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Sourdough Hot Cross Buns with Spiced Ale

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These sourdough hot cross buns are soft and light, loaded with fruit, spiced, and slightly sweet. A perfect way to use your sourdough starter!


sourdough hot cross buns on plate

One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns!

I have a rather vivid  memory of me in preschool playing this song on a recorder. I can see the room (my preschool was held in a church and the “music” room was in a meeting room that had those carpet covered moveable divider walls), the teacher behind a keyboard, and a bunch of little 3 and 4 year olds trying to screech out these notes. I had no clue what a hot cross bun was until I became an adult, but I did remember this song.

These sourdough hot cross buns are a perfect treat for your Easter table, or any time. They are soft, slightly sweet, and deliciously flavored. The tang of sourdough is mellowed by the ale and spices, and everything seems to blend together perfectly.

What are hot cross buns?

Hot cross buns are a yeasted, spiced, enriched bun made with candied fruit. They are typically topped with a piped cross and eaten on Good Friday. They actually date back to the 12th century! 

hot cross bun split in half with butter

How to make hot cross buns with sourdough starter

These are a fun recipe to make with your sourdough starter! 

This recipe is a little more advanced than some of my other sourdough recipes, as the dough is stickier and a little harder to work with. This helps the buns be softer and moister, ut makes the dough harder to work with. Because its a more technical recipe that requires exact measurements, this recipe uses a baker’s scale to measure weights instead of giving amounts by volume.

For the full set of directions, make sure you scroll down to the recipe card below, but here is a brief overview of how to make this recipe: 

The night before, mix the levain:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the ale, starter, spices and 250 g of the flour.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together the dried fruit and the hot black tea.
  3. Cover both bowls and allow them to sit on the counter overnight.
steps to make sourdough levain

The next day, mix the dough:

Mixing the dough:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the plumped up fruit (discard the tea), the egg and melted butter together.
  2. Stir in the spiced beer levain.
  3. Mix in the flour, sugar, and salt just until combined and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
collage showing steps to make dough

Bulk Proof + Stretch and Fold:

Remember the dough will be sticky, and that’s ok! Use wet hands or hands that are lightly oiled in vegetable oil to stretch and fold the dough. Do not add extra flour or that will create buns that are hard as a rock. 

  1. Stretch and fold the dough.
  2. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for another 30 minutes.
  4. Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for an hour.
  5. Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for 2 hours.

*Recipe Note: These hot cross buns don’t have an overly sour sourdough flavor. If you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor, you can do a cold retardation of the dough here. Place the dough in the fridge for 12-18 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Let it come back to room temperature before moving on to the next step.

collage showing steps to stretch and fold

Shaping of the dough:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2.  Lightly dust your counter with flour.
  3. Weight out 100 gram balls of dough (you should get 20), roll them into balls and place the prepared baking sheet so they are almost touching.
collage showing steps to shape hot cross buns

Final Proofing:

  1. Cover the baking sheet with a tea towel and allow it to sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours.

*Recipe Note: You can, at this point, refrigerate the dough and bake the buns the next day. Make sure to bring the rolls back up to almost room temperature before baking. Don’t let the buns get fully proofed before you stick them in the fridge or they could overproof. 

Baking:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. When the oven has preheated, make the paste for the crosses. In a small bowl whisk together the flour and water to form a paste. The paste should have no clumps and be a thick paste. Place the paste into a zip-top bag and snip off one corner.
  3. Pipe crosses onto the tops of the buns by tracing lines down the center of each row of buns first vertically and then horizontally.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
  5. While the buns are still hot, mix together the boiling water and sugar for the glaze (and orange blossom water, if you want), and brush over the top. This will help the buns stay soft and look shiny.
  6. Allow to cool for 20 minutes at least, then Enjoy!

** Recipe note: Humidity, weather, and temperature all influence how a dough reacts the time it takes for dough to be fully proofed and how sticky it feels. Remember to watch the dough here, not the clock. If your house is colder, these times could take longer. If your house is warmer, or it is particularly muggy out, these times could take a lot less.

brushing glaze on baked hot cross buns

Baker’s Schedule for Hot Cross Buns.

