Best hot cross buns 2021: what hot cross buns should you buy this Easter?

Back to At Home
Hot cross buns taste test hot cross buns with Easter eggs

Which hot cross buns are the best to buy this year? Boundless tested varieties from all the major supermarket chains to help you make the right choice

Hot cross buns are hugely popular around this time of year, and with good reason – what could be more delicious than biting into a toasted treat that's packed with fruit and lathered with butter?

Before we indulge in this mouthwatering ritual again, though, there's an important question that needs answering: which hot cross buns are the best? To find out, we gathered together a panel of famished foodies from the Boundless fraternity, and presented each of them with a selection of hot cross buns from the major supermarket chains. For balance, a gluten-intolerant member of the team reviewed some of the free-from options – and we've also rounded up the vegan hot cross buns that are available.

At the end of the reviews, we'll announce our overall winner – and we'll also answer some key questions about hot cross buns, including where they originate from, the amount of calories they contain, and how to make your own delicious hot cross buns at home... 

The panel:

Karen Algate – Boundless Cooking & Baking Group

Izzie Bernard – Events Executive

Katie Crichton – Member Communities Marketing Manager

Paul Dimery – Boundless Digital Editor

Madeleine Grubb – Club Leader

Rebecca Painting – Boundless writer

Note: for this taste test, all the hot cross buns reviewed were toasted and spread with butter.


Aldi hot cross buns

Hot cross bun taste test Village Bakery hot cross buns

Photo: Aldi

Aldi Village Bakery Hot Cross Buns (79p for six)

I'm a sucker for cute names, and 'Village Bakery' conjured up images of picture-postcard villages in the British countryside. These hot cross buns lived up to the anticipation – the fruity aroma hit me as soon as I opened the packet, and the buns' glazed surface might as well have had a sign on it saying 'Bite me.' When I did eventually sink my teeth in, it was a closed-eyes moment; packed with sultanas, slightly spicy and evenly balanced, this was the taste of home. Paul Dimery

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 9

Taste: 9

Texture: 7

Total (out of 40): 32


Aldi Specially Selected Rhubarb & Custard Hot Cross Buns (99p for four)

I must confess to turning my nose up when I cut into one of these speciality hot cross buns. Flat and yellowing, it looked entirely processed – like something you might find in a factory canteen. And as for the fruit, you would've needed a microscope to find it. How surprised I was, then, to bite into the toasted bun and find that it actually tasted rather good. More custard than rhubarb, but enjoyable just the same. A hot cross bun that's definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Paul Dimery

Appearance: 2

Aroma: 5

Taste: 8

Texture: 5

Total (out of 40): 20


Asda hot cross buns 

Asda Extra Special Tomato & Red Leicester Hot Cross Buns

Photo: Asda

Asda Extra Special Tomato & Red Leicester Hot Cross Buns (£1.25 for four)

I wasn't aware of savoury hot cross buns until Nadine from the Boundless Cooking & Baking Group mentioned them in one of her Facebook posts. So I thought I'd put them to the test – all in the name of research! These particular ones from Asda made my house smell like Italy and boasted a perfectly balanced flavour, with subtle tones of cheese and tomato. They were great toasted and dipped in soup, or warmed up with soft cheese and cracked pepper. Kadie Crichton

Appearance: 6

Aroma: 8

Taste: 9

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 31


Asda Baker's Selection Hot Cross Buns (65p for four)

These hot cross buns had a lovely glaze and colour, weren't too sticky and come at a great price. However, these were the only positives I could find. The buns were rather small, very dry and had next to no aroma, even when they came out of the toaster. They had no fluffiness under the crust, contained a minimal number of sultanas in each one and tasted more like plain bread than hot cross buns. Kadie Crichton 

Appearance: 6

Aroma: 2

Taste: 3

Texture: 3

Total (out of 40): 14


Co-op hot cross buns 

Co-op Irresistible Limited Edition Richly Fruited Luxury Hot Cross Buns

Photo: Co-op

Co-op Irresistible Limited Edition Richly Fruited Luxury Hot Cross Buns (£1.35 for four)

