Darina Allen: How to make hot cross buns for Easter

— plus Simnel Cake, a hot cross bun loaf, and torrejas
Darina Allen: How to make hot cross buns for Easter

Hot Cross Buns

The weeks are whizzing by: Easter is virtually upon us. We’ve just made our Simnel Cake, and wrapped it up to marzipan and ice closer to the feast day. Easter is particularly early this year so it’ll be more difficult to get milk-fed lamb but if you contact your local family butcher they will hopefully be able to source it for you. It’s so worth making the effort for the sweet delicate flavour and melting texture but there’s still time to make the Simnel cake, with a delicious layer of moist almond marzipan in the centre.

I’m sharing my favourite recipe for hot cross buns too. They take time to make but the anticipation and satisfaction are so worth it. We’ve also discovered that they freeze well, both cooked and uncooked and will taste miles better than virtually anything you can buy.

We’ve also experimented with a hot cross bun loaf which is fun to make in a tin or a tear-and-share version. I’ve also ordered a mould to make Flores Fritas, the crackly rose-shaped fritters so beloved of Spaniards for Semana Santa at Easter time. The batter is super simple to make, then simply dip the hot mould into the batter, and cook in hot oil until it crisps. When it slips off the mould continue cooking — we’re only talking seconds — until evenly golden. Drain on kitchen paper, and dredge with icing or vanilla sugar. Enjoy immediately: the problem is where to stop — everyone loves them! Another simple way to bring joy into our Covid 19 world.

Finally, for this week: Torrejas, another Spanish Easter speciality for Holy Week that’s also eaten all over Latin America, can be enjoyed year-round. It’s the Spanish version of French Toast. Sliced, slightly stale bread, dipped in a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar and occasionally a splash of wine or better still sherry, preferably soaked overnight so the stale bread absorbs the maximum amount of liquid. A rich bread such as Brioche gives best results. Apparently, this simple treat dates back to Roman times. It differs from French Toast principally because it's cooked in olive oil. It’s easy to see how it became popular, especially in households where money was scarce — a delicious way to transform leftover bread into an inexpensive dessert. In the middle ages it became common to eat Torrejas during Lent, particularly during Semana Santa (Holy Week) to compensate for the absence of meat and wine.  Torrejas still feature on traditional Menu del Dia all over Spain as an affordable workers' lunch. 

Get going on your symbolic Easter Simnel cake — to decorate with marzipan ice and the 11 of the 12 apostles to enjoy on Easter Sunday. And have fun making Torrejas with your little ones, who’ll no doubt want to drizzle them with chocolate spread rather than traditional honey.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake
Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles — Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.


  • 8oz (225g) butter
  • 8oz (225g) pale, soft brown sugar
  • 6 eggs, preferably free-range
  • 10oz (275g) white flour
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 2 1/2fl oz (35ml) Irish whiskey
  • 12oz (350g) best quality sultanas
  • 12oz (350g) best quality currants
  • 12oz (350g) best quality raisins
  • 4oz (110g) cherries
  • 4oz (110g) homemade candied peel
  • 2oz (50g) whole almonds
  • 2oz (50g) ground almonds
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • rind of 1 orange
  • 1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

  • 1lb (450g) ground almonds
  • 1lb (450g) caster sugar
  • 2 small eggs
  • 3 of 4 drops of pure almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey


Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or an 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next, make the almond paste.

Sieve the caster sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 3 or 4 drops of pure almond extract (careful it’s really easy to put in too much), then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add them in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn't curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don't beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8 1/2 inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper.

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 after one hour. Bake until cooked, 3 - 3 1/2 hours approx. Test in the centre with a skewer — it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

NOTE : When you are testing do so at an angle into the cake mixture because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Remove the cake from the tin the next day. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of parchment paper until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly-beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with Easter chicks and flowers if you fancy. Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB : Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake. You will need half the quantity of almond paste again.

This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns

Hot Cross Buns were traditionally eaten in Ireland only on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday but nowadays they are available right through Lent. Buns can be made larger if desired.

