Sofia Levin

Hot cross buns: the Tivoli Road Bakery way

Michael James of Tivoli Road Bakery making his much-desired, award-winning hot cross buns.

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1. Tivoli Road Bakery

$4 each or 6 for $22

Amazing glaze: Hot cross buns at Tivoli Road Bakery.
Amazing glaze: Hot cross buns at Tivoli Road Bakery. Photo: Tim Grey

Is there a better hot cross bun than this in Melbourne? If so, we missed it. Aficionados travel for Michael James' hot buns, which sell out by 11am. But behind their perfection is a bunny basket full of consideration: impossibly plump currants, raisins, sultanas and mixed peel from Happy Fruit in Mildura soaked overnight; orange puree brightens the semi-sourdough base with its fluffy crumb and the brown sugar glaze is spiked with clove, cinnamon and star anise. The buns are spicy but not overpoweringly so, with nutmeg milled fresh for each batch. Order early and be prepared to queue – demand suggests Tivoli is on track to beat last year's PB of 1600 hot cross buns in a day.

3 Tivoli Road, South Yarra, tivoliroad.com.au

2. Woodfrog Bakery

$3.50 each

What do you get when you combine a Jewish specialty with a Christian holiday? Woodfrog's hot cross buns. It's a touch ironic that challah – the braided egg loaf eaten on Shabbat – forms the base of a bun consumed over a weekend that celebrates the resurrection of Christ. But the eggs and sugar in this dough are what give it richness. The poolish, a pre-ferment technique that affords the buns their dark maple colour, adds an almost boozy flavour despite an absence of alcohol. Fruit is abundant; organic sultanas and currants are soaked in orange juice and there's zest throughout the dough. Liberal use of cinnamon rounds out the fruit and gives the buns that familiar aroma, while a syrupy glaze results in a compulsory post-bun finger licking.

108 Barkly Street, St Kilda; Tok H, 459 Toorak Road, Toorak; rear 141 High Street, Kew; Dendy Centre, 26 Church Street, Brighton, woodfrogbakery.com.au

3. Candied Bakery

$3.50 each or 6 for $18

Some may not appreciate owner and baker Orlando Artavilla's decision to ditch orange peel in Candied Bakery's buns, but he maintains that mixing zest and juice through the dough creates balance in every bite. He's right. There's enough fruit that a cross-section resembles a delicious stained-glass window, interspersed with moist dough (a hybrid of fresh yeast and sourdough). These buns are heavy to hold but light to bite, although the greyish-brown colour is a little odd. Spice-wise, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon come through most – they're part of a secret spice mix Artavilla created five years ago.

81a Hudsons Road, Spotswood, candiedbakery.com.au

4. Babka

​$2.75 each

Dark, round and with a pronounced cross, Babka's buns have classic appeal. They're not overly spiced, as they're heavily based on the shop's famous shoo-fly buns, but are finished with a cross and sugar syrup glaze. Whole oranges are pulped and added to the mixture, while the currants are strictly Australian (one Easter, owner Sasha Lewis received an accidental delivery of Greek currants that she refused to use). They're not fancy, but they're damn good. Of all the buns in this list, these are most likely to get the tick of approval across all age groups.

358 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 0091

5. Rustica

$3.50 each or 6 for $15.50

Break open these round, compact buns and inhale deeply: vanilla. Well-dispersed fruit is soaked in brown-sugar syrup, which is then brushed over brioche-style buns. The cross, although symbolic, is usually the least enjoyable component of the hot cross bun, but here it's made from choux pastry instead of flour. The supple texture is the result of a secret pre-ferment technique applied the day before baking. There's no peel, but citrus is added to the dough in the form of whole pureed oranges. Better yet, a third store just opened on Swan Street, Richmond, right beside Gelato Messina.

402 Brunswick Street Fitzroy; 33 Guildford Lane, Melbourne; 166 Swan Street, Richmond, rusticasourdough.com.au

6. Baker D. Chirico

$3.50 each or 6 for $20

Baker D, you've still got it. You won't find chocolate or sour cherries here – Baker D is a strict traditionalist. The sourdough is naturally raised overnight, which makes for a heartier bun, and while it's clear the fruit is quality, there could be more of it. This particular batch wasn't the prettiest of the bunch when compared with glossier counterparts, but even before the first bite the aroma makes it obvious why the spice mix is so closely guarded.

149 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda; 178 Faraday Street, Carlton; 183 Domain Road, South Yarra, bakerdchirico.com.au

7. Long Shot

$2.50 each, 4 for $9 or 8 for $18

Chocolate chip hot cross buns don't usually make it to this list, but Long Shot had the foresight to keep the fruit instead of completely replacing it with cocoa. Although Long Shot offers a traditional fruit bun as well, these are as good as it gets when it comes to chocolate. The dense, brioche-based dough is studded with 30 per cent fruit and 70 per cent dark chocolate, but it isn't too sweet. They're heavy on cinnamon but balanced by a German spice mix usually reserved for Christmas Lebkuchen biscuits. For those who eat with their eyes, these are truly something. Polished with an apricot and cinnamon-infused glaze and scattered with a pinch of raw sugar, they almost enter cake territory.

727 Collins Street, Docklands, long-shot.com.au

8. Loafer

$3 each or 6 for $16.50

This small, local bakery is renowned for its sourdough and the hot cross buns are no exception. Made with organic white flour and dark barley malt, they're heavier than other buns but fluffy considering they're sourdough. The initial impression from each square, liberally sized bun is sweetness from a vanilla and orange glaze, followed by hints of cinnamon and cardamom. They're also chock-full of raisins, currants and candied orange and lemon that reduces on the stove out the back for three days. Bonus points for being vegan.

146 Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North, loaferbread.com