entertainingfoodFood & Drinkin the kitchen withkristina gillrecipes

in the kitchen with: tess williams’ hot cross buns

by Grace Bonney

This time last year I was in Sydney.  I spent Easter with artist Chris Chun, and had the task of bringing home hot cross buns after I went out and about visiting the city.  I wanted something to remind me again of that fantastic experience, so I looked for a recipe.  One of the great things about working for someone who has a chef (and an Australian one to boot!) is that I can get cooking tips and advice rather easily, and of course recipes.  This recipe for Hot Cross Buns with chocolate and figs, comes from young Western Australian chef Tess Williams.  It’s a wonderful non-denominational treat for any time of the year, although I’m sure a great many of us associate it with Easter!  I hope you’ll push up your sleeves and make these to share with friends and family this weekend, or eat all on your own– whichever makes you happiest!  –Kristina

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

About Tess:  Chef Tess Williams grew up in Perth, where she began cooking school at age 14.  Her first apprenticeship was just two years later.  Since then, she has worked at Perth restaurants Balthazar and Soda, with a bit of travel in between to Broome in north west Australia, and New Zealand.  Before moving to Rome to work, she traveled through India and Nepal, and before she takes up her next job in London she will travel Europe.  Having grown up in a vegan household, Tess loves to develop vegan recipes.

Why Tess chose this recipe:  Hot cross buns are the best memory of easter for me, better than the chocolate because you could eat them for weeks before and weeks afterwards. When I was still young a friend’s mum made chocolate hot cross buns and I loved them. Hot cross buns are good any time of the year, you can take them away with you in your purse for a quick snack on the go and the chocolate makes them a nice treat.  I love figs and think they go great with chocolate so that’s what I added to my bun dough.

Note from Tess:  Once you get the dough right you can use more traditional flavourings like glazed citrus zest, mixed dried fruit like currants, sultanas, raisins and anything you want really.

This is a basic sweet dough recipe from the popular Australian Women’s Weekly magazine that Tess has adapted for her own tastes.


14g dried yeast (30g fresh yeast)

1/2 cup warm water (120ml), plus 1/3 cup (80ml) on hand for later

1 tbs cinnamon (15g)

500g strong plain flour (4 cups)

40g butter cubed (3 tbs)

100g chocolate buttons chopped into 1cm pieces (3.5 oz)

100g dried figs, stems removed and cut into 1cm dice (3.5 oz)

2 tbs castor sugar (30g)


¼ cup flour (30g)

¼ tsp sugar (a big pinch)

Just enough water to create a thick paste


1.5 tbs sugar

1 tsp gelatine

1 tbs water

For the buns:  In a medium sized bowl, place yeast, 2 tbs of the flour, 1 tbs of the sugar and 1/2 cup water and stir well, leave for 10 min for yeast to activate in a warm place.  It should start to foam and bubble, if not start again because the yeast is dead.

Sift, flour and cinnamon into large bowl with the sugar, rub in the butter, stir in the chocolate and the dried figs.  Make a well in center and pour in the yeast mixture and add up to 1/3 cup water to make a soft dough. turn out onto bench and knead for five minutes or until smooth , add more flour, a tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky. Allow to rest covered in bowl till doubled in size.

Once the dough has double in size, knead it to knock out air, divide into 12 portions and roll into buns.  You might use a scale to weigh the dough, and then use a scale to weigh each individual ball of dough so that your buns are more or less the same size.  Put buns on a lightly greased baking tray so they just touch each other.  Leave covered to proof for 20 minutes or till doubled in size (you could make a braided loaf, roll into a sausage, divide into three and braid into a loaf then bake)

For the crosses:  Make a paste with 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 tsp sugar, and just enough water until the paste is thick but pipe-able.  Spoon into a piping bag, or a plastic baggie with the corner cut off, and pipe across buns.  Instead of piping on crosses, you could simply score crosses into the tops.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For the glaze: Put 1 1/2  Tbs sugar and 1 tsp gelatine into a small pan with 1 tbs water and stir over heat till dissolved, brush over hot buns and leave to cool.

Photography:  Kristina Gill.  Fig and chocolate bowl by Karin Eriksson, salad plate by mud australia, butter dish by Sabon.  Tea cup, saucer, and butter spreader fromVintage Heaven, vintage cutting board from flea market.

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  • Those look fantastic. I mean, really anything with chocolate pleases this palette. But, figs and chocolate all wrap in a delicious carb — too much.

  • just this morning i was CRAVING a hot cross bun. as an aussie living in baltimore though i knew the only way i’d get one was by baking it myself and here is the recipe. ta!

  • These sound delightful! My favorite thing about Easter is the hot cross buns! I wait for them all year! Yum

  • Hello, HAppy you all like them so far,
    Insted of a tsp of gelatin i used half of a 5gm sheet of gelatin it does not have to be a perfect 2.5gms.

  • These look great; so excited to try them! I saw the little paragragh at the bottom where you listed where the serveware came from but you left out where the baking dish came from. Please share! I love it! Thanks.

  • What does “strong plain flour” mean? I have a feeling it corresponds somehow with soft vs. hard wheat, but I am not sure, and would not know which US brand of flour to get. Also, if any vegetarians have had success subbing agar flakes for the gelatin in a glaze, can you chime in here?

  • Oh I WISH I could get some hot cross buns here in Canada.
    Easter doesn’t feel the same without them.
    Thanks for this recipe!

  • Hi Kariane!

    That little baking dish is a small aluminum pan used for making pizza. I don’t even think there’s a brand. I got it from a professional baking supply store. It’s a little larger than a piece of A4 paper!