Makes 22 (50g/2ozs dough)


  • 25g (1oz) fresh yeast
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 450g (1lb) baker's flour
  • 75g (3oz) butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2-3 teaspoons mixed spice, depending on how fresh it is
  • 1 level teaspoon of salt (important to add)
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 225-300ml (8-10 fl oz) tepid milk
  • 75g (3oz) currants
  • 50g (2oz) sultanas
  • 25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped
  • egg wash made with milk, sugar, 1 organic egg yolk, whisked together

Liquid Cross

  • 50g (2oz) white flour
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 4-5 tablespoons cold water

Bun Wash

Put 600ml (1 pint) water and 450g (1 lb) sugar into a pan and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven to give them a sweet, sticky glaze. This makes a large quantity of bun wash but it keeps very well.


Dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a little tepid milk.

Put the flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, a pinch of salt and the remainder of the sugar. Mix well. Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, adding a little more milk if necessary.

Cover and leave to rest for 2 or 3 minutes then knead by hand or in a food processor until smooth. Add the currants, sultanas and mixed peel and continue to knead until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.

'Knock back', by kneading for 3 or 4 minutes, rest for a few minutes. Divide the mixture into 14 balls, each weighing about 50g (2oz). Knead each slightly and shape into buns. Place on a lightly-floured tray. Egg wash and leave to rise.

If using shortcrust, arrange a cross of pastry on each one. Leave to rise until double in size. Then egg wash a second time carefully.

We tend to decorate with what we call a 'liquid cross'. To make this, mix the flour, melted butter and water together to form a thick liquid. Fill into a paper piping bag and pipe a liquid cross on top of each bun.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 6.

Bake in the preheated oven for five minutes and then reduce the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for a further 10 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Split in two and serve with butter.

Alternatively, brush each one with bun wash while still warm.

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Brush the bottom and sides of the loaf tin (13x20cm (5x8inch) approx.) with oil. Make the dough in the usual way — knock back.

Roll 8 x 50g/2ozs balls of dough and arrange in the tin. Egg wash, cover and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230°C, just before baking brush with egg wash, pipe a liquid cross on each bun.

Bake for 10 minutes at 230°C reduce temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, paint with the bun wash. Cool on a wire rack and pull apart and eat slathered in butter.

Hot Cross Tear & Share

Brush the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round spring form tin with oil. Arrange 12 – 14, 50g/2oz balls of dough almost side by side in the tin, egg wash and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size. Egg wash again, pipe a liquid cross onto the top of each bun. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and brush with bun wash while still warm. Cool on a wire rack.



A speciality for Semana Santa — Holy Week in Spain but enjoyed year-round. It’s a brilliant way to use up any leftover bread deliciously. Cook in olive oil rather than butter.

Makes 8 pieces


  • 8 slices baguette, challah or brioche
  • 175ml (6 floz) milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Cook:

  • Olive oil

For Sprinkling:

  • Cinnamon sugar, honey or icing sugar


Slice the bread approx. 1” thick slices, whisk the eggs, milk and sugar well together and pour into a gratin dish. Dip the slices in the liquid and flip over. Leave to soak, for at least an hour. In Spain, they sometimes soak overnight.

To cook, heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wide frying pan over a medium heat. Cook until golden 3 – 4 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with icing sugar, cinnamon sugar or drizzle with honey. I love Torrejas warm with a dollop of crème fraîche but it’s usually served cold or at room temperature in Spain as a dessert or a nibble with a cup of strong coffee.

Hot Tips

Good Fortune Cookies —  Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Sarah Cremin just completed a 12-Week Certificate Course in December 2020. Already, she has been busy developing an exciting business designed to cheer us all up during these difficult times. Delicious cookies delivered to your loved ones all over Cork. To find out more and order, go to cookiescork@gmail.com or follow goodfortunecookies on Instagram.

Ongoing Online Course – Homemade Butter, Yoghurt and Several Cheeses. Enjoy this wonderful, informative course from the comfort of your own home via our new Ballymaloe Cookery School online service on Wednesday, April, 28 2021. ballymaloecookeryschool.online or call 021 4646785.

Time To Grow Your Own  — Dash out into the garden to sow seeds, plant seedlings and soak up those precious rays of sunshine which we now know are vital to boost our Vitamin D. Garden centres are stocking up on fruit trees and rhubarb plants. Please, please plant some rhubarb and a couple of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes — you’ll love them and I promise I’ll give you lots of exciting new recipes later in the season. Order online or swing by your local garden centre, provided it’s within your 5k. Like every business they will be so grateful for your support. Check out Carewswood (carewswood.ie), Blackwater Garden Centre (clarenbridgegardencentre.ie), Deelish Garden Centre (deelish.ie)

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