Wild Thistle Kitchen: Hot Cross Buns with Rye, Raspberry and Lemon

Definitely not your traditional hot cross buns, these cute little yeasted buns — made with a rye flour blend lightly scented with honey, fresh lemon zest and vanilla bean — are flecked with freeze-dried raspberry, brushed with honey lemon syrup and finished with a cream cheese frosting that echoes the flavors found in the dough. Barely sweet, they are made a bit healthier and nuttier with the rye flour and just such a fun, fresh twist on an Easter tradition.

Though my recipe is quite a bit different from most, these hot cross buns still have that signature cross and beautiful, fluffy texture. I created them one year when my curiosity got the better of me. (I had never made them before, if you can believe it.) I call these buns “healthyish” because they use a bit of whole grain flour. I also use honey for sweetness, making them refined sugar-free. Healthy or not, they are so delicious and a very fun twist on tradition — no flour paste, no spice and no raisins.

I’m keeping this post short and sweet, just like these buns! Please email or DM me on Instagram if you have any questions or need help with substitutions in this hot cross buns recipe (or in any of my recipes).

xo — Anita

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Wild Thistle Kitchen.

Hot Cross Buns with Rye, Raspberry and Lemon

Prep Time: 40 minutes (plus 1 to 2 hours rising)

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 12 buns


Ingredients (see notes for substitution ideas)

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (one standard packet)

1 cup milk, lukewarm

4 ounces unsalted butter

⅓ cup honey

1 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole grain rye or whole wheat flour

Zest from 1 lemon

½ cup freeze-dried raspberries

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, seeds from 1 vanilla bean or vanilla extract

For glaze:

⅓ cup honey

Juice of one lemon

For frosting:

1 block cream cheese, room temperature

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, seeds from 1 vanilla bean or vanilla extract

½ cup freeze-dried raspberries, crushed


In a standing mixer or a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Let it sit and activate for 5 to 10 minutes until frothy. Meanwhile, melt butter in a microwave-safe medium bowl, then add honey and salt and stir to combine. Lightly whisk the egg into the butter mixture.

Dump everything into the yeast mixture and mix until all the ingredients are combined. Add flours and lemon zest and continue mixing with dough hook on medium speed for 6 minutes, until dough doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom of the bowl when kneading. Add in a bit more flour if dough appears very sticky. Add freeze-dried raspberries if using (or raisins, currants, etc.) and mix for another minute or so until raspberries are combined.

Cover mixing bowl loosely with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled.

Dump dough out onto lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Shape into balls. Place in greased 12-inch skillet, 9-by-13-inch baking pan or baking sheet.

Let dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour in a warm place until buns are visibly risen. They won’t double, but they should look puffed. When you press them lightly with your finger, they should not spring back very quickly, but should leave a small indentation.

During last 20 minutes of rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a very sharp knife or kitchen shears, make a cross on the top of each bun. Be careful not to press down too hard and deflate the dough. These lines will serve as your guide when piping on the frosting.

Bake buns for 25 to 30 minutes until golden.

To make the glaze, mix ingredients in a small bowl until thoroughly combined. To make the frosting, mix ingredients together with a hand mixer (or by hand with a wooden spoon) until smooth and creamy and totally combined. Transfer to a piping bag or a large Ziploc bag fitted with a piping tip. If you don’t have a piping tip, you can just snip a small corner off your bag and use that to pipe.

Once rolls are slightly cooled, brush all over with honey lemon syrup. Pipe frosting in a cross pattern on tops of all rolls and enjoy!


  • The raspberries are not essential, meaning they won’t affect the final texture of the dough. If you don’t have them, just leave them out. Or, if you love raisins or currants, feel free to add those in place of the raspberries. You can just leave the raspberries out all together and use the lemon zest in both the buns and the frosting for flavor. Orange zest would be really good, too.
  • If you don’t have whole wheat or rye flour, just use all-purpose for the full amount, but you may need to add up to ¼ cup more total flour to the recipe, since the whole wheat is much more dense than all-purpose.

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