and a savoury bun incorporating goat’s cheese, honey and fig. Why not get creative with your toppings too and create the ultimate Easter bun bonanza.
How much: From £5 for a pack of four traditional buns
Buy Fortnum & Mason Hot Cross Buns
What: Olivier’s Bakery promises a high-fibre, low-gluten version of the classic Easter favourite that even those with wheat intolerance will be able to stomach. Made with an unusual spelt flour the dough is darker in colour and has a subtle maltiness to its flavour, spruced up with sultanas, sweet currants and tart citrus peel. The team at Olivier’s claim that they’re particularly delicious topped with a tangy Montgomery cheese.
How much: TBC
Where: Various markets across London
What: Pumped full of spice, fruit and an unusual addition of crystallised ginger, St John’s hot cross buns, as with all its baked goods, will leave you licking your chops and desperate for another. The bakery's long-proving method results in a subtle yeasty tang which makes them the ideal receptacle for a sweet homemade jam. Head over to one of St John's bakery counters to get your hands on one of them and smother it with butter and marmalade.
How much: TBC
Where: Unit 4a, Brandon House, 180 Borough High Street SE1 1LH; 72 Druid Street, SE1 2HQ
Dusty Knuckle Bakery
What: When it comes to bread making Dusty Knuckle bakery prides itself on being one of the best in the biz. Last year it perfected its hot cross bun recipe to ensure that it met with the exacting standards its customers have begun to expect and this year it's bringing them back for just two weeks only. The limited edition buns are made using carefully formulated dough enriched with buttermilk, homemade candied peel and a mixture of rye and wholemeal flours so the resulting soft and light texture is second to none. They’ll be on sale from 15-6 March so catch ‘em while you can.
How much: TBC
Where: Abbot Street, Dalston E8 3DP, or track down Dusty Knuckle's milk float which travels around London
What: Dunn’s homemade GI hot cross buns are made lovingly every morning with a blend of seeds, and are packed with sweet juicy cranberries creating a unique twist on the traditional hot cross bun. By still containing traditional Easter spices and sweet dried fruit these multi seed buns offer a unique taste without compromising the integrity of the original. The bakery's traditional buns are available all year round but for the GI multi seed Easter specials you’ll have to wait until nearer Easter to get your hands on one.
How much: 4 x £2.75
Where: 6 The Broadway, Crouch End, N8 9SN or Order online for local delivery
Little Bread Pedlar
What: Head down early to one of Little Bread Pedlar's artisan bakeries to get in on the hot cross bun action, as these are sold on a first come first served basis. The buns are made in limited batches and thanks to their reputation always sell out fast. The secret recipe comprises a unique blend of spices, chopped stem ginger and a mix of five different fruits. Golden syrup and light brown sugar gives a depth to the sweetness and an extra shiny glaze!
How much: Price TBC
Where: Arch Spa Business Park 4, 6 Dockley Road, SE16 3FJ; 34 Moreton Street, SW1V 2PD
Not so seasonal but equally delicious, here's way to find the best doughnuts in London.