SOURDOUGH Hot Cross Buns with Roasted Pumpkin

15 March, 2016


You must make these! I am sharing the recipe today so you have plenty of time to make a sourdough starter before Easter (it only takes 4 – 5 days and you are ready to bake!) – or you can also use dried yeast, see the recipe. They are seriously the best hot cross buns I have ever eaten. Perfectly spiced, moist and sweet from the pumpkin, and complemented with a hint of sourdough to complete the palette experience.

I love mastering a technique, particularly if it involves filling our tummies with something nourishing and delicious. I have been making sourdough bread for many years now, however, branching out beyond bread has always felt a bit daunting. This possibly relates back to my chef training days when I seriously failed the bun-making module (not once but three times!). Of course this was using commercial yeast, and now I know me and yeast were just never meant to be! But wild yeast is another story. I love tending to my little jar of sourdough starter. Learning its rhythms – watching it take a long slow in-breathe (rise) after each feed and then exhale (deflate) just as slowly.
Although it takes over 24 hours from start to finish to make these hot cross buns, most of the time is completely unattended. The slow low-temp rise of the dough converts the starch and proteins (gluten) so they are easier to digest and more nutritious. Since making my own sourdough bread my ability to digest wheat and gluten has improved considerably so long as I use a slow-rise for at least 12 hours. And I always source good quality flour such as spelt or NZ-grown wheat and rye (find my pantry list and suppliers HERE). I am still in awe of the magic that happens with the simple combination of flour and water.
P.S. If you make these hot cross buns I would love to see them, please share them with me on ​Facebook or ​Instagram @nicolagallowayfood. Happy Baking!

*Find instructions to make a sourdough starter HERE.

Sourdough Pro Tip

When making a heavier dough like this it is essential that the starter is VERY bubbly before use – at least double in size after a feed within 4-6 hours. Plus you want the (lactic) acid load of the starter to be very low – if your starter smells sour then you won’t get a good rise in a sweet heavy dough like this. Much to popular belief a healthy starter won’t smell very sour, more sweet and yeasty. This recipe is different from when making bread dough where there is more leeway due to higher moisture/water which will naturally speed up the yeast activity.

Timing with sourdough is always suggestive and if it is a cool day then the rise time may be longer (for both the pre-rise and bun rise). Go with the look of the dough over timing (take a photo when they are first rolled to compare). And when the risen buns are gently prodded they should slowly bounce back. The most important thing is to make sure the starter is super active AND not too sour when making this type of naturally leavened dough. Plus keeping the starter and dough in a warm position while rising will make a big difference.

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns with Roasted Pumpkin

You need to plan ahead if you want to make these for Easter Sunday. Start the process on Saturday morning to bake the buns late Sunday morning. You will notice the ingredients are mostly in gram amounts, I have learned (from experience) when it comes to bread baking this will give the most consistent results. Digital scales work best and keep within 2g of the ingredient weight. Another handy and very affordable piece of equipment is a dough scraper for folding the dough and cutting without severing the gluten.


Production Starter

  • 50 g bubbly sourdough starter
  • 50 g white flour - spelt, standard or high grade
  • 50 g water

Dry ingredients

  • 320 g white flour - spelt, standard or high grade
  • 5 g sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 100 g raisins or sultanas

Wet ingredients

  • 150 g milk
  • 30 g butter
  • 200 g mashed roasted pumpkin or kumara - see note below
  • melted butter for brushing


  • Make the production starter around mid-morning of the first day (Saturday morning). Cover with a plate and leave to ferment for about 6 hours - after this time the starter will have visible bubbles and at least doubled in size. *Or use 150g healthy bubbly starter from your sourdough starter jar (fed 6 hours prior).
  • Once the starter is ready make the dough. First weigh the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk to combine and aerate.
  • Put the milk and butter into a saucepan and gently heat until the butter is melted. Don't boil, just warm the milk. Remove from the heat add the pumpkin flesh, mashing with a fork to combine or use a stick blender to purée. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients along with the production starter. Use a dough scraper or spatula to mix for 2 minutes to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients. The dough will feel a little sticky at this stage but it shouldn't feel wet. However, as pumpkin moisture content can vary if the dough feels very sticky and wet add 20g extra flour and mix well to combine.
  • Cover the bowl with a plastic bag so the dough doesn't dry out and leave to rise at room temperature (if it is cool in your kitchen then place the bowl somewhere warm) for 3 hours. During this time you can apply 1-2 sets of stretch and folds to the dough if you are inclined, but this is not essential. Before bed place the bowl into the fridge to retard the dough for 10 - 12 hours.
  • In the morning (about 7 - 8am) remove the dough from the fridge and tip onto a bench - resist the urge to add extra flour, the cold risen dough will be easy to handle. Knead half a dozen times to develop the gluten for the final rise. Next use a dough scraper or 'blunt' butter knife to cut into 12 even sized pieces. Use your fingers to gently fold the cut edges under to make a rounded bun shape and then cup the dough with your hand and roll into a ball. Place the buns on a lined baking tray (approx. 20x25cm) seam side down with 1cm space between each. Cover with a plastic bag and set aside in a warm position to rise for 3 - 4 hours (how long they take to rise depends on the temperature of your kitchen). Once the buns are just touching and visibly risen they are ready to bake.
  • Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan bake). Make the crosses - see below. Place the buns into the hot oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 200C (180C fan bake). Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Check after 20 minutes and if the buns are getting nicely brown on top cover with a sheet of baking paper so they don't brown further. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, brush with warm honey or maple syrup to give the buns a nice glaze. Best eaten warm from the oven with a thick spread of butter - and they are also lovely toasted the next day.


