The Taste of Spring

For some reason the taste of lemons seems to conjure up visions of Spring. Perhaps it is the fresh tart taste or perhaps the sunny colour of the fruit. Or, perhaps, more practically, it is simply that early spring is the main harvest season for lemons as citrus are generally a winter growing crop.

Whatever the case, we have been harvesting the lemon tree here and I’ve been juicing and zesting – some to be used now, much more to be frozen in both big and little containers for use throughout the summer. Think of all those lovely refreshing lemon drinks over ice, like lemon barley water or my iced lemon verbena tea.

But until the heat of the summer descends, I’ve been baking with the lemon zest. One quintessential British seasonal treat is the Hot Cross Bun. Here I’ve substituted the usual dried fruit and candied citrus peel for fresh lemon zest. Numerous batches were made in time for Easter (along with the traditional Greek kalitsounia). They are so good, I had to keep making more, tweaking the recipe each time to get the right degree of softness. 

Lemony Sourdough Hot Cross Buns
Be warned: Can take up to 24 hours before you have those buns!


  • 90g strong flour
  • 120ml warm full-fat milk
  • 140g sourdough starter (75-80% hydration)

Mix it in a bowl and let it sit exposed to air for a while to ripen and bubble – up to an hour.


  • 180g strong flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 40g sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • finely chopped zest from 2 lemons (about 2 heaped Tablespoons)
  • 50g melted butter OR 50g mild vegetable oil such as corn oil, canola (rape seed oil) or sunflower oil
  • Starter (above)

Mix flour, salt, sugar, spices and lemon zest. Pour in the melted butter or oil. The oil produces a slightly softer bun. Then add in the starter. Mix and knead in the bowl until it becomes a soft, pliable, buttery/oily dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and let it rise in a warm location for about 6 hours. Optional: half way, uncover and stretch the dough and pull it over the top on four sides. Flip the dough and cover again.

After a total of 6 hours, the dough should have doubled. Place it on a floured surface and cut into 8 equal segments. Form into slightly flattened balls and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, a little bit bit apart. You want them to just touch once they have risen again. Cover with a clingfilm or a plastic bag and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Next morning, get them out if refrigerator and place in a warm location for about an hour. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Meanwhile, make your cross dough.

Cross dough

  • 35g flour
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 25g water
  • 10g oil

Mix all of the ingredients together until smooth. Put it into a squeeze bottle and pipe crosses onto the buns. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. While the buns are baking, prepare the glaze.


  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons water
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar

Boil the sugar and water until sugar dissolves and a light syrup forms. When the buns come out of the oven, turn the oven off. Brush the glaze on immediately and put back into the warm oven for 1 minute. Remove and transfer to a cooling rack. Fantastic eaten when still warm!


  1. Yum. I’m planning to make lemon scones tomorrow. Lots of lemons here in CA right now. I’d like to try your recipe but will have to figure out the metric conversions first. Yikes. Wish we were all on the same measurement system. Whats “strong” flour? Your recipes always look so delicious.


    • I used to post in US measurements, but now I tend to make thing in grams etc. There are a number of web sites out there that will allow you to convert measurements. One is called the Traditional Oven ( which allows you to pick your ingredient first before converting. Strong flour is simply bread flour or a good quality all-purpose flour like King Arthur which has a high protein (gluten) content. You can see on the side of the flour packet the percentage of protein – 12 to 14 percent is perfect. Very scientific!


  2. The lemon tree in our garden is full of fruit right now. It’s a challenge to consume all that fruit. We use a lot of lemon juice in our everyday cooking, we preserve lemons, we freeze lemon juice ice cubes that keep for several months and we bake lots of lemon cakes! So your recipe for the lemony hot cross buns comes at the right moment and will be tried very soon!


    • We freeze a lot of zest and juice for use throughout the year. I also salt them for those wonderful Moroccan dishes. Last year was a better crop and we had endless supplies for lemonade during the hot summer. I’m hoping that it follows the pattern of lean then abundant that many fruit trees follow. So, next year will be abundant!

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  3. Bookmarked! Lovely twist on the usual hot X bun. When I was a kid our local baker sold lemon buns topped with coffee icing, I much preferred them to the more common fruity variety. I love lemons and use lemon juice most days in something I eat, often just salad dressing, so I envy you your prolific tree.


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