Supermarket hot cross buns ranked
Our blind taste test separates the delicious from the dreadful.
They were hot and some of them made us cross.
Our panel blind taste-tested 11 hot cross buns from across New Zealand’s main supermarket chains. Tasters ranked each bun on a scale from 1, being dreadful, to 5, for downright delicious.
Buns fell into three categories – the classic, the brioche and the wildcards – and were judged on their appearance, taste and texture.
We’ve ranked the results in order from worst to best.
Category one: the classic
A traditional hot cross bun.
We all have fond memories of biting into a warm traditional hot cross bun on a cold autumn morning (preferably swimming in melted butter). Our panel was on the hunt for that sweet spot where spice and fruit are perfectly balanced. This was the panel’s favourite category – we’re all just traditionalists at heart.
Pak’nSave: Bakery hot cross fruit spice buns
Six-pack for $3.89
Coming in last place, this traditional bun garnered mixed reviews, dividing the panellists.
One carb-loving individual described it as “soft with a good crack on the crust”, while the nay-sayers thought it was “dry like the desert” and “needed more spice”.
Despite some underwhelming responses, half the panel said they would eat it again.
“Bland as bland could be. But I could eat a six-pack.” – James
“Tastes like ... nothing? Just like ... bread.” – Scott
“Weird aftertaste.” – Steffan
“Bit dry. Actually, really dry. Any taste is overshadowed by the level of dryness.” – Molly
New World: Bakery hot cross fruit spice buns
Six-pack for $5.49
The most expensive pack in this category. Spice is the name, but not the game.
“It was a nice, sweet bun, but lacking flavour. Where’s the spice?” – James
“It appeared to ‘age’ on the plate.” – Steffan
“Dry, but boy oh boy, the fruit!” – Hamish
However, another panellist observed that there appeared to be an alarming lack of fruit. Though the majority agreed they would eat it again, and one taster went as far as to say it was her favourite out of all 11 buns.
FreshChoice and Countdown were the clear crowd pleasers in this category, sharing the title of the best classic hot cross bun. The panel loved these two equally.
Countdown: Traditional hot cross buns
Six-pack for $3.50
Raisins galore – this one’s fruity! Like, really fruity! The overall verdict is that it’s soft and chewy with more noticeable spice.
“Tasty! Gentle spice, good texture. It tastes of Easter.” – Caitlin
“It’s quite sweet and dense, but in a good way. Really nice contrast between the raisins and cross top.” – Molly
“Looks and tastes like hot cross buns from childhood.” – Hamish
FreshChoice: Hot cross buns
Six-pack for $4.99
A clear winner, with a deeper, richer, more complex flavour compared with the other contenders. High ratings across the panel for this one. Spicy, fruity and flavourful. Even our hard-to-please hot cross bun traditionalist was won over.
“Dark and enticing. Good spice and got a nice chew going on. A whisky of a hot cross bun.” – Hamish
“Really fruity and has lots of spices.” – Molly
Category two: the brioche
An updated classic.
For some reason, several years ago, when brioche became the ‘in thing’ and every cafe was piling brioche scrolls into their cabinets, supermarkets decided to jump on the bandwagon and create something that no one asked for: the brioche hot cross bun. It’s like the classic, but not as good. Sure, it’s lighter, but at what cost?
Another tie, but this time it’s not because they’re good. There are three buns in this category and these two tied for last place due to being equally bland.
Pak’nSave: Brioche hot cross buns
Six-pack for $3.89
The unanimous consensus was that this bun “doesn’t even taste like a hot cross bun”. The texture was soft and fluffy, though it was mostly flavourless. Good fruit ratio but no detectable trace of spice in this imposter bun.
“Adding some taste would have been a good idea.” – Hamish
“A horrid cacophony of sweet fruit that doesn’t marry well.” – James
“Not a nice colour.” – Lenny
New World: Brioche hot cross buns
Six-pack for $5.99
I personally would’ve given this one a 0 rating if I could have. Bland as bland can be. Several tasters also commented on the strangely crisp exterior of this bun.
“It has roof-cutting sharp bits, but not from being in the oven. The edges are buttery and sugary and turn rock solid.” – Steffan
“Not a great colour, especially relative to the flavour. Barely noticeable amount of spice, quite doughy, but crisp on the outside.” – Lenny
“A whole lot of disappointment.” – James
“Dry, dry, dry.” – Hamish
Countdown: Brioche hot cross buns
Six-pack for $4.90
Taking home the gold in a category where every bun was average doesn’t seem like much of a win. But this pack from Countdown was the least underwhelming of the lot, and for that it gets first place.
