Sourdough Hot Cross Buns With Chocolate Chips

April 10, 2021
25 Ratings
Photo by Maurizio Leo
  • Prep time 21 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • makes 9 buns
Author Notes

Hot cross buns are a seasonal specialty eaten around Easter and are a balanced combination of sweet and spicy, thanks to the addition of fruit, sugar, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. While variations of these abound, my 100 percent sourdough version has a chocolatey twist: Instead of the traditional raisins, I opt to add semisweet mini chocolate chips to the dough. And before traditionalists raise their hands in protest, I implore you, give it a try! The chocolate is luxurious when combined with the orange and lemon zest in the buns, and it works so well with the warming spices. The orange-juice-tinted cross mixture brings just a little more sweetness—and brightness—right at the end of each bite.

These buns are supremely soft and tender—especially so when they’re warm from the oven. Even though these are completely naturally leavened using a sourdough starter, the sour flavor is at a bare minimum, and in fact, the slight tang amplifies the rest of the flavors appreciably.

In testing, I found using higher-protein bread flour yields a taller rise and better texture with these buns than you’d get with all-purpose. The moderate amounts of enrichments (butter, sugar, and egg) are better supported with the higher-protein flour, and it makes for buns that are loftier, softer, and overall far superior. For a bit more on the technique behind these buns, read this article. —Maurizio Leo

What You'll Need
  • Levain
  • 65 grams bread flour
  • 13 grams caster sugar
  • 65 grams water
  • 26 grams ripe sourdough starter
  • Hot cross buns
  • Dough:
  • 52 grams unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 521 grams bread flour
  • 156 grams whole milk
  • 52 grams egg (about 1 large egg—I usually crack the eggs into a separate bowl and scoop out whites to meet the formula requirements)
  • 10 grams sea salt
  • 42 grams granulated sugar (or the finest granulated sugar you have, such as caster—not confectioners')
  • 107 grams water, plus a small splash for helping to incorporate the spice mixture
  • 3 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
  • 1 gram (1/2 teaspoon) ground allspice
  • 1 gram (1/2 teaspoon) ground nutmeg
  • Zest from 1 orange (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
  • Zest from 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 115 grams semisweet mini (or regular) chocolate chips
  • Cross design:
  • 50 grams all-purpose flour (or bread flour)
  • 35 grams water
  • 15 grams fresh orange juice (or water)
  • 15 grams neutral oil, such as vegetable oil
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Egg wash:
  • 52 grams egg (about 1 large—no need to scoop out extra here)
  • 15 grams (about 1 tablespoon) whole milk
  • Simple syrup glaze:
  • 52 grams granulated sugar
  • 52 grams water
  1. Make the levain (9:00 p.m.)

    In the evening, when your sourdough starter is ripe (when you’d typically give it a refreshment), make the levain. In a medium jar, combine 65 grams bread flour, 13 grams caster sugar, 65 grams water, and 26 grams ripe sourdough starter. Be sure to use a jar that has a little extra space for this levain, as it will rise quite high and be very bubbly when ripe. Cover the jar and let the levain ripen overnight at warm room temperature (I keep mine around 74°F to 76°F/23°C to 24°C).
  2. Mix the dough (9:00 a.m.)

    Cut the butter into small pieces, place it on a plate, and set it aside to soften at room temperature. Warm the 156 grams of milk to about 76°F/24°C, either in the microwave or on the stove. Warming the milk will lead to a warmer mixed dough, which ensures ample fermentation activity. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the 521 grams flour, warmed milk, 52 grams egg, 10 grams salt, half (21 grams) of the sugar (keep the remaining half aside until just before adding butter), 107 grams water, and the ripe levain. Set the mixer to low speed and mix until all the ingredients are combined and no dry bits of flour remain. Turn the mixer up to medium-low and mix for 3 to 5 minutes until the dough starts to clump around the dough hook. This is a moderately strong dough, but it won’t completely pull away from the bottom of the mixing bowl.

    Let the dough rest 10 minutes in the mixing bowl, uncovered.