These hot cross buns looked great in the packet. Their crosses were a little indistinct and beige for my liking, but their overall appearance was good, with a nice shiny top. They were packed full of delicious, plump fruit, and smelt great when being toasted. They had a lovely soft texture, but the spices were somewhat lacking, which was a shame. Overall, these are good hot cross buns for the price. Karen Algate

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 7

Taste: 7

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 29


Co-op Hot Cross Buns (85p for four)

These hot cross buns looked disappointing from the start. Their crosses were a messy beige colour, and even in the packet they looked light on fruit. Once I'd sliced them open, my fears were confirmed. They had hardly any sultanas in them, and very little aroma while toasting. The flavour was lacking depth and the dough was holey and hard. Karen Algate

Appearance: 3

Aroma: 4

Taste: 3

Texture: 3

Total (out of 40): 13


Lidl hot cross buns

Hot cross bun taste test Rowan Hill hot cross buns

Photo: Lidl

Rowan Hill Bakery Hot Cross Buns (75p for six)

The first thing that struck me about these hot cross buns was how dark they were – the cross on top barely stood out at all. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only thing that didn't really stand out. While the texture was decent and the fruit fairly plentiful, neither the aroma nor the flavour were especially impressive. Indeed, the lack of sweetness was a little disappointing. Rebecca Painting

Appearance: 5

Aroma: 6

Taste: 6

Texture: 7

Total (out of 40): 24 


Lidl Deluxe Triple Chocolate Hot Cross Buns (99p for four)

Launched last year, these specialist hot cross buns sound like a chocolate lover's dream. I have to say, they weren't the easiest to deal with – once the chocolate had melted, it became very gooey (and scalded my fingers), and it was also hard to tell when the buns had toasted, since they are already a brown colour. The taste, though, was every bit as good as I'd hoped for, the melted chocolate blending with the butter to delicious effect. Better start the diet next week... Rebecca Painting

Appearance: 6

Aroma: 7

Taste: 9

Texture: 6

Total (out of 40): 28


Marks & Spencer hot cross buns

Hot cross buns taste test M&S Luxury Hot Cross Buns

Photo: Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer Luxury Hot Cross Buns (£1.50 for four)

These hot cross buns had an attractive appearance, with each one being nicely rounded and the crosses well defined and central. The aroma was pleasant and the texture nicely moist, with plenty of fruit. As for the taste, it didn't disappoint and I would definitely consider buying these again. Madeleine Grubb

Appearance: 9

Aroma: 7

Taste: 8

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 32


Marks & Spencer Kentish Bramley Apple Hot Cross Buns (£1.50 for four)

The taste of these buns was underwhelming. It was a bit bland, possibly because there was less dried fruit than other hot cross buns I've tried. I expected there to be some cinnamon added to bring out the apple flavour, but this wasn't the case. The appearance was good but the aroma was unspectacular. Madeleine Grubb

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 6

Taste: 6

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 27


Morrisons hot cross buns

Morrisons hot cross buns

Photo: Morrisons

Morrisons The Best Extra Fruity Hot Cross Buns (£1.50 for four)

No complaints from me about that title. These hot cross buns are absolutely stuffed with fruit – so much so that it's virtually hanging out of the sides. That, along with the various spices used to make these buns, contributes to a deliciously rich aroma that makes you think of Christmas (I'm not going to lie – I sighed with contentment). As for the taste and texture, they combine to make each bite an indulgent pleasure. The Best? Certainly my favourite buns of this test. Rebecca Painting

Appearance: 9 

Aroma: 9

Taste: 9

Texture: 9

Total (out of 40): 36


Morrisons Market St Hot Cross Buns (65p for four)

You'd be hard-pushed to find a more basic pack of hot cross buns than these. There's nothing attractive about the packaging, the buns themselves have virtually no glaze (they look more like bread rolls) and the crosses on top crumble when you try to put them in the toaster. After all of that, I expected them to taste as bland as a sock, but how wrong I was. While the flavour didn't blow me away, it was more than adequate – especially for the price. Rebecca Painting

