Every year when Easter rolls around I remember that hot cross buns exist and that I’ve been meaning to try making them for a while now, but every year I also realize this way too late, and I promise myself that next year I’ll get on it. Granted, it’s not like I’m restricted from making them for any of the other 364 days of the years, but hot cross buns seem like they need to be made specifically for Easter just as much as gingerbread cookies need to be made for Christmas. This is the kind of logic I deal with in my head that makes things more confusing than they probably need to be.
So honestly, all of this talk has very little to do with these cinnamon buns, except for the fact that in my head when I think of hot cross buns I think of raisins, and when I think of Easter I think of sunny late-morning brunches, and all that adds up to these cinnamon-raisin swirl buns. Sweet homemade bread? Check. Raisins? Check. Brunch-appropriate? AB-SO-LUTELY check. So they may not be hot cross buns, but for all I know they might be even better, and they’d definitely be welcome at any Easter celebration I’d be planning to attend. Although let’s be real — sweet rolls of any sort are welcome everyyy day in my mind, no questions asked.
So my little secret here is that these rolls started out as a single loaf, which I tested out wayyyy too many times with wayyyy too many variations, none of which ended up quite perfect, until it finally occurred to me that turning it into individual cinnamon buns was the answer to my problems. You essentially get the best part of the bread (the soft, gooey center) and bypass the rest; I don’t know about you, but I can’t possibly complain about that. It’s like having an entire pan of crustless brownies (or the opposite if the edges are your thing); you can eat your favorite part and not feel guilty about leaving the lesser parts to someone else.
And as any sort of cinnamon buns or sweet rolls should be, let me assure you that these are super-soft, with gooey swirls of buttered-up cinnamon sugar in every single bite. Add to that plump, juicy raisins (if you can get your hands on some sultanas or golden raisins for this, all the better) and it’s like eating the best-ever cinnamon-raisin swirl bread minus the boring crust. It’s definitely not an Easter-exclusive kinda thing, but does it belong on the Easter brunch table? I say HECK YES.
A classic bread turned into super-soft sweet rolls, loaded with gooey swirls of cinnamon-sugar and juicy raisins.
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) pure orange juice (I used freshly-squeezed oranges)
- 5 5/8 ounces (1 cup) raisins (feel free to use any variety of raisins you'd like to boost the flavor)
- 6 3/8 ounces (3/4 cup) milk
- 2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 lb 1 ounce (4 cups, spoon and level) bread flour, divided
- 2 1/8 ounces (1/2 cup, spoon and level) whole wheat flour
- 1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- one 1/4 ounce packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast (I like Red Star Platinum)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature*
- 1 tablespoon molasses**
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 7/8 ounces (1/4 cup, packed) brown sugar
- 1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- cinnamon-sugar, for sprinkling
- raw (demerara) sugar, for sprinkling
- Soak raisins in orange juice while prepping dough.
- Heat milk in microwave for about 1 min 15-30 seconds, until the temperature reaches 180ºF. Add butter and set aside to melt, whisking in once melted. Let mixture cool to 120º-130ºF.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 12 3/4 ounces (3 cups, spoon and level) bread flour with the whole wheat flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cinnamon.
- Add egg yolks and molasses to the cooled milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients along with the raisins and orange juice. Use a spatula to begin working everything together into a ball of dough, and then finish kneading together by hand. Turn out onto counter and knead for 10-15 minutes, until dough is soft and elastic, incorporating just enough of the remaining 4 1/4 ounces (1 cup, spoon and level) bread flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting stuck to your hands or the counter.
- Shape dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30 minutes; the dough should expand a bit during this time.
- Grease a 9"x13" baking dish with butter or cooking spray. Roll dough out to a 12"x16" rectangle, with one of the 12" sides towards you. Rub butter all over the top surface (it will look like a lot, but use it all). Whisk together the sugars and cinnamon for the filling and sprinkle evenly over the dough, leaving 1" clear on the side farthest away from you. Roll dough up tightly in a log, rolling seam underneath at the end to seal. Use a sharp knife or a string of floss to slice the log into 12 equal portions.
- Transfer slices to prepared pan in a 4x3 pattern. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until rolls have expanded to fill the pan. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Just before baking, brush rolls with melted butter for glaze and sprinkle generously with cinnamon-sugar and demerara sugar. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, just until the tops are turning golden and the interior temperature measured near the middle of one of the largest rolls reads about 190ºF.*** Be careful not to overbake.
- Serve cinnamon buns warm, preferably fresh from the oven. Keep any leftovers in pan covered in plastic wrap (or in an airtight container) and store at room temperature. Reheat briefly in microwave before serving.
- P.S. These are even more amazing served with butter and honey for an extra splurge. ;)
*To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, place whole eggs (prior to cracking) in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let sit 5-10 minutes before using.
**Any kind of molasses should be fine here, including blackstrap.
***A good, reliable instant-read thermometer is super-helpful for baking bread. I love my Thermapen for this!