    The butter should be at room temperature by this time (meaning a finger should easily push into a piece with little resistance). First, add the remaining 21 grams of sugar, the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and the orange and lemon zests, along with a small splash of water or milk. Turn the mixer on to low and mix for 1 minute, until the new additions are incorporated.

    Add the butter, one pat at a time, waiting to add the next until the previous is totally incorporated. Once all of the butter is added, turn the mixer up to medium-low and continue to mix until the dough gets smooth and once again begins clinging to the dough hook (this can take up to 5 minutes). The dough will be cohesive, smooth, and elastic at the end of mixing.

    Transfer the dough to another large bowl or container for bulk fermentation.
  3. Bulk ferment the dough (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)

    Cover the dough with a reusable airtight cover and let it rise at warm room temperature (76°F/24°C) for a total of 4 hours. During this time, you’ll give the dough three sets of “stretches and folds” (see next paragraph for an explanation) to give it additional strength. The first set is performed 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation, and subsequent sets at 30-minute intervals, then the dough will rest for the remaining time. Set a timer for 30 minutes and let the dough rest, covered. After 30 minutes, give the dough its first set of stretches and folds.

    To stretch and fold: 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation, spread about a quarter (28 grams) of the chocolate chips over the surface of the dough in the bulk fermentation container. Then, with wet hands, grab the north side of the dough (the side farthest from you) and stretch it up and over to the south side. Sprinkle over another quarter (28 grams) of the chocolate chips to the top of the newly exposed dough, and fold the south side up to the north. Then, perform two more folds, one from east to west, and one west to east, spreading the remaining quarters of chocolate each time. Finally, let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

    Perform the remaining two sets of stretches and folds in the same way, without any ingredient additions, with 30 minutes rest in between. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for the remaining two and a half hours of bulk fermentation.
  4. Chill the dough (1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

    Check your dough; after 4 hours, it should have risen in the bulk fermentation container, smoothed out, and be light and fluffy to the touch. To make the final shaping easier, place the covered bulk fermentation container into the refrigerator for 1 hour to firm up.
  5. Shape the dough (2:30 p.m.)

    Liberally butter a 9x9-inch baking pan. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and uncover. It should be cool and semi-firm to the touch. Lightly flour a work surface and use a bowl scraper to gently scrape the dough out to the floured surface. Next, using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 115-gram pieces (you might have a little scrap leftover that can be discarded). Then, using the bench scraper and your other hand (floured, to avoid sticking), shape each dough piece into tight rounds. As you shape each, place it into the pan to form three rows of three buns. The dough pieces will be snug in the pan with dough pieces touching.
  6. Proof the shaped dough (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)

    Proof the dough at a warm temperature (74°F to 76°F/23°C to 24°C is ideal) for about 3 hours. If your kitchen is on the cool side, expect the dough to take longer to proof. Extend the proof time as necessary until the dough rounds are well-risen, very puffy, and soft to the touch. Don’t rush the proof; this is a slower-moving dough due to the enrichments.
  7. Bake the buns (6:00 p.m.)

    Heat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle.

    Prepare the cross mixture by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and mixing until no dry bits remain. Scoop the mixture into a pastry bag. (If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a plastic zip-top bag by pushing the ingredients into a corner and cutting a very small part of the corner off to allow the mixture to flow through when squeezed.)

    Prepare the egg wash by whisking together the egg and 1 tablespoon of whole milk until frothy.

    Once the oven is heated, pipe the cross mixture on the top of the dough by moving edge to edge over the buns so the mixture makes a straight line through the middle of the top three. Then, proceed with the other two rows. Next, rotate the pan 90 degrees and repeat. In the end, you should have a cross shape on each piece of dough. Next, use a pastry brush to carefully dab on a light layer of the egg wash over the buns and slide the pan into the oven.

    Bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, rotate the pan back to front, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C), and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the buns are golden and the internal temperature is around 195°F (90°C).

    While the buns are baking, prepare the simple syrup glaze: Combine the 52 grams sugar and 52 grams water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, whisking constantly. Boil for a minute, then remove from the heat and let cool.

