These hot cross buns were inspired by Swedish Lucia buns (aka lussekatter, amongst other names) which are typically eaten during St. Lucia’s Day, a celebration of the patron saint of light around the darkest day of the year. Given the occasion, perhaps it’s no wonder that Lucia buns are made from such a sunny, saffron-infused dough. The buns are often formed into S-shaped curls and spotted with a couple of raisins. I find the story and tradition behind these buns rather fascinating – read more about it, and see a classic recipe, from the blog semiswede (and find out whether the buns also ward off dark spirits at Atlas Obscura).
In making these hot cross buns, I’ve transposed the saffron and raisins (but a lot more of them), paired along with cardamom and candied orange peel. I never really thought I liked hot cross buns all that much, but the deluge of hot cross buns that I noticed on Instagram last year sparked a new fascination. And once I started making my own hot cross buns, I loved the combination of soft bread, dried fruit and peel!
I’ve made these buns a few times; at first with a classic flour cross… but pastry cream crosses taste so much better! I’ve also increased the fruit and peel quite a bit from most hot cross bun recipes I’ve seen – the dough will look a bit too crowded when you first knead it in, but once the dough rises they’ll be spread out. The initial version I made was aggressively cardamom, but I’ve gradually pared it back to a more pleasant and gentle spice, a level that plays better with the fruit and is more palatable to my family.
One of my favourite things about these buns is the pastry cream cross, a feature that I’ve adapted from Cloudy Kitchen’s hot cross buns. It slightly resembles my favourite part of the Safeway hot cross buns I grew up eating: the tacky and sweet yellow cross (those Safeway hot cross buns are also the only other hot cross bun I have ever eaten – have I been missing out?). It took me a couple tries to get it right though, mostly because I like to diverge from recipes when I really should have just followed Cloudy Kitchen’s lead right from the get go.
Typically after cooling down pastry cream, I then beat it until smooth before using it – which is exactly what I did the first time I tried a pastry cream cross. However, I found that extra frisk with a whisk introduced excess air, causing the crosses to puff up while baking and then precipitously deflate upon emergence from the oven’s bowels. (This would also explain the massive billow and collapse I’ve gotten before with these pastry cream danishes – I think once we have rhubarb growing again, I’ll have to revisit those!) To avoid the wrinkly pastry cream cross, I then followed Cloudy Kitchen’s recipe more closely by transferring the just made pastry cream directly into a piping bag to avoid any additional whisking requirements.
These buns have all the trappings of a good bun: some spice (in this case, saffron and cardamom), flecked generously with dried raisins and candied orange peel, and a sweet glaze on top. I think they capture the charm of a hot cross bun, and not just because of the cross! Though, maybe it’s about time I try to make a classic hot cross bun (last year it was hot cross buns inspired by coconut-filled cocktail buns).
saffron & cardamom hot cross buns
pastry cream cross
- 120g whole milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg yolk
- 10g cornstarch
- 12g granulated sugar
- 12g butter
- 75g raisins
- 2 1/2 tbsp dark rum
- 155g whole milk
- 1/8 tsp saffron
- 3/4 tsp cardamom seeds, coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle (or substitute ground cardamom)
- 120g whole wheat flour
- 150g all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, in addition to the coarsely ground cardamom above
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 35g granulated sugar
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1 large egg
- 42g soft butter
- 55g drained candied orange peel, chopped into small pieces (recipe below)
- beaten egg
- 1 tbsp apricot jam
For the pastry cream cross, fit a piping bag with a round tip (something about 0.7cm in diametre like Wilton 12). Put the bag in a tall glass, folding the bag over the rim of the glass so it’s easy to fill.
Combine the whole milk and vanilla extract in a small saucepan. Separately, in a bowl whisk together the egg yolk, sugar and cornstarch along with a spoonful of the milk. Heat the milk until steaming, then slowly drizzle into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Return everything to the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, until well-thickened. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Transfer to the prepared piping bag, twist closed and let cool completely. Store in the fridge.
For the buns, the day before, combine the raisins and rum in a small bowl. Let sit overnight to plump the raisins.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until steaming, and stir in the saffron and cardamom seeds. Cover, let sit and cool to room temperature or lukewarm.
In a bowl, whisk together the flours, ground cardamom, salt, yeast and sugar. Add the egg and milk and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed. Turn out onto the counter and knead until smooth, and then knead in the butter a bit at a time (in around 3 additions).
Finally, knead in the dried fruit and orange peels (it takes a little while – at first the fruit will just keep spilling out, but keep at it). Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise for around 1-2 hours or until roughly doubled. Alternatively, at this point you can put the dough in a large airtight container and place it in the fridge to rise overnight.
Meanwhile, butter an 8×8″ square pan and line the bottom with a square of parchment paper.
Divide the dough into 9 pieces, each approximately 75g. Shape each into a ball. To tighten the form, place the ball on the counter (unfloured so the dough will grip onto the counter a bit) and cup your hand over top, and move your hand in small circles. Arrange the balls in the prepared pan. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until puffed, anther 1 to 1 1/2 hours or so (if the dough was chilled overnight, it may take closer to 2 to 2 1/2 hours). To tell when they are fully risen, the dough will spring back slowly when poked with a damp finger, and the dent will not quite completely fill in.
Nearing the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350F.
Brush the risen buns with egg wash. Use a small, sharp knife to cut a small cross on the top of each bun. Bake for around 15 minutes or until beginning to brown. Take the buns from the oven and pipe lines of pastry cream over the buns. Bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until the buns are nicely browned. The internal temperature of the middle bun should be at least 185F.
For the apricot jam glaze, melt the tbsp of apricot jam with a scant tsp of water. Brush over the freshly baked buns.
candied orange peels
- peels from 2 oranges
Cut the peel from the fruit and slice into 1-cm strips.
Place the peels in a saucepan, add water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10-15 minutes, then drain and rinse and return to the pot. Repeat boiling, draining and rinsing twice more.
Return the peels to the pot and add around 3/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar, or however much you need to cover the peels. Boil the mixture for about 10 minutes or so, or until the liquid appears syrupy. By now the peels should be tender and the pith should have a translucent character.
Store in their syrup in the fridge. Drain before using, and pat off any excess syrup with a bit of paper towel.
Any leftover candied peels can be drained and covered in chocolate.