For some clerics, they are “the devil’s work”; in the eyes of many gourmets, they are an affront to gastronomy. 

For manufacturers, they present an annual opportunity to cram as much chocolate, salted caramel, lemon curd or (this year’s trend) cheese as possible into Britain’s most recognisable baked goods, in the hope that novelty – or at least a Twitter thread fuelled by public outrage – will drive sales. 

Of all the items that emerge from production lines “with a twist” – Christmas puddings and Scotch eggs among them – it is surely the hot cross bun that has endured the most tampering. 

Over the years, these yeasted bread rolls – traditionally spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and studded with dried vine fruits and nuggets of citrus peel – have been pumped variously with chocolate chips, candied rhubarb, gin-soaked fruit and pockets of custard. 

Increasingly, there have been savoury modifications on the shelves. In 2021, M&S announced that not only were its exclusive cheese and Marmite hot cross buns returning to stores for Easter, they would also be available year-round – sacrilege on so many levels, though by some miracle they appear not to have lasted through to this year.   

In most of these iterations, the cross is the only faintly familiar association left. With yeasted buns eaten in England since medieval times, it was once customary to “slice a cross into the top of bread or buns (believed to ward off evil spirits),” writes Julie Duff, in Cakes: Regional & Traditional

This petered out after the Reformation and “only remained on the top of hot cross buns, where they became pastry or citrus- peel crosses, being symbolic of the crucifix of Christ”. Good Friday was the time to devour such delicacies – not any old Wednesday in November. Facing an unseasonal influx of salted fudge and cheddar versions that shunt the “luxury fruited” lot to the sidelines, many people argue that there is simply no place on the table (at Easter or otherwise) for these alien bakes. 

With the right balance of spice and with sultanas and/or currants that are plump and generous, the “traditional, unadulterated hot cross bun cannot be improved upon”, writes one Telegraph reader. In fact, observes another, “the worst thing to happen to hot cross buns over the past few years is the bakers reducing the currant numbers in them”. 

They are right, there’s nothing worse (not even a soggy, saccharine bite of 2021’s Strawberry and White Chocolate abominations – we’re looking at you, Tesco) than a bun that purports to be a classic but scrimps on the essentials. Some readers are open to improvements, with one voicing a common grumble that “the cross is so appetising- looking but never tastes of more than the flour and water it is”. 

However, she helpfully proposes a remedy that mass producers might do well to adopt in lieu of chocolate or caramel – “I do like a ­little something in the cross, a dash of lemon, or sugar.” There are even rebels among our ranks: one reader recommends substituting “hot cross buns for bread when making bacon sarnies” – a serving suggestion that this year’s cheese-­flavoured baps could well be made for. Which is, of course, the whole point: if you’re reaching for a four-pack of fromage- filled hot cross buns, you’ve already signed up to a “novel” idea. 

Conducting a blind taste test of this year’s high-street creations “with a twist”, we set out to establish whether those who take the leap of faith will be rewarded.

The taste test


Lidl Deluxe Bramley Apple & Cinnamon

These gnarled buns feel hefty and have a wholemeal look. Toasting releases an aroma of apple, but the taste is odd, with slightly stale spice and dull fruit.

Result: 1 out of 5

Asda Extra Special Lemon & White Chocolate

These look like white bread rolls. The lemon flavour is strong and artificial-tasting, while for texture, the molten chocolate softens the bread in patches.

Result: 2 out of 5

Lidl Deluxe Very Berry

The tops aren’t uniform, which appeals; they look pale, but flecked with berries. Sadly, the crumb is nondescript, so it’s a relief to chance upon a berry or two.

Result: 2 out of 5

M&S Food Banoffee

Weirdly damp, thanks to the banana purée. When toasted, the scent is pure butterscotch Angel Delight, but the dominant flavour is banana. A bit fake, but it does what it says on the tin.

Result: 3 out of 5

Waitrose & Partners White Chocolate and Lemon

Slicing these buns open reveals attractive, airy holes and their taste is wholesome: the chocolate flavour lingers while the lemon fizzes gently below.

Result: 3 out of 5

Co-op Irresistible Blueberry & Lemon

These look like traditional fruited buns, dense and squished-looking. They’re studded with plenty of fruit, but the flavour is too sharp for some of our tasters.

Result: 3 out of 5

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Lemon Curd & White Chocolate

Super-plump and visually impress. The lemon curd is subtle but authentic-tasting and the chocolate mellow. A pleasant “soft” taste.

Result: 4 out of 5

Morrisons the Best Lemon Drizzle

These buns with their glossy tops look really generous and – hurrah – they actually contain juicy raisins and (lemon-infused) sultanas. Purists will be mollified.

Result: 4 out of 5

Morrisons the Best Double Chocolate

Bigger than your palm, with glazed tops and stuffed with chocolate, these look homemade. The toasted top is light and there’s a maltiness to the chocolate.

Result: 4 out of 5

Co-op Irresistible Chocolate & Orange

Dense buns in the darkest of the chocolate shades. They’re not special to look at, but the surprise is in the taste – well-balanced festive flavours. These really sing.

Result: 5 out of 5


Tesco Finest Cheese & Caramelised Onion Chutney

The onion is really dominant, overpowering the cheese and creating a moist, damp texture that is far from pleasant. Avoid.

Result: 1 out of 5

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Cheese, Tomato & Oregano

The oregano is a punchy scent, but when toasted it vanishes; flavours are muted and the buns rather dense. Disappointing.

Result: 2 out of 5

Asda Extra Special Cheese & Black Pepper

The pepper in these is really dominant, shoving any Red Leicester flavour aside with tongue-tingling insistence. Surprisingly moreish, though, and toasts well.

Result: 4 out of 5

M&S Food Extremely Cheesy

A brioche-like texture with a golden-butter colour, and the Red Leicester flecks inside stand out. They smell just like cheese on toast when heated, are generously flavoured and moreish.

Result: 5 out of 5

Waitrose No 1 West Country Mature Cheddar & Stout

Rustic looking, with raised sides. Made with a sourdough starter, richly cheesy, and the crumb toasts to a crisp finish. Far from traditional, but when this good, who cares?

Result: 5 out of 5

Is invention welcome or are classic buns the best? Join the conversation in the comments section below

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2023-03-17T09:05:34Z dg43tfdfdgfd