A Baker’s schedule is the timing in which you start the recipe for it to be ready at a certain time. Overall, this recipe takes about 18 hours from start to finish, plus the time it takes for your sourdough starter to become active. 

In order to find out when you need to start feeding your starter to have hot cross buns ready to eat when you want them, work backwards:

  • Cooling: 20 minutes
  • Baking: 30 minutes
  • Final Proofing: 3-4 hours, depending on the temperature of your house
  • Shaping: 20 minutes
  • Bulk Proof + Stretch and Fold: 4 hours, depending on the temperature of your house
  • Mixing: 15 minutes
  • Levain: 8 hours
  • Feeding of starter: 4-6 hours, depending on starter and the temperature of your house.
freshly baked hot cross buns with sourdough starter

How to serve this to your family

These are great to serve for breakfast on Easter morning (or anytime, really!). Serve these alongside veggie breakfast egg muffins and some fresh fruit for a great meal.

How do you store leftovers?

These buns can be stored in an airtight container for about two days at room temperature. Or place in the fridge to keep for longer. They freeze well too.

hot cross buns with sourdough starter in basket and on plate in front

Frequently Asked Questions

Got questions? I’ve got answers!

What kind of sourdough starter do I use for this recipe?

This recipe uses an active 100% hydration sourdough starter. That means a sourdough starter fed with equal parts flour and water, that has been recently fed and has doubled in size and is bubbly. You can use a starter that is fed with any kind of flour. For more information on what that means, make sure to read my guide on how to feed a sourdough starter.

New to sourdough? Read my Ultimate Guide to Sourdough for Beginners to answer all the questions you have!

I don’t drink alcohol, can I substitute out the ale?

Of course you can! I used ale here to give it a little more spiced flavor, but you do not have to use it. You can use a chai tea, regular black tea, or just some warm water instead. 

What kind of add-ins can I use?

In this recipe, I used cranberries and raisins. You can use whatever you like – currants, dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried figs, chopped prunes or chopped apricots. Or a mix of all of them! Basically, anything goes here!

You can also substitute out the orange and lemon zest for candied peel.

Do I have to use a stand mixer?

No, you don’t. However, this dough is really sticky, so I suggest it! If you want to prove your baking prowess by mixing this by hand, I suggest mixing this is a bowl with really wet or oiled hands. Do not add more flour than the recipe calls for.

sourdough hot cross bun split open

Try these other great sourdough recipes for special occasions:

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Yield: 20 rolls

Spiced Ale Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

sourdough hot cross buns on plate

These spiced hot cross buns are a perfect sourdough recipe to use your discard with. Flavorful and tender, these buns are a great way to start your day.

Prep Time 1 day 9 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 day 9 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

Buns

  • 325 ml Spiced Ale or stout
  • 150 g 100% hydration sourdough starter, active
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 800 g all purpose flour
  • 325 g mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, prunes, cherries and cranberries but you use whatever combination you want)
  • Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon (save the orange for the glaze)
  • 200 ml hot black tea
  • 1 large egg
  • 50 grams melted butter
  • 50 grams granulated sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt

Cross topping:

  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoon water

Glaze:

