Hot Cross Buns Cream Cheese Braid

(Photo by Kevin Good)

It’s spring! Hello flowers! Hello sunshine! Hello fickle spring breezes! And hello Easter brunch. I’m not too excited about Easter hats and frills and ribbons and bonnets, but the brunch — yes please. As a baker and cook, I’ve always found it fun to see what kinds of foods different people bring to a gathering—you could just about play “match-the-guest-to-the-dish.” (I love self-expression through baking.)

Speaking of holidays and get-togethers, we also have some very exciting news– did you hear? We have a winner for the Hodgson Mill “Have A Grain Holiday” baking contest! Barbara at wowed us with a beautiful and delicious Citrus Cranberry Cream Cheese Danish Braid that earned her first place in our food blogger contest. That’s the link to her winning entry along with detailed directions on how she made it all come together.

Barbara is an experienced baker and blogger who has a gorgeous blog full of awesome recipes and ideas—what a library! You should definitely visit and soak up some of her vast knowledge. I also like her because we think alike about brunch. Recently she told us:

“One of my favorite ways to celebrate the holidays is to invite family to our house for brunch. One of my favorite things to serve at brunch is pastries like the Citrus Cranberry Cream Cheese Danish Braid. It’s easy to make ahead of time, serves a crowd, looks impressive, and tastes fabulous.”

(Photo by

I have to agree—doesn’t it look absolutely stunning? Look at the little green sugar crystals that hint at the holidays and the citrus ingredients. It tastes just as good as it looks.

Now that another holiday is upon us, and the seasons are a-changing, I wanted to pay homage to Barbara’s recipe, but tweak it just a little bit for springtime. I wanted to bring my favorite flavors from hot cross buns into the picture—warm spices against fresh citrus zest and golden raisins. I also toned down the sweetness just a tiny bit to reflect a hot cross bun (I left off the citrus sugar, since the finished product is sweet enough for me). I love her recipe, and I also wanted to try out a few other seasonal ideas; I think they’re both pretty terrific.

Instead of showing you how to make this pastry, since Barbara did such a great job of it in her original post, I thought I’d just give you the pearls of wisdom from my experience making it recently. The recipe has very detailed instructions below, and I don’t think it’s necessary to reinvent her wheel.

Note 1: Be very careful when heating up the milk, butter and orange juice. I started heating the liquids and I must have overheated the mixture slightly—it happened much more quickly than I expected—and it curdled. Icky little curds; I just couldn’t think of using it. So heat gently and slowly, and test often. If you’re worried, leave the OJ out of the mixture, warm it up separately, and add it to the mixture along with the egg and vanilla. (Cold OJ will cool the dough and lengthen the rise time, so make sure you warm it.)

Note 2: After mixing everything together, my dough was pretty sticky even after adding the full 2 ½ cups of bread flour. I ended up adding nearly 1 cup more bread flour in kneading. My advice is to try to be conservative with sprinkling your flour, and if you can stand it, let it stick to you for a little while until it comes together. I asked Barbara about this, and she said that because she lives in a dry place with very high altitude, she needs less flour for most recipes. No wonder I, being at sea level in a rainy spring, needed so much more flour for this! So keep an extra cup of flour standing by, and know that you might use almost all of it.

This dough was really fun. It starts out really sticky. By the end, though, it’s fantastically elastic and pretty smooth, studded with zest and slightly pebbly from the whole wheat flour. If you’re kneading by hand, be prepared to commit, because it takes about 15 minutes total. (I think it counts as an arm workout.)

This is my dough after about 5-7 minutes of kneading:

This is the same dough after the full 15 minutes of kneading:

Note 3: I had some extra orange juice, so I soaked my golden raisins in a tablespoon during the first rise because I think it improves their texture. Feel free to omit this step, or just don’t worry if you forget.

Note 4: When it was time to roll out the risen dough, my dough still wanted to spring back into a ball. Be patient. If this happens to you, just give it a few minutes, take a coffee break, let it rest and relax. Then try again, gently rolling it out. You’ll get there.

Note 5: The secret to making lots of neat texture with the lemon glaze on the finished braid is to do it in two batches. Drizzle in a diagonal zigzag for a bit, and let that layer dry. Then drizzle again (bonus points if you drizzle in an opposite zigzag for maximum texture). Voila!

Isn’t it gorgeous? And it tastes even better. Your guests will be so impressed. And you’ll know you snuck in some healthy whole wheat flour into their holiday pastry! Heh heh heh . . .

Those are all the pearls of wisdom I have for now – check out the recipe below, and one last time, check out Barbara’s blog. It’s kind of awesome. And have a lovely Easter, or in any case, a lovely brunch.

(Photo by Kevin Good)

Hot Cross Buns Cream Cheese Braid

Inspired by Citrus Cranberry Danish Braid at
Winner of the 2011 ‘Have a GRAIN Holiday’ food blogger baking contest



Cream Cheese Filling

  • 8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup golden raisins, soaked in 1 tablespoon orange juice for 30-60 minutes (optional)

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons water

Lemon Glaze

  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Mix whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cup bread flour, vital wheat gluten, and yeast in a large bowl. In a saucepan over low heat, heat milk and butter until butter is melted and mixture is warm (120º to 130º). Add sugar and salt, and stir until dissolved.

Add melted butter and milk mixture to dry flour mixture. Add egg, vanilla, room temperature orange juice, and lemon and orange zest and mix until well combined. Continue mixing and slowly add in the remaining 1 cup of bread flour until dough is workable. It will be a bit sticky.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth, about 15 minutes. Shape into a ball. Place in greased bowl, turn over once or twice to coat the dough with oil. Cover, let rise until doubled, approximately 60 – 90 minutes.

While dough is rising make cream cheese filling. In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Beat just until combined, don’t over mix. Refrigerate until ready to use.

On a lightly floured work surface, (or Silpat®, or parchment paper), roll the dough into a 12 x 14-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Be careful to roll it out to an even thickness, and don’t worry too much about a perfect rectangle—you’ll cut off the corners anyway.

Along one long (14-inch) side of the dough make parallel, 4-inch-long cuts that are 1 inch apart (like piano keys), with a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up these cuts with those you’ve already made on the other side.

Spoon the cream cheese filling down the center of the rectangle. Leaving 1 inch on the top and bottom unfilled. Sprinkle golden raisins soaked in orange juice on top of the cream cheese filling.

Cut off the first set of strips of dough on both the top and bottom of the rectangle, so you have a top & bottom lip of dough to fold up over the pastry. Begin folding the cut side strips of dough in pairs over the filling at an angle, alternating left, then right, as if you were braiding, until you reach the other end.. Trim excess dough leaving enough to tuck the ends underneath the braid.

Transfer to baking sheet. (If rolled out on parchment paper, it’s easy to slide onto a sheet). Cover. (I used loose plastic wrap covered by a towel). Let rise in warm place until double, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375º F.

Just before putting in oven, make an egg wash by mixing egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water and lightly brush over the top of the braid.

Bake on baking sheet for 15 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Check after 15 minutes; it will be starting to brown deeply, so cover with foil, shiny side down, and continue cooking – the top is done before the braid is cooked through. After 5-10 more minutes remove from oven. Let cool 10 minutes.

Prepare the lemon glaze by mixing powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle glaze over braid.