To make the crosses combine 3 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons water, spoon into a ziplock bag and cut a small hole (approx 2mm) in one of the corners. Twist the bag and slowly squeeze out the paste onto the buns to make crosses.
Roast Pumpkin - when roasting pumpkin for dinner I often bake extra for adding to baking. I slice the pumpkin into wedges - leaving the skin on as this is easy to peel off once cooked. Brush with a little ghee or coconut oil and season lightly with salt. Roast for 30 minutes at 190C until tender, flipping the pumpkin wedges after 15 minutes for even cooking. Cool then remove the skin and mash or puree.

Join the Conversation

  1. nzecochick says:

    These sounds amazing!! I am so going to make them this weekend!! M x

    1. You must make them Madeliene! I have made them several times now and they are inhaled the moment they are cool enough to hold. Please show me if you do, I would love to see xx

  2. Unfortunately I am very gluten free 🙁
    Could these be adapted to use GF grains without ruining the magic? 🙂

    1. Hi Trevor, I haven’t tried so I can’t guarantee they would work. You would need to use a mix of flours including some light flour like tapioca or arrowroot to lighten the dough. I would also imagine the flour quantity would need to be reduced a little or add 1 egg to the mix for extra binding. Let me know if you have any luck! Sorry I can’t be more exact.

  3. I make your sourdough bread and love it, so I have the starter, but I’m gluten free – do you think I could try these Easter buns with brown rice and buckwheat flour?? Easter buns is about the only thing I’ve missed since going gf!

    1. Hi Lila. sorry I haven’t tried making these with gluten-free flour. You could try with these flours plus some tapioca flour to lighten the mix and add an egg for binding. Just keep an eye on the moisture level if adding egg. Let me know how you go and I can add a note to the recipe if they are a success!

  4. Hi Nicola, I already have a sourdough starter which I use for making bread (I made the starter using your recipe). If I use this for making the hot cross buns, (instead of making the starter in the hot cross buns recipe) how much would I need to use?

    1. Hi Anna, you could use 200g bubbly active starter, however, making the production starter insures the bread rises in the time specified in the recipe so it could be slower using all starter but I am sure it will still work fine. Let me know how you go…

  5. Hi Nicola, I’m going camping over Easter. Could I make these and freeze the dough and then bake them in the camp kitchen?

    1. Hi Angie, Oh gosh I am really not sure as I haven’t tried freezing this dough. Yeast dough you can certainly do this with but I would be concerned the sourdough would become dormant. You could keep it chilled for up to 48 hours and then make the buns and bake in a camp oven but again I haven’t tried this so can’t guarantee success 🙂

  6. Could you double this recipe easily? Going to start these tomorrow have heaps of visitors over Easter!

    1. Hi Kim, yes you can double or even triple the recipe as needed. Enjoy!

  7. Hi Nicola, I made these buns last year and they were delicious. I used my bread maker which made them even easier. I’d like to make them for a vegan friend this year. Can you suggest a vegan replacements for the milk and butter?
    Thanks, Linda

    1. Hi Linda, I am looking forward to making these again in the coming weeks! I haven’t tried making these vegan so not sure how they would work. You could try using a plant-based milk and coconut oil in place of the butter and see how you go. It is only a small amount of butter so should be fine but make sure to use a milk that isn’t too sweet or strong tasting as it could overpower the other flavours. Good luck!

  8. Oh no! Ive just made a mistake making these! I wanted to double the recipe but as im making the dough this evening, Ive realised I forgot top double the production starter! What to do? I’m guessing you wont be able to respond on time but i thought id try you! This is the second time i am making this btw, trying to tweak it slightly as i go for our sugar free household and find just the right balance… i loved it the first time around – and i hope this time will be delicious too even with my little hiccup! Cheers, isabelle

    1. Hi Isabelle, sorry I didn’t see this until this morning. You could have added dried yeast to assist the rise or leave them longer at room temperature. It is a bit tricky when the starter quantity is reduced as timing will be effected and the flour/water ratio. I hope they turned out alright. Thanks for the letting me know the first batch were a success!
      Enjoy, Nicola

      1. Hi Nicola, this batch was a success too! That’s what i figured i should do… I left it out at room temperature longer than the recipe says. And i added a bit more liquid to my milk/purée mix. Turned out fine! Thanks again 🙂

        1. Great to hear they worked for you, it is always a little trickier when doubling recipes 🙂

  9. Hi Nicola, I’m making these now. I’m currently at the final rise stage. I’ve been taunting my children over the past 24 hours with the delicious smell, and we can all hardly wait until this weekend to eat them!!
    Thank you for your lovely recipe, I know they will be a hit!