  • 3 Tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice

Instructions

The night before, mix the levain:
In a large bowl, mix together the ale, starter, spices and 250 g of the flour.
In a medium bowl mix together the dried fruit and the hot black tea.
Cover both bowls and allow them to sit on the counter overnight.
The next day, mix the dough:
Mixing the dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the plumped up fruit (discard the tea), the egg and melted butter together.
Stir in the spiced beer levain.
Mix in the flour, sugar, and salt just until combined and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Bulk Proof + Stretch and Fold:
Remember the dough will be sticky, and that’s ok! Use wet hands or hands that are lightly oiled in vegetable oil to stretch and fold the dough. Do not add extra flour or that will create buns that are hard as a rock.
Stretch and fold the dough.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for another 30 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for an hour.
Stretch and fold the dough, recover, and let it rest for 2 hours.
*Recipe Note: These hot cross buns don’t have an overly sour sourdough flavor. If you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor, you can do a cold retardation of the dough here. Place the dough in the fridge for 12-18 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Let it come back to room temperature before moving on to the next step.
Shaping of the dough:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lightly dust your counter with flour.
Weight out 100 gram balls of dough (you should get 20), roll them into balls and place the prepared baking sheet so they are almost touching.
Final Proofing:
Cover the baking sheet with a tea towel and allow it to sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
*Recipe Note: You can, at this point, refrigerate the dough and bake the buns the next day. Make sure to bring the rolls back up to almost room temperature before baking. Don’t let the buns get fully proofed before you stick them in the fridge or they could overproof.
Baking:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
When the oven has preheated, make the paste for the crosses. In a small bowl whisk together the flour and water to form a paste. The paste should have no clumps and be a thick paste. Place the paste into a zip-top bag and snip off one corner.
Pipe crosses onto the tops of the buns by tracing lines down the center of each row of buns first vertically and then horizontally.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
While the buns are still hot, mix together the boiling water and sugar for the glaze (and orange blossom water, if you want), and brush over the top. This will help the buns stay soft and look shiny.
Allow to cool for 20 minutes at least, then Enjoy!

Notes

The night before, mix the levain:
In a large bowl, mix together the ale, starter, spices and 250 g of the flour.
In a medium bowl mix together the dried fruit and the hot black tea.
Cover both bowls and allow them to sit on the counter overnight.

The next day, mix the dough:
Drain the tea from the dried fruit. Discard the tea and save the fruit.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the plumped up fruit, the egg and melted butter together.
Stir in the spiced beer levain.
Mix in the flour, sugar, and salt just until combined and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Bulk Proof + Stretch and Fold:
Remember the dough will be sticky, and that’s ok! Use wet hands or hands that are lightly oiled in vegetable oil to stretch and fold the dough. Do not add extra flour or that will create buns that are hard as a rock.

Stretch and fold the dough.

Keeping the dough in the bowl, grab one edge and pull it upwards and then fold it over towards the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and do another stretch and fold. Continue stretching, folding, and rotating twice more, until you have done a complete circle around the bowl.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough again, recover, and let it rest for another 30 minutes.
Stretch and fold the dough again, recover, and let it rest for an hour.
Stretch and fold the dough again, recover, and let it rest for 2 hours. When this is over, the dough should have more shape and elasticity.
*Recipe Note: These hot cross buns don’t have an overly sour sourdough flavor. If you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor, you can do a cold retardation of the dough here. Place the dough in the fridge for 12-18 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Let it come back to room temperature before moving on to the next step.

Shaping of the dough:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lightly dust your counter with flour.
Weight out 100 gram balls of dough (you should get 20), roll them into balls, tucking edges underneath so you have a nice smooth surface on the top.
Place the prepared baking sheet so they are almost touching.

Final Proofing:
Cover the baking sheet with a tea towel and allow it to sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours to proof. They should almost double in size and spring back when you gently poke the dough with a finger.
*Recipe Note: You can, at this point, refrigerate the dough and bake the buns the next day. Make sure to bring the rolls back up to almost room temperature before baking. Don’t let the buns get fully proofed before you stick them in the fridge or they could be overproofed.

Baking:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
When the oven has preheated, make the paste for the crosses. In a small bowl whisk together the flour and water to form a paste. The paste should have no clumps and be a thick paste. Place the paste into a zip-top bag and snip off one corner.
Pipe crosses onto the tops of the buns by tracing lines down the center of each row of buns first vertically and then horizontally.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
While the buns are still hot, mix together the boiling water, sugar, and orange juice for the glaze. Use a pastry brush to brush over the tops of all the buns.This will help the buns stay soft and look shiny.
Allow to cool for 20 minutes at least, then Enjoy!

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 266Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 185mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 3gSugar: 13gProtein: 6g

Nutrition information is an estimate and is provided for informational purposes only. For the most accurate information, please calculate using your specific brands and exact measurements.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram, and don't forget to tag #gingeredwhisk.

baking tray with twenty freshly baked sourdough hot cross buns
close up of sourdough hot cross bun
hot cross buns made with sourdough on baking tray
hot cross bun cut open and smeared with butter
 

(adapted from Lauren Bakes)

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