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Image: Madeleine Chapman, desig: Tina Tiller
Image: Madeleine Chapman, desig: Tina Tiller

KaiApril 5, 2023

All the supermarket hot cross buns, ranked from worst to best

Image: Madeleine Chapman, desig: Tina Tiller
Image: Madeleine Chapman, desig: Tina Tiller

A definitive ranking, just in time for your final pre-Easter shop.

There’s no seasonal food as intertwined with its season as hot cross buns are to easter. Sure a candy cane is extremely Christmas, but no one is waking up every morning for three weeks and eating a candy cane. Supermarkets aren’t making their own candy canes to cash in on the seasonal popularity. Candy canes don’t replace whole meals in the diets of a nation.

But hot cross buns? Hot cross buns take one of the oldest foods in the world (bread) and make it fun and exciting. Christmas fruitcake wishes it had the cut through that hot cross buns get every year. But sadly not all hot cross buns are created equal. Daily Bread took out the official award this year, and rightly so, it’s a delicious bun. But artisanal buns come with an artisanal price point ($22 for six) and not everyone has the privilege (as I do) of living around the corner from Daily Bread.

The vast majority of us buy our hot cross buns from the supermarket while doing our grocery shopping. Half a dozen buns for about $5 is great value, no matter where you buy them. But which supermarket makes the best buns? And does price or prestige equal taste?

Disclaimer: I am aware that individual supermarkets within a chain may have different ways of baking their hot cross buns. All the buns in this ranking were purchased on the same morning from a random selection of supermarkets in the wider Auckland region. Taste testing was conducted under control conditions (the office kitchen area) and all the buns were toasted on a lovely carousel toaster (thanks to our friends at Supreme for the loan). Each taster was asked to note down their thoughts in one sentence. All buns were buttered generously and eaten hot.

Supermarkets included: Countdown, New World, Pak’nSave, Farro. We’ve included Bakers Delight as a slightly elevated option for comparison, and Costco for the novelty.

Buns in the toaster (Image: Jin Fellet)

The unnecessary: Brioche 

We prepared and tasted 14 different hot cross buns across three different flavours (traditional, chocolate, brioche) and of those 14, the three brioche options were unanimously voted the worst. With little to no spice across the board, they’re basically just…dinner rolls? The Pak’nSave offering was at least an average and light brioche but then if that’s what you’re after, they sell those too without pretending to be a hot cross bun. “Profoundly dull”, “basically just a dinner roll” and “not a hot cross bun” were the overwhelming sentiments from the group. In other words, disqualified.

The controversial: Chocolate

For many, a chocolate hot cross bun is not a real hot cross bun.  I tend to agree but they’ve now been around long enough that they are simply another seasonal offering, with their own merits. Full transparency, I wrote very confidently in 2017 that Brumby’s bakery in Karori, Wellington made the best chocolate hot cross buns in the country. Since then, I’ve tasted many more, including the fancy options, and I maintain that the ones in Karori are still the best if you are of the view that a chocolate hot cross bun is just a bun with chocolate. 

Brumby’s wasn’t included in this ranking so everyone else had a chance for glory.

4. Farro ($10.49 for six)

“Not good”, “forgettable”, “bland”. Thus began and ended Farro’s attempt to be taken seriously in the chocolate hot cross bun race. A dry bun with chocolate that tasted more like chocolate icing than anything else. Poor effort for a rich price.

3. Countdown ($4.50 for six)

By the grace of Farro… Countdown’s chocolate offering could have easily placed last if Farro’s wasn’t so horrendous. They were tiny and strangely dense, “like a chocolate sandbag”, but were saved by the presence of actual (Hersheys) chocolate pieces. “Not enough flavour”, “rubbish”, were a couple of the responses from tasters. However one contrarian wrote in very small handwriting: “I like it lol”.

2. New World ($5.99 for six)

New World chocolate hot cross buns fall into the “bun with chocolate” category and does it very well. “Doesn’t skimp on the choc, that’s for sure,” wrote one taster. “Nice, even choc flavour,” wrote another. One person just wrote “love this one”. And no detractors! Well done, New World.

1. Bakers Delight ($12.00 for six)

Enjoyed by all, even those who don’t particularly like the chocolate ones. With a bit of spice and the chocolate replacing the fruit, the Bakers Delight offering was deemed “the only one that could actually be called a hot cross bun”. “Maintains the integrity of a hot cross bun with bonus chocolate,” was one response. “YES PLEASE” was another. A unanimous winner.

The classic: Traditional fruit and spice

7. Countdown (fruitless) ($4.00 for six)

What is this? If a chocolate hot cross bun isn’t a hot cross bun then what the hell is this? Have included for the sake of completion but my gosh was it uninspiring. Only two tasters even bothered sharing their thoughts. “Is this just a loaf of rye?” And “I got nothing from this one.” You give nothing, you get nothing. An unsurprising last place.

6. Farro ($10.49 for six)

If you learn anything from this ranking, let it be that paying more for hot cross buns does not mean you are getting better quality. This bun was really bad. Like, genuinely surprisingly bad. The bun was huge and extremely dry. Perhaps a triple layer of butter would help but a good hot cross bun shouldn’t rely on butter. “No flavour”, “flavourless”, “extremely unspecial”, “what I imagine eating cardboard to be like”. At more than double the price of every other option