Sourdough Hot Cross Bun Pull-Apart Bread

9 April, 2020


Many of you will know I have shared a sourdough hot cross bun recipe here before (in March 2016) that includes roasted pumpkin for a lovely soft crumb. After several requests recently on how to make these without pumpkin (because going to the store for one ingredient is not recommended), I spent the good part of last weekend in the kitchen testing and perfecting this recipe.

I wanted a recipe that can be made with different types of white flour as I know this is in limited supply. I have tested the recipe with spelt, high grade and standard white flour and it works with them all. The key is baking in a skillet (or cake tin) to hold the shape (rather than rely on gluten) resulting in a pull-apart style hot cross bun bread.

I didn’t get a chance to test these with gluten-free flour (there are only so many hot cross buns we can eat and fit in the freezer, plus due to lack of ingredients) but going from the comments on the pumpkin hot cross buns this could be an option. Although I haven’t made these myself I know from experience with gluten-free baking that a little extra liquid (milk) may be required.

This is another slow-rise bread in a similar style to the Homemade No-Knead Bread I shared a few weeks ago. I enjoy working with bread dough in this way, as it is not rushed, with the different stages being short. A slow rise means less kneading is required which, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am quite a lazy baker when it comes to drawn-out steps like kneading, so I’m always looking for ways to minimise my hands-on time.

The timing also means if you make the dough at Saturday dinner-time, you will have warm Easter buns for Sunday brunch. However, these can also be made over a whole day by starting in the morning, rising the dough on the bench for 7-8 hours until doubled (skipping the cold fridge rise), shaping it while making dinner, leaving it to rise again then baking in the evening. Simply warm the bread in the oven in the morning for an earlier breakfast.

*If you make either of the Hot Cross Bun recipes – pumpkin or pull-apart – I would love to see how they turn out. Tag me @nicolagallowayfood on Instagram or Facebook.

Sourdough Pro Tip

When making a heavier dough like this the starter must be 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 Bun Pull-Apart Bread

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Rising time (approx) 12 hours


  • 300 ml (1 cup + 4 tbsp) milk - (any milk can be used - I used oat milk)
  • 30 g butter
  • zest of 1 lemon, thinly peeled and finely chopped
  • 75 g raisins
  • 50 g currants
  • 425 g (3 cups minus 2 tbsp) white flour - standard, high-grade or spelt can all be used
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) bubbly sourdough starter (fed 6 hours prior)

Cross Paste

  • tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp flour

Apricot Glaze

  • 1 tbsp apricot jam or other light coloured jam
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water


  • Around 6pm the evening before baking the bread, make the dough.
  • Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat just until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest, raisins and currants. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and plump up the dried fruit.
  • Combine the flour, sugar, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the warm milk mixture and bubbly sourdough starter. Use a tablespoon to mix together into a shaggy dough. Cover with a plate and leave to hydrate for 30 minutes.
  • After this time, use your hands to knead the dough directly in the bowl for 2 minutes until smooth, then form into a ball and cover with a plate. Leave to rise in a WARM place for 3-4 hours until it rises by about 30%, then put the bowl into the fridge overnight.
  • The next morning, around 7-8am, remove the dough from the fridge, tip onto the bench and knead lightly for 20 seconds (if the dough is difficult to handle while cold leave for 30 minutes on the bench to soften). Use a dough scraper or butter knife to divide into four even pieces, then cut each piece into four again. You will now have 16 pieces in total. Roll each into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough and moving in a circular motion.
  • Grease a 24cm-wide round ovenproof dish (I used a cast iron pan), or a similar sized cake tin. Snugly arrange the dough balls into the dish starting with one in the middle, five placed around this and then ten around the outside. See the photo above for placement as this will be important when it comes to piping on the crosses. Cover the pan/tin with a plastic bag so the dough doesn't dry out and leave to rise in a WARM place for about 2-3 hours until risen by about 30% (see pro tip above).
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C (fan 200°C).
  • Prepare the cross paste by combining the flour and water in a bowl and then spoon this into a small ziplock bag. Use scissors to snip off a corner about 3mm wide. Squeeze the flour mix onto the risen dough to make crosses (see the image above for the pattern). Place in the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes until golden.
  • Remove the bread from the oven. Make the glaze by combining the apricot jam and boiling water together in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to evenly brush over the hot bread. Cool a little in the pan/tin, then move the bread to a cooling rack. Serve warm with butter and jam.


