Christmas mince pies have barely left the supermarket shelves when hot cross buns make their appearance, so clearly Australians have quite an appetite for these spicy, fruity baked goodies – and not just at Easter.
We taste test 21 hot cross buns – 'traditional' fruit, apple & cinnamon and chocolate varieties, both gluten free and regular – from major supermarkets Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Aldi, major bakery chain Bakers Delight and membership warehouse Costco to see which buns are best.
The options when it comes to hot cross bun varieties extends from brioche to bubble gum, and seemingly everything in between. Despite this, our polls consistently show that a traditional fruit hot cross bun is our firm favourite.
So for those who'd prefer not to mess with a classic, which traditional buns are best? We recommend products that score 70% or more in our taste test, and the following three products were the best of the batch.
Coles Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns.
Coles Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 80%
- Price: $0.58 per bun ($3.50 per 6-pack)
- Good to know: The on-pack country of origin label states that these buns are made from at least 95% Australian ingredients, the highest percentage of local ingredients of all products on test. At 27%, these buns also contain the most fruit.
- Experts say: "Even cross, good colour, shiny! Bouncy texture. Quite a lot of fruit. Great balanced mouth feel and flavour. A nice hot cross bun (despite its slightly odd shape). I like it!"
Aldi Specially Selected Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns.
Aldi Specially Selected Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 79%
- Price: $0.75 per bun ($2.99 per 4-pack)
- Good to know: This is the premium tier of traditional fruit hot cross buns from Aldi.
- Experts say: "Attractive bun, well made dough, it gives when squeezed and bounces back. Well baked. Good texture and distribution of fruit. Good size and shape with an even cross. Great balance of flavour. Intense ginger aroma."
Bakers Delight Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns.
Bakers Delight Traditional Fruit Hot Cross Buns
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 78%
- Price: $1.33 per bun ($8.00 per 6-pack)
- Good to know: Buns are $1.70 each if you buy them individually, but are discounted to $1.33 each if you buy them as a 6-pack.
- Experts say: "This product represents a typical hot cross bun. Good shape and size and texture inside and out. Great aroma. Nicely proven. Quite savoury, slightly salty."
Why wait for the Easter bunny to bring eggs when you can eat your chocolate in bun form?
Of the eight chocolate hot cross buns on test, three made it onto our recommended list by scoring 70% or more in our taste test. But the following product was top of the chocs – and the best scoring bun on test – with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 84%.
Coles Chocolate Hot Cross Buns.
Coles Chocolate Hot Cross Buns
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 84%
- Price: $0.58 per bun ($3.50 per 6-pack)
- Good to know: These buns contain 25% milk chocolate chips with an additional 3% cocoa powder, so they're the most chocolate-y of the buns we tested.
- Experts say: "Great appearance, domed and tall. Bouncy, soft texture. Good, chocolatey aroma. Moist. Good chocolate hit – lots of choc chips evident. Easy eating product."
The biggest bakery and supermarket chains all offer up an apple & cinnamon variety of hot cross bun, so it was clear we had to test them.
Just one made into our recommended list with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 70%.
Woolworths Indulgent Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns.
Woolworths Indulgent Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: $0.88 per bun ($3.50 per 4-pack)
- Good to know: These buns contain 13% apple (Pink Lady), which is more than in the other apple & cinnamon buns we tested.
- Experts say: "Light baked colour. Good even, thin cross. Bouncy texture. Spotted with cinnamon which looks good. Fruit is evident but chopped small, but the apple flavour is there."
Many people need to avoid eating gluten, so we've included gluten-free traditional fruit and chocolate offerings from Coles and Woolworths in our taste test.
Generally speaking the gluten-free buns scored poorly compared with regular versions, but the best gluten-free bun, with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 60% – was Coles Chocolate I'm Free From Gluten Wheat & Dairy.
If you're avoiding animal products, you don't have to miss out.