    When the buns have finished baking, remove them from the oven and immediately brush with the simple syrup. Let the buns cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Enjoy while still warm (or reheated in the oven)—I dare you to eat only one. They’re fantastic the next day warmed, cut in half, and buttered.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • annabakesinmcr
  • liltrukr
  • Matteo Trapani
    Matteo Trapani
  • Maurizio Leo
    Maurizio Leo
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. Since baking his first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough. His New York Times Bestselling sourdough cookbook, The Perfect Loaf, is now available.

71 Reviews

Jeffbakery May 13, 2023
Amazing flavours and texture.. It's not done in Brazil but I tried once in a trip to UK.

Love it

amgeev August 6, 2022
These buns are to die for. My nephew makes them with dried fruit instead of chocolate chips. I've never had the chocolate chips and never will because a combination of dried fruit is heavenly.

This is my first time making these buns (still rising). I am finding the rising times to be much longer than in the recipe, in an 80 degree house, so... Don't be in a rush to make these, or be willing to put the unrisen dough/shaped buns in the fridge and come back to them later.
Maurizio L. August 7, 2022
So glad to hear you like these! You're right, they need plenty of time, but are so worth it 🙂
amgeev August 7, 2022
They turned out so well it's criminal. I had to take them to my dad's or I'd have eaten them all. :-)
Carolyn May 16, 2022
These are so good I’m going to make them again, even though it’s not Easter! Great flavor and texture. Sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, but not over the top. Thanks for the receipt and wonderful instructions!
Maurizio L. May 16, 2022
You're welcome, Carolyn! Thx for the comments and enjoy 🙂
Emeyer1009 April 17, 2022
Another beautiful Maurizio recipe!! I subbed almond milk bc I never have regular in the house and it turned out beautifully!
Maurizio - my daughter is obsessed with your 50% whole wheat sandwich bread so I make it weekly for her school lunch. She demands it! Lol! And what a joy to give it to her. Thank you for bringing us such beautiful baked goods.
Emeyer1009 April 17, 2022
Oh, one more thing - I put mine in the fridge overnight after bulk fermentation and shaping and baked in the morning. Worked great!
Maurizio L. April 17, 2022
Wonderful to hear you like the HxB's! I've done nut milk as well, works really well. Ahh, my sandwich loaf, my kiddos love it as well. Thanks so much for these comments and enjoy!
JulianeBeard April 15, 2022
I made these today and they turned out absolutely incredible! Which is quite impressive given that I have unsuccessfully attempted hot cross buns every year for the last 3 years.

