Sustainable Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Slice, toast, butter and serve with a large pot of tea for a perfect Easter treat.

Slice, toast, butter and serve with a large pot of tea for a perfect Easter treat.

Who can resist glorious warm toasted hot cross bun spread with cold salted butter?  This sourdough recipe is hot cross bun heaven.  It is spiced and then glazed with golden syrup and orange essence, but this recipe is more than just delicious. Making this recipe is a positive action agains climate change.

Virtually every hot cross bun I looked at in the supermarkets last week contained palm oil.  The true cost of the production of palm oil to the environment and the global climate is devastating. We are quite literally cooking the climate, and cutting down the trees that make the air we breath. It’s crazy when you think about it. … just crazy.?

There are lots of complicated theories about how the world works, and you can tie yourself up in knots trying to work it out, but the simple laws of supply and demand say that if demand falls for palm oil then there will be a reduced market. It’s economics, and so by avoiding  palm oil you are proactively making a choice that makes a difference to the rate at which the forests are being destroyed.

It’s not hard to be a food activist, and in the case of hot cross buns, you literally choose to to either buy them from an artisan baker who uses ethical ingredients, or make your own.

I choose to base my recipe on a 1960’s version  because in 1960, butter was the main edible oil produced in the world, while palm oil represented just 1.26 million tonnes a year.  Palm oil was at the bottom of the league table in the world’s edible oil production under butter, soya, lard, tallow bean, olive, coconut and cottonseed. Now, in 2014, the production of palm oil outstrips even soyabean, with 45 million tonnes a year being produced, which is directly responsible for the demise of the orangutan’s habitat.  Palm oil is found in many commercially produced baked goods so this year don’t buy commercially mass produced hot cross buns – make your own with this simple 1960’s recipe.   They are far lovelier than any you can buy.

slash and burn

I’m not sure anyone would eat a commercially produced hot cross bun if they printed photos showing the reality of slash and burn forest clear in that makes way for palm oil plantations.


  • 1 3/4 lb organic flour
  • 1 oz fresh organic yeast
  • 4 oz fairtrade caster sugar
  • 3/4 pint milk or milk and water
  • 100g leftover sourdough starter
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 4-6 oz currants
  • 2  oz chopped peel
  • 4 oz local butter
  • 2 free range eggs
  • Milk and fair-trade sugar to glaze

For the cross (my addition)

  • 3 oz plain flour
  • 3 tbs sunflower oil
  • 6 tbs water

Sieve 8 oz flour into a basin. Cream the yeast with 2 tsps sugar and stir in the milk and starter. Pour into the sieved flour and mix well, cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to set the sponge (about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile sieve the remaining flour with the sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, and stir in the currants and peel. Melt the butter and beat the eggs. When the mixture has well sponged, stir in all the dry ingredients, pour in the melted butter and eggs and mix thoroughly, beating with the hand.

Cover the basin with a cloth and put it aside in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or till the dough has almost doubled its size. Flour the hands, take small portions of dough, shape into buns, and put on a well-greased baking tin, spacing well. Cut a cross on top of each (and to make the cross mix the ingredients to a paste and pipe onto your buns.) Again put in a warm place to prove for 20-30 minutes. If necessary, re-mark the cross before put-ting the buns in a hot oven (450° F, mark 8). Glaze the buns when they are golden-brown and almost cooked. Cool them on a rack.

Glaze with warm golden syrup with a tbs of Bakery Bits pure orange essence.

*Recipe adapted from the Good Housekeeping’s Cakes and Pastries, published by the National Magazine Company in 1960.


  1. Rachel Lucas says

    Delicious, Vanessa! I make triple quantities of buns every year & take to the neighbours still warm on Good Friday morning…will use your glaze tip this time! Thanks too for raising awareness on the plight of the amazing orangutang…horrific, really x


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