Appearance: 5

Aroma: 6

Taste: 7

Texture: 5

Total (out of 40): 23 


Sainsbury's hot cross buns 

Sainsbury's hot cross buns

Photo: Madeleine Grubb

Sainsbury's Hot Cross Buns (85p for six)

These strongly spiced hot cross buns were packed full of plump mixed fruit. The aroma when toasted was really enticing, and they held together well when sliced and buttered. The tops had a lovely rich colour to them, with bright crosses and a consistent shine. Delicious and highly recommended. Karen Algate

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 9

Taste: 8

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 32

The appearance of these hot cross buns was a bit disappointing as they didn’t have a glazed surface like the others, and the crosses were rather crooked and lopsided on a couple of them. The aroma was OK but nothing out of the ordinary. The buns had a moist texture, though, and the taste was fruity and good. Madeleine Grubb

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 7

Taste: 7

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 29

Sainsbury's Bakery hot cross buns

Photo: Madeleine Grubb

Sainsbury's Bakery Hot Cross Buns

I only marked these buns down on appearance as they were smaller than the other ones I tried in this test. The aroma when opening the pack was very enticing, and it improved during toasting. This was probably due to them not being in a packet for so long. The texture was just right – moist and with plenty of fruit. The taste was very good, which was pleasantly surprising as these were the cheapest ones I bought. I could easily have eaten two of these as they were so small! Madeleine Grubb

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 9

Taste: 8

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 32


Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Chocolate & Salted Caramel Hot Cross Buns (£1.25 for four)

These are very special hot cross buns. When lightly toasted, the chocolate and caramel melted and created an indulgent treat – perfect with a cup of tea after a chilly spring walk. They were packed full of chocolate, and the salted caramel sat more in the background as a subtle after-taste. Be prepared for deliciously chocolatey fingers! Karen Algate

Appearance: 10

Aroma: 9

Taste: 10

Texture: 9

Total (out of 40): 38


Tesco hot cross buns

Tesco hot cross buns

Photo: Tesco

Tesco Hot Cross Buns (£1 for six)

When Boundless did a mince pie taste test back in December, I was impressed with Tesco's basic variant, and the supermarket chain has nailed it again with its basic hot cross buns. Fruity to the taste, sweet-smelling and with a satisfying crunch as you bite into them, these won't let you down come Good Friday. Paul Dimery

Appearance: 8

Aroma: 7

Taste: 8

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 31


Tesco Finest Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns (£1.50 for four)

I had high hopes for these hot cross buns but I don't think I'll rush out to buy them again. They smelt of cider (I like cider but not in a bun), had a very doughy consistency and didn't taste of much – the cinnamon was virtually non-existent. They were among the larger hot cross buns I tested, but in this case I'm not sure that was a good thing. Paul Dimery

Appearance: 7 

Aroma: 4

Taste: 5

Texture: 5 

Total (out of 40): 21


Waitrose hot cross buns

Waitrose toffee hot cross buns

Photo: Waitrose

Waitrose Sticky & Rich Toffee Hot Cross Buns (£1.50 for four)

These buns had a very delicate, spicy flavour that perfectly complemented the toffee. The toffee was more gooey than hard, which was even more delightful when toasted, and the buns were very soft and fluffy, making them feel like a real joy. However, I must add that they are more for the sweet-toothed among us. Kadie Crichton

Appearance: 6 

Aroma: 8

Taste: 8

Texture: 9

Total (out of 40): 31


Waitrose Essential Hot Cross Buns (£1 for four) 

These hot cross buns didn't disappoint when it came to aroma – the house smelt glorious for a good hour after toasting them. Once toasted, the buns had a good crust with an enjoyable fluffy centre. I loved that every bite had a succulent sultana or currant, as well as a good balance of spices to bring out that much-loved hot cross bun flavour. Kadie Crichton

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 8

Taste: 8

Texture: 8

Total (out of 40): 31


Gluten-free hot cross buns 

Waitrose Free From hot cross buns

Photo: Izzie Bernard

Waitrose Free From Gluten Free Hot Cross Buns (£2.25 for four)