*Yeast Variation - If you don't have a sourdough dough starter on the go you can also use yeast to make this recipe - increase the milk to 375ml (1 1/2 cups) total, and to the dry ingredients add 75g (1/2 cup) extra flour and 1 tsp active or instant dried yeast (but not breadmaker yeast such as Surebake). 


Join the Conversation

  1. So so excited and thanks so much for spending your time getting a recipe for us to use while in lock down! If we have no light jam, could we use something like maple syrup and water?

    1. Hi Sheree, you are welcome. I always test my recipes thoroughly so not a big change for me but was nice to know this recipe was going to be enjoyed for our 2020 Easter in lockdown – I definitely put a little extra love into this recipe 😉
      That sounds like a great combo, it is really just something sweet to brush over at the end to make a nice glaze.
      Enjoy! Nicola

      1. Yay I was wondering about rice malt syrup for a glaze as I don’t have apricot jam or maple syrup!
        I made my dough tonight with the kids. Thanks Nicola 🤗☺️😘

        1. Hi Sophie! I am sure that will be just fine. I haven’t tried myself but I have heard from others using different sweeteners such as maple syrup for the glaze. Enjoy 🙂

  2. Richard Herrmann says:

    Didn’t have a sourdough ready so I used some of the flour, milk and yeast to do a poolish 24 hours ahead of main recipe. Made a great bake, thank you

    1. Great idea 🙂 Glad you enjoyed them.

  3. Robyn Johnson says:

    Great receipt thank you. I used the oat milk instead of milk. Turned out really well and tasted delicious. My daughter said better than store brought. Thank you for sharing your receipt. 😄

    1. Thank you Robyn, that is great feedback. Happy Easter. Nicola

  4. Yvonne Wruck says:

    Made hot cross buns first time with sourdough. I used cranberries and apricots. My 11 year old loved them! Thank you for the recipe.

    1. Hi Yvonne, wonderful. I am glad you were able to adjust the recipe to suit what you had on hand.
      Enjoy! Nicola

  5. The hot cross buns worked beautifully with a home made sourdough starter from whole meal flour, and ordinary cake flour for the buns. I’ve also made the rustic sourdough bread from your recipe book and that was delicious. Thanks.

    1. Hi Johnathan, that is wonderful. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  6. Carol Stewart says:

    Hi Nicola, I used your recipe from the DomPost to make Hot Cross Buns this year. I went off script a bit – I forgot to start the previous evening, and I bumped up the amount of dried fruit in the recipe. But they were great. Probably the best I’ve ever made. Dense, fruity, chewy and not too sweet. Will definitely make again. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Carol, thank you for your lovely message. I am glad you enjoyed them, they are a little more densely wholesome than regular hot cross bins with lower sugar and longer rise time which softens the starch. You can make them over the day if preferred, rising in the bowl at room temp for 8 or so hours, then shape into buns and rise for 2-3 hours then bake. The only catch is that they will be ready in the evening rather than the morning!
      Thanks again and happy baking 🙂

  7. Lee Belcher says:

    Hi Nicola
    I have just made the plain Easter buns and they didn’t work😢. Sourdough is not new to me as I make a loaf every two days and always your recipes.
    I used high grade flour that I normally use for bread…..cannot figure out where we went wrong? Used a cast iron pan ect.
    They didn’t rise as well pre bake as my bread normally does- the outcome …. very heavy, stodgy and doughy.
    Can you give me a lead on where I went wrong please?
    Thank you Lee

    1. Hi Lee, sorry to hear this, others have had really good results with this recipe. If the buns didn’t rise then it is likely the starter wasn’t active enough. Sourdough is complex and 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 in 4-6 hours. You also 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 dough (much to popular belief a healthy starter won’t smell very sour, more yeasty). With bread dough, there is more leeway as there is more moisture/water which will naturally speed up the yeast activity. When you mixed the dough the day before and left it to rise did you get a good rise in the bowl? 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), I always go with the look of the dough over the timing. I hope these tips are helpful, the most important thing is to make sure your starter is super active AND not too sour when making this type of naturally leavened dough.
      All the best

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