    1. Hi Amanda, thank-you for taking the time to share this with me. I love hearing others are cooking my recipes 🙂

  10. These were indeed the best hot cross buns I have ever had, everyone loved them!!!! Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Rosemary, that is wonderful. Thank-you for taking the time to let me know 🙂
      Warmest, Nicola

  11. William Goh says:

    I would love to make these! I have a question. I have read that bacillius bacteria flourish at 23-28-ish celsius, but if I use 40c lukewarm water to feed the starter that came straight out of the fridge, wouldn’t the temperature of the feeding become too cold for kickstart the starter to become active?

    1. Hi William, if you are using the starter straight from the fridge you will need to adjust the water temperature accordingly. I generally keep my starter at room temp or at least bring it to room temp before use. I do find these buns are quire forgiving with the addition of a sweetener to feed the yeast.
      Enjoy, Nicola

      1. William Goh says:

        Ah ha, that’s how it’s done. Thanks a lot!

  12. Hey Nicola. If we dont have any pumpkin, is there anything else we could replace this with? or can it be left out?
    Looking forward to making these again!

    1. Hi Cheree, I haven’t tried this recipe without pumpkin as this is quite an essential part of the recipe. You could use roasted kumara. If you do leave it out, I would increase the milk, maybe by 50ml? Again, I haven’t tried without so can’t be certain. Thanks, Nicola

  13. Libby Slow says:

    Hi Nicola. Your book has been getting a real workout during lock down. I have made sauerkraut, crackers and sour dough bread
    among other things. I thought I would try these Easter buns. I have a particularly dry pumpkin in the fridge.
    So dry that we are choosing not to roast it and eat it. I wonder if this will matter in the buns? I could add a bit more
    liquid to compensate. I will try your idea of brushing the sides of it with coconut oil before baking. Hate wasting things.
    Cheers, Libby

    1. Hi Libby, that is great to hear, there so many homemade recipes to try out with this extra time.
      In regards to the dry pumpkin, I would suggest boiling it rather than roasting or it could dry it out even more. Then drain and mash, it should be a thick-ish consistency.
      I hope that helps 🙂

  14. Sandra McMillan says:

    Made these with chocolate instead of raisins – YUM! worked well

    1. Hi Sandra, yum and I don’t think you are the only one from the messages I have been receiving 🙂 Keep an eye out for another hot cross bun themed recipe coming very soon!
      Happy baking, Nicola

  15. Hi Nicola
    I’m keen to try these but will have to first try with dry yeast instead of a sourdough starter.
    Can you tell me how much I’ll need? Do I just mix it with the flour / dry ingredient mix in place of the starter?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Sally, you can use the same quantities as the Hot Cross Bun Bread. Add 1 tsp active dry yeast to the dry ingredients, plus you will need to increase the flour by 75g and milk by 75 ml to replace the starter or the dough will be on the light side and make small buns.
      Happy baking 🙂

      1. Thank you so much! I’m baking today.

  16. Hi I had a very active sourdough starter but my dough didn’t rise hardly at all. It has been cold admittedly but could it be the sulphites in the raisins/dried fruit? I soaked them first but maybe not long enough?

    1. Hi Jo, I am not sure if the sulphites would interfere with the starter. It is a little colder this weekend so leaving to rise longer might get more rise. Also, I find taking a photo once shaped can be helpful for comparison can be helpful to see how much they have risen, as it can be deceiving.

  17. Christine says:

    I made these today, they’re delicious! I glazed with raw caster sugar, water and a dash of vanilla essence – so good. Also I didn’t have enough sultanas so topped up with dried blueberries and currants. They didn’t get very tall, but tasty nonetheless!

    1. Hi Christine, great to hear and loving the subbing with ingredients you have on hand. The bread won’t get that tall as it’s more of a flat skillet bread than individual buns with each bun smaller than usual hotx buns (which I find sometimes too big for one person). You could make the dough into 12 buns with 1cm space in a tray to get more height and size.
      Enjoy! Nicola

  18. Beautiful recipe! I manage swapping a few things like pumpkin for kumera, cows milk for coconut milk and sugar for honey and it worked perfectly! Thanks!!

    1. Fantastic, I am glad the changes worked for you. It is quite an adaptable recipe. Happy eating!

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