Of the products we tested, the following eight hot cross buns – which include our four of our recommended traditional fruit buns – are vegan:
- Aldi Bakers Life Fruit
- Aldi Specially Selected Traditional Fruit
- Bakers Delight Traditional Fruit
- Coles Traditional Fruit
- Costco Kirkland Signature Traditional
- Woolworths Free From Gluten Choc
- Woolworths Free From Gluten Fruit
- Woolworths Traditional Fruit
Ian Huntley is a pastry chef by trade and has been in the industry for 35 years. Ian studied confectionery, cake decorating and bread making in the UK before moving to Australia in the mid 1980s.
After five years of working in two of Sydney's top hotels, the InterContinental and the Regent, he started his wholesale patisserie business, supplying desserts and pastries to airlines, department stores, hospitals, restaurants and coffee shops.
Today Ian is the chair of judges for the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Professional Bakery Competition and chief assessor for patisserie for leading French culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu.
Christopher Thé started his cooking career working in commercial kitchens while studying. In 2008, after training in fine dining restaurants including Bel Mondo, Claude's and Quay, he opened his own boutique patisserie, Black Star Pastry, in Newtown. Black Star quickly became a Sydney cult hit, with its signature Strawberry Watermelon Cake becoming known as "the most Instagrammed Cake in the World".
Chris has been an industry assessor for Le Cordon Bleu cooking school for five years, and has contributed to tasting panels for various publications including Gourmet Traveler and Good Food, where he mainly judged bakery items such as Christmas puddings and fruit mince pies.
Brigid Treloar has been a freelance food consultant for over 30 years. The author of eight cookbooks, she also contributes to newspapers and magazines, reviews restaurants, judges cookery and recipe competitions, and is a judge in the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Bakery Competition.
Brigid has presented specialist cooking classes around Australia and overseas, and often appears on TV and radio. She's an industry assessor for Le Cordon Bleu, and advises many of Australia's food companies on product and recipe development.
We test hot cross bun products available in major supermarket chains, a major bakery chain and membership warehouse Costco. Traditional fruit, apple & cinnamon and chocolate products are tested separately. Price is based on price paid for a six-pack or closest bought in Sydney stores (not on special).
Our experts taste the hot cross bun samples 'blind' (without knowing the brands) in a randomised order, which is different for each expert.
Experts independently judge all hot cross bun products. The CHOICE Expert Rating is made up of flavour (50%), appearance (20%), aroma (15%) and texture (15%). We recommend products with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 70% or more.
Homemade hot cross buns
Think you can do better than store-bought? Make your own hot cross buns at home following this recipe shared with us by the former national president of the Country Women's Association, Noela MacLeod.
- 1¼ kg flour, sifted
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons bread improver
- 1 dessert spoon dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1 tablespoon powdered milk
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 egg
- 2½ cups warm water
- 1 cup sultanas
- ½ cup currants
- ½ cup chopped dried apricots
- ¼ cup mixed peel
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- ½ cup cold water (approx.)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon powdered gelatine
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- ¾ cup water
- For the buns, combine sugar, bread improver, yeast, salt, spices, powdered milk, oil and half of the flour in a warm basin.
- Add egg and warm water, beat with an electric beater for 5½ minutes.
- Add dried fruit and the remaining sifted flour. Mix well.
- Turn out onto a floured board and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Place back into the bowl, cover with plastic, and stand in a warm space until dough has doubled in size.
- Turn mixture out onto a floured surface and knead well.
- Divide into bun-sized pieces (approximately 60g) and shape into buns.
- Place on a greased/lined oven tray and leave in a warm place until well risen.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan-forced).
- For the crosses, place flour into a small bowl and stir in enough water to make a smooth paste.
- Use a piping bag to pipe crosses over the risen buns.
- Place buns into a moderately warm oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. They're ready when they're golden brown on top and sound hollow when you tap them.
- For the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, stir without boiling until sugar and gelatine are dissolved.
- Brush glaze over cooked buns while they're still warm from the oven.