  • Strong Plain flour is bakers flour/ bread flour. Also if you dont want to use gelain you can make a glaze with a sugar syrup made with equal parts water to sugar. bring water and sugar to boil and cook till sugar has melted.

  • I made these yesterday to dazzle my family this morning.
    I had to add more water than the recipe said but did it gradually and in very small amounts.
    The cross was crunchy which you never seem to get on bought hot cross buns anymore…
    I loved making them about as much as I loved eating one fresh from the tin.
    Thanks for the recipe!

  • I read this post yesterday and knew immediately that I would love them… absolutely had to make them… so I did, today. They are really tasty but I had to use twice the amount of water… the dough was too dry and overall quite heavy in texture. Not the result I was looking for, but tasted great anyway!

  • @Diane & @Kate, Sorry you had trouble!

    Did you use a scale to measure your flour and a liquid measuring cup to measure the liquid? When baking, I find using a scale to be the most precise way to ensure that I am as close to the conditions used by the author as possible. You will never know with precision how much flour is in your cup, but you will know exactly how much flour you’re using if you use a scale. It is also important to use the right kind of measuring cup (liquid for liquids).

    However, there are many other factors which influence the outcome as well, such as type of flour, humidity in the air, etc.

    If you let us know exactly what you did and how you measured your ingredients, we might be able to help you troubleshoot for next time.

  • I also decided to make these buns, even though I had never heard of hot cross buns until this article. I am an avid baker, but I’ll admit that I had to Google strong plain flour as well as castor sugar. I skipped the figs ad just went with the chocolate. Not sure about “chocolate buttons” so I chopped up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate. I also decided to go without the glaze.
    I had the same issue with the water. It took closer to a cup of water to achieve a dough consistency. I couldn’t use my scale without making it a math lesson, as it only has ounces and pounds.
    They buns came out beautifully and they had a soft and chewy center. The only issue was they didn’t have much flavor. I even went back to the recipe to see if I missed salt ot sugar. Maybe it’s because I didn’t add the figs? I’m not sure.

  • Hi Heidi,

    I’m really sorry you had trouble with this recipe also. It seems as though the problem lies in the measurement of the ingredients. I always use
    Gourmet Sleuth for its conversion calculator for simple measures and for individual items as well. Just check under the conversions tab to find what you need. I am sure there are also many many others on the internet that work just as well.

    In the future I’ll make sure to catch these British/Australian phrases in the recipes– ‘castor sugar’ is regular white sugar, ‘icing sugar’ is powdered sugar, ‘strong flour’ (as Tess mentioned) is bread flour. Because I read so many English and Australian books, I didn’t take note of those references!

  • Oh an Australian classic. You would be hard pressed to find an Australian family without a dozen or so hot cross buns in the kitchen right now!

    My families secret to eating them – cut in half, insert a giant scoop of icecream and you have a hot cross bun ice cream sandwich – perfect for breakfast, afternoon tea and dessert. Enjoy!

  • Sorry you guys had trouble with the water amount, Some flours have a higher water content than other flours and the humidity in the air can effect it to, one thing i have learnt when making doughs is to always use your hands so you can feel how the dough is, is it wet? is it dry? to sticky? if you feel it needs more water add a little more, if its to sticky, dust it with a little more flour, the effort you put into kneading it with your hands makes the end product taste even better, its a labor of love. once you learn how diffrent kinds of doughs should feel, soft dough, firm dough,loose,strong, you know what it needs, recipes need to be spot on for baking, but for some reason bread doughs just need to be flexible, One day you might need to add more water, one day you might need to add less.
    Also, if you leave out one type of Flavour, like the figs, you should try to make up the total weight of the figs and chocolate put together with another type of dried fruit other wise you just have lots of plain dough , and alot of the sweetness comes from the dried friut or chocolate, BUT, be careful with adding extra chocolate, only add half of the amount extra in to the dough. because to much chocolate in the dough can make them heavy.

  • Thanks so much for the feedback and helpful info! I have not given up on these hot cross buns yet. I will definitely try to make them again ; )

  • Yummy, I made a lovely Easter bread this Sunday which contained chocolate dried fruit, nuts and raisins, also very delicious ;) I love baking and baking for a Holiday is even more special!

  • I made these this weekend and they are my new favorite thing! I tried a variation on the crosses – instead of the flour paste, I used raw sugar which gave a really nice crunch. I first painted crosses with egg white and a pastry brush, and then sprinkled the raw sugar over the egg white cross to help it stick. It worked great – the crystals really complemented the rustic nature of the dough and the fruit/chocolate. i also made the dough the night before, let it rise, then divided it into rolls and refrigerated it until morning. Took it out about 2 hrs to let it get to room temperature and then baked as directed – worked perfectly! Thanks for a great recipe!

  • I returned to this recipe again this year and made a few changes. Made the dough the morning of serving this time – the first rise took 20-30 minutes. Start to finish the rolls took about a hour and a half. I used salted butter this time and also added a 1/4 tsp of kosher salt and an extra tablespoon of sugar to the dough. As other posters above, it took me about 1 cup of water to get the right dough consistency and kneaded for almost 5 minutes. Used dried cherries instead of figs. Used my raw sugar sprinkled crosses again and this year. With all of these modifications they were perfect this year! Finally got it right!

  • I wish I knew about these earlier, I would be making and eating them for weeks as well. Well better late than never. Thank you for this pleasant treat, everyone in my nest will be happy. Happy Nesting.