Easter needs hot cross buns like Christmas needs gravy. The nation clutches its collective pearls every year when supermarkets start selling the buns on Boxing Day, but that fake outrage has become as vital to HCB tradition as slathering them with a level of butter usually only found in French kitchens.
We've rated four leading bun brands below (traditional varieties only), scoffed on the day of baking and tested for flavour, texture, appearance and aroma.
The tasting panel
- Callan Boys National food and drink writer for Good Food.
- Andrew Bowden Pastry chef at Andy Bowdy Pastry and owner of Saga cafe in Enmore, Sydney.
- Aimee Graham Owner of Cherry Moon general store, cafe and bakery in Annandale, Sydney. Graham avoids gluten and dairy, but enjoys plant-based chocolate.
Hot cross buns
Aldi Bakers Life Fruit Hot Cross Buns, six for $3
"Nice and moist with plenty of fruit," says Bowden. "These could also do with more spice, but I like a bit of stickiness in my glaze, so I'll give them a point for that." Although not strictly traditional, Aldi also has a "brioche-style" hot cross bun, ideal for bread-and-butter pudding thanks to its richer crumb.
Woolworths Fruit Hot Cross Buns, six for $3.50
"Not much glaze, so that's upsetting," says Bowden. "Also a similar blandness to the Coles bun – you would almost think they're made at the same factory." There's plenty of fruit, but it can't bolster the dullness of the dough, even though the aroma is warm and spicy. Good if you want to make your house smell like hot cross buns without actually eating them.
Hot cross buns from Coles (left) and Bakers Delight. Photo: James Brickwood
Coles Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns, six for $3.50
Made with 95 per cent Australian ingredients, Coles' buns contained the most domestic sultanas, currants and flour of the supermarket HCBs. (Woolies and Aldi buns contained 70 and 67 per cent Aussie ingredients respectively.) OK-ish texture – not too stodgy – but a bland aftertaste. Needs more spice.
Bakers Delight Traditional Hot Cross Buns, six for $8
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze
The winner of Good Food's 2019 hot cross bun taste test reigns supreme once again. "It's a lot fluffier compared to the others, which are all quite dense, like they haven't been baked long enough," says Bowden. "Nice balanced spice levels and a good mix of raisins and sultanas."
Pimping your hot cross bun with sandwich fillings is a dark art. A dice-roll of trial, error, reward and success. Mortadella and cheddar works a treat, for example, but salami and Swiss cheese? Forget about it. Vegemite on the festive bun has its fans (we don't get it either, don't worry), but good luck finding anyone flying the flag for peanut butter, pesto or hummus.
The Bakers Delight website has a recipe for "Cheesy Hot Cross Bun Bake" featuring bacon, sour cream, pancetta and onion. Umm, thanks, but no thanks. Fresh figs, ricotta and honey potentially offer the most reward for minimum effort on a HCB, or there's, you know, butter.
Controversially, Bowden doesn't like to butter his buns when they're still warm. "As good as hot cross buns smell straight out of the oven, I prefer to let them cool so the butter keeps its form," says the chef. "I like the creaminess of cold butter contrasted to a slightly warm bun. It's better than letting the butter melt through and you don't get its texture."
For two-day old buns in need of saving, Brenton Lang, founder of Rustica Sourdough in South Yarra, recommends an ice-cream sandwich. "You can achieve the perfect ice-cream puck by freezing your choice of flavour in a circular cookie cutter," says the Melbourne baker. "Serve it in a French-toasted hot cross bun with poached pear and that's going to be epic. Bread-and-butter pudding is another good way to reignite your buns."
Founder of Melbourne's 400 Gradi pizzeria restaurants, Johnny Di Francesco, agrees. "We'll even turn leftover hot cross buns into bread-and-butter pudding gelato at our Zero Gradi gelateria in Brunswick East," he says.
The self-described "Easter fiend" also has an idea for making chocolate eggs more interesting. "Melt the chocolate down and make rocky road. It's so easy. Just get some jellies, marshmallows and other lollies, stir through the melted chocolate and set in the fridge." (Try Katrina Meynink's Easter egg rocky road recipe.)
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