“Dull, bland, can’t taste the spice. Meh.” – Caitlin
“Smells eggy. Lovely springy texture. Pleasant, sweet bun. No spice though.” – James
“Way too many raisins – ew! Really dry. Didn’t even finish it.” – Molly
Several people also pointed out the bun’s strangely yellow/orange appearance. One taster flat-out refused to taste it, saying it “looks full of colouring … not going there”.
“The best looking. Though taste-wise, it’s underwhelming.” – Steffan
The bakers really let their hair out of their hairnets for these ones.
Are they hot cross buns? Barely. Are they interesting? Yes. Are they good? Not if the sounds of disgust that echoed through our fifth-floor office are anything to go by.
Our hot cross bun traditionalist took one sniff and flat out refused to taste them, so appalled was he by the abominations masquerading as hot cross buns before him. In his defence, one did look like it had white mould growing on it (don’t worry, it was just white chocolate).
Countdown really shows up for those with adventurous tastebuds or who dislike raisins and sultanas. They offer the widest range of intriguing flavours, for better or worse ...
Sometimes it pays to be adventurous, and sometimes IT. DOES. NOT. New World and Countdown received equally low ratings for these two flavours:
New World: Gooey peanut butter choc cross buns
Six-pack for $5.99
New World teamed up with Pic’s peanut butter for this one. What could have been a masterpiece came across more like a cheap imitation you’d pick up at a flea market.
Tastes like chocolate chip with a weird buttery, margarine-like aftertaste. The massive blob of ‘peanut butter’ inside is definitely not pure peanut butter, but instead seems to have been mixed with something else to create a truly unusual flavour and texture combo … one I would not recommend.
“Looks like a kid’s first go at making a hot cross bun. Peanut butter?! Child should be grounded.” – Hamish
“Very messy! Chocolate all over the place. I have a sweet tooth, so yum! ... but I wouldn’t buy it.” – Molly
“Slightly soggy from the peanut butter. I’d eat it … but maybe not buy it.” – James
“Too much melted chocolate, made it gooey. No spice at all. Too sweet. Just gross.” – Caitlin
Countdown: White chocolate and raspberry hot cross buns
Six-pack for $5.50
By this point in the taste test, there was talk of launching a campaign against the use of chocolate in hot cross buns. Phrases such as “abhorrent abomination” were thrown around.
The packaging boasts ‘no artificial colours or flavours’. This may be true, but that’s not what it tastes like.
Only one panellist said they might eat it again, but only in secret, if no one else knew about it.
“Some weird ingredient in it that I can’t identify. It doesn’t taste of Easter!” – Caitlin
“Weird pus-like stuff in there. But tasted better than it looked. I’m left confused as to whether I like it or not.” – James
“Smells like those horrible fake cherries. I couldn’t get past the smell.” – Hamish
“Fake fruit flavour not great. White stuff looks like mould.” – Lenny
Countdown: Chocolate orange hot cross buns
Six-pack for $5.50
Fierce debate around the table now. The group begrudgingly struggled on, vocally against their will.
Little orange blobs dot the exterior, adding intrigue … but don’t be fooled. It looks like hard fruit but is unexpectedly soft and smooth like a paste. It has a strong apricot taste, followed by the fake chocolate flavour of the bread. So, so wrong.
“I like the look of the white cross, but this bun had a weird fruity flavour. It tasted fake.” – Molly
“Dry and springy texture. Tasted of bad chocolate followed by orange. Why?” – James
“I might buy it if there’s kids around” – Steffan
“I couldn’t go there. Looks like it’s been processed rather than made.” – Hamish
Countdown: Cookie Time cookie smash choc cross buns
Six-pack for $8
The best of the worst. There’s been a lot of excitement for this collaboration between Countdown and Cookie Time. They put a spin on an Easter classic, all right.
This controversial hot cross bun divided the panel, but I respect the risk it took. It’s a nice simple choc chip white bread bun. Not mind blowing, but a good raisin-free option for those who don’t like the classics.
“Tastes like a Griffin’s choc chip biscuit.” – Scott
“Cookie was good. Bun was bouncy and soft. I like it.” – Steffan
“Very strange. Why is there a biscuit on top? This is supposed to be a hot cross bun!” – Molly
“The cookie on top makes for a weird texture contrast. I wouldn’t buy this … but then again, maybe as a guilty pleasure after a tough breakup?” – Lenny
“Off-putting. Garish. Chocolate? WHY?!” – Hamish
The final verdict
The panel has spoken. Traditional is the way to go. Without spice, it doesn't taste of Easter. Our advice: Get rid of all the imposters!
Note: Most supermarkets use the same recipes across their stores, but as the majority of hot cross buns are made in-house, there may be slight variations present between some batches.
All of Foodstuffs South Island runs standard recipes across their stores for hot cross buns. However, all Foodstuffs North Island stores can select their own recipes for their in-store bakeries. Because of this, there may be slight variations between some North Island Pak’n’Save and NewWorld stores hot cross buns.