These buns tasted like they had an element of wholemeal to them, which I wouldn't say was a good thing. However, the texture and appearance were better. They were slightly darker in colour than your typical hot cross buns, but had an adequate glaze. There’s something heart-warming and homely about the aroma you get while toasting hot cross buns, and these gave me that exact feeling. It's just a shame they didn't taste as good as they smelt. Izzie Bernard

Appearance: 6

Aroma: 8

Taste: 6

Texture: 7

Total (out of 40): 27


M&S Made Without Wheat Gluten Free Hot Cross Buns (£2 for four)

Beautifully baked, these hot cross buns were filled with a bounty of fruit and great flavour. As an individual with a gluten intolerance, I’ve tried my fair share of baked-goods alternatives, and it’s normal for the texture to be slightly off, but with these hot cross buns you really can’t tell the difference! Izzie Bernard

Appearance: 7

Aroma: 7

Taste: 9

Texture: 9

Total (out of 40): 32


And the winner is...

Taste the Difference hot cross buns

Photo: Sainsbury's

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Chocolate & Salted Caramel Hot Cross Buns

Karen Algate from the Boundless Cooking & Baking Group certainly 'tasted the difference' when she tried Sainsbury's luxury hot cross buns, awarding them a staggering 38 points out of a possible 40. Indulgent they most certainly are, but hey – it's only Good Friday once a year!


Hot cross buns – need to know

Hot cross buns taste test hot cross buns with butter knife

Where do hot cross buns come from?

There are a number of theories surrounding the origin of hot cross buns and why we eat them at Easter time. The first definite record of them came in 1733 when Poor Robin's Almanac published the rhyme: “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns.” And according to history expert Ivan Day: “The buns were made in London during the 18th century. But when you start looking for records or recipes before that, you hit nothing.”

Actual hot cross buns may not have been a thing until then, but the tradition certainly goes further back. Towards the end of the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law restricting the sale of sweet buns to Good Friday (which marks the end of Lent in the Christian calendar) and Christmas, prompting many people to start baking their own at home. 

Prior to that, a 14th-century St Albans monk called Brother Thomas Rodcliffe is reputed to have created a recipe for an 'Alban bun' and distributed them to the poor on Good Friday. There's even evidence that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans baked cakes and buns with crosses on them.

Hot cross buns taste test hot cross buns in oven

When do you eat hot cross buns?

There's no set rule for when hot cross buns should be eaten. For the reasons mentioned above, most people aim to eat them on Good Friday, which this year falls on 2 April. However, supermarkets tend to stock them well before that, so feel free to tuck into them whenever takes your fancy! 

How are hot cross buns made?

Don't fancy any of the variants we've reviewed on this page? BBC Good Food is full of recipes showing you how to make hot cross buns at home, including this recipe from Paul Hollywood. You could also watch this hot cross bun making demonstration by Mary Berry.

 

YoutubeId-MoIEUM7YGDE

Which hot cross buns are vegan?

AsdaM&S and Morrisons all sell hot cross buns that are suitable for vegans. Alternatively, you could have a go at making some yourself – this BBC Good Food recipe for vegan hot cross buns will show you how.

Can hot cross buns be frozen?

According to Freeze It, hot cross buns can be frozen for up to six months, whether they're baked, unbaked or bought from the supermarket. Just remember to keep them in an airtight container.

Can hot cross buns be eaten cold?

Despite the name, hot cross buns can be eaten cold (i.e. at room temperature) and taste delicious if fresh. However, shop-bought buns can become stale quite quickly, at which point you're better off putting them in the toaster or wrapping them in aluminium foil and warming them in the oven.

Are hot cross buns healthy? 

Hot cross buns aren't as calorific as you might think. For example, one of Tesco's own-brand hot cross buns contains 214 calories, and even the luxury variants aren't exactly going to make you pile on the pounds – a Waitrose Heston Mocha hot cross bun has 263 calories (bear in mind that spreading butter onto your bun will take the calorie count up a notch – you're looking at about 110 calories per tablespoon). 

Hot cross buns can also be a good source of fibre and complex carbohydrates – and they might just put a great big smile on your face too! 

Photos: Getty Images, unless otherwise stated

You might also like