I made quite a few tweaks in order to make the recipe vegan, using vegan butter instead of butter, oat milk instead of cows milk, and aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) instead of eggs, in the same weights as stated. It could not have worked out any better, the buns rose so well and are so fluffy and delicious. The search for the perfect hot cross buns recipe is over, finally! Thanks so much Maurizio.
Maurizio L. April 15, 2022
Amazing to hear that, Juliane! Those subs are also super interesting, making me want to follow suit. Enjoy!
Alikgator April 14, 2022
Excellent! I muddled the timetable so I finished baking them at three in the morning but they are so worth the effort. I had the bulk fermentation done in the oven with warm ceramic bowls to keep the dough snug. Swapped the butter and milk for coconut oil (but ended up putting only 25grams because the chunk looked so huge comparing to 50gr of butter) and instant coconut milk powder.
The buns have huge rise in the oven and are soo good with the crunchy syrup glaze. Thanks!
Maurizio L. April 15, 2022
Fantastic, love the swaps and so glad to hear they turned out great!
Lezanne April 14, 2022
I was wondering if I can Bulk Ferment these in the fridge? I am scaling the recipe and need to make for a large audience.
Maurizio L. April 15, 2022
Yes, you absolutely can! I'd be sure to do at least 75% bulk fermentation time at room temp, then pop it into fridge.
bkg April 9, 2022
OMG, these are amazing, so fluffy and delicious. I've never had hot cross buns before but always wanted to try; when I saw sourdough and chocolate chips (hate raisins) I was sold. It takes awhile with all the waiting, but that's what I love about bread making process - watching it develop. These are the perfect blend of sourdough, sweet and citrus, will be making them for Easter for sure
Maurizio L. April 9, 2022
So glad they turned out awesome for you! Perfect Easter snack 🙂 Enjoy!
annabakesinmcr March 27, 2022
Simply amazing! Super airy and fluffy and they are gigantic as they double while baking. I have added 15% spelt flour, and tweaked the timing a bit as my kitchen is quite cold. I left them on the bench for an overnight final prove and baked them fresh for breakfast, so the timing worked great for me. Thank you for Maurizio for another amazing recipe!
Maurizio L. March 27, 2022
You're very welcome, so happy to hear they turned out well for you! I made these recently and want to give it another go, they're too good. Enjoy!
Kari May 1, 2021
My quest for the best hot cross bun recipe has come to an end. I made this once as written, and it was perfect. I made it again this week using tangzhong/yudane, and it was also great, though I'm not sure it was any softer or kept any longer, so I wouldn't bother next time. I incorporated the butter cold and all at once this time, as described by Andrew Janjigian in a Serious Eats recipe. In this instance, the dough came together much more quickly for me (~6 min on medium instead of ~10), so I would probably do that again. Fillings for me were candied orange and raisin instead of chocolate, really just to save myself...
Maurizio L. May 2, 2021
Super happy to hear that, Kari! I also tested this with Yudane, and I didn't see it necessary—they're already so soft. I've not added cold butter to a mix, I've always added it at room temp later in mixing. I'll have to search for that technique. The chocolate does put these a little over the top (in a good way), good pivot! Thanks for the comments, Kari!
liltrukr April 27, 2021
Hello Maurizio, I need to ask you a question, for the (Final Dough) it says 52 grams of egg / separate whites in a bowl, is this right?
Or is this for the egg wash?.....sorry I'm a bit
Maurizio L. April 27, 2021
You dont have to separate the eggs. I just mean when weighing the eggs *in the dough*, remove the whites if needed to get to the listed egg weight in the recipe.
liltrukr April 27, 2021
Thank you so much Maurizio 💓
CC April 6, 2021
I baked this over the weekend with raisins. I made a batch without the spices, and a batch with the spices. The other variation i did is to use the yudane method with 100g of the recipe's flour and 100g of boiling water. I hand kneaded both doughs until they passed the window pane test, and the butter was incorporated pretty easily. The spiced dough is comparatively stiffer (compared to the non-spiced dough) and i understand now the need for a bit of liquid when adding the spices, as instructed. I fridged the doughs overnight, and did one additional S&F before that (so that adds up to a total of 4 S&F, and additional bulk proving time).

The buns turned out great - light, fluffy, and aromatic. They smelled so good during and after the bake. The spices are pleasant and do not overpower the zests. The non-spiced buns taste good as well!

I made these buns with the same amount of plum yeast water starter as what the recipe asked for in sourdough starter. And it worked perfectly.

These is my first hot cross buns attempt too. Thanks so much for the great recipe!
Maurizio L. April 6, 2021
Love those modifications and they sound like it was a total success! I've been wanting to experiment with yudane with these as well. Thanks for the comments!
Matteo T. April 5, 2021
Hi Maurizio! I'm going to make them very soon and I would like to know if you think that the recipe need some changes if using solid sourdough?
Should I still use a total of 150g ripe sourdough?
Should I use more milk to reach the correct hydration?

Thank you in advance!
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
Yes, you'd need to adjust for the lack of hydration in the starter--not a problem there. But I would recommend going with the levain build for this recipe which includes a bit of sugar to help reduce the sourness in the final product.
[email protected] April 5, 2021
I got large beautiful fluffy rolls which look so impressive ! I needed them to be ready for a mid-day Sunday Easter dinner, so I started the levain about 9 am on Saturday. I kept it at about 78-79F and it was ready by 5 pm. I mixed the dough and let it bulk proof until about 10pm, then put in the fridge - still rose a bit in the fridge. At about 8 the next morning I took it out, shaped the rolls, and let them rise for about 4 hours before I baked. I did weigh out the rolls at 115 grams, and ended up with 10 rolls, so I put the last one in a mini loaf pan.
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
Awesome to hear they worked out well for you! Nice modifications, it is a slow-moving dough and it sounds like you made all the right steps to make sure the dough was fully proofed!
Berit M. April 5, 2021
I made these for Easter morning, and was SO impressed by the lift, flavor and chew! I added some candied orange rind, as I love that combo with chocolate chips. I got my timing wrong, and rather then get up in the middle of the night during bulk fermentation, I just let it rise for close to 10 hours at room temp. Even though my house is on the cool side, the temp of the dough was in the low 70's when I went to bed. Beautiful rise, they rolled up nicely, proofed for 3 more hours, and they fit perfectly in a 9 x 13" pan. I weighed the entire dough, and split into 12 rolls @ 104g each. (I was NOT going to discard any delicious product... ;-)) I'd love to post a picture, I was so pleased with how they turned out! Delicious! Thank you Maurizio!
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
Citrus + chocolate just works so well, right?! Love it. Glad these worked out well for you, Berit! And good move on adjusting for the larger pan 🙂
dipity April 5, 2021
Thank you Maurizio for this recipe. Another VERY GOOD sourdough roll recipe! So soft just like the Sourdough Tangzhong roll. I ran out of time so I retarded at step 4. Bread was not sour because of it. After 12 hours, I shaped then started counting 3 hours proof time after my dough got to ambient room temp. I did not divide rolls into 115 gms. pieces. Instead I weighed the total dough weight and divided by 9. :) OCD here. Next time I will measure the spices using teaspoons not grams. I found the spices a bit too prominent. Also next time I will make the simple syrup using only 25 grams of water and 25 grams of sugar. I barely used the 52grams sugar and water as prescribed. To ALL: this recipe is worth a try.
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
Happy to hear it turned out well for you! Yes, when the weights get very low, it's better to go by volume... But I provided the weights in case you wanted to scale up the recipe 🙂 Thansk for reporting back!
Sela B. April 4, 2021
Hmmm- my dough didn’t rise much and didn’t get soft and poofy- my house is at 68+ degrees- i let it rise for several hours longer but it didn’t make a difference- any suggestions?
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
That cool temp likely really slowed down the fermentation timeline. Did you try to warm the milk and/or water when mixing? That will really help! Try to get the dough to be at 78°F (25°C) at the end of mixing to keep fermentation activity high.
Sela B. April 5, 2021
Thank you Maurizio- great suggestion- I’ll try that next year! In the end the buns actually came out just fine even though the dough never got soft and fluffy! They were a big hit with all whom I shared them. I really appreciate you sharing all your knowledge- thank you!
Genevieve April 4, 2021
I can't believe how huge, soft, and fluffy these turned out! I haven't had as much success with other enriched sourdough recipes but these rose so well. I gave them a bit of extra time proofing since it wasn't very warm in my kitchen, and put them in the fridge overnight to bake the next morning so I could have one fresh for breakfast. The smell and flavour was just what I like in a hot cross bun but without the candied fruit that I don't like (I left out the chocolate chips and added some dried cranberries). They reheated well in the microwave the next couple of days too (I prefer eating them on their own that way so they stay soft rather than toasted and buttered which seemed to dry them out more). Also, I only have an 8x8 pan so I used a 2L baking dish and a small loaf pan to fit the 9 buns but would maybe try a 9x13 next time.
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
I found they reheated very well the next day also (I didn't slice and butter, just ate straight as-is). Thanks for the comments, Genevieve! Happy baking 🙂
Yvr_baker April 3, 2021
Made this tonight and they look and smell amazing! Can't wait to dive into them!
Yvr_baker April 4, 2021
I can say these turned out PERFECT. They were soft and light, with really great flavours, super delicious 😋 I will definitely be making them again before next Easter!
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
So glad to hear that!
[email protected] April 3, 2021
I have a stand mixer but sometimes I just feel like wrestling some dough, so I did. This meant that I enjoyed the wonderful smell of spices and citrus throughout the kneading, which has stayed on my hands. I'd make this recipe again just for that!
Maurizio L. April 5, 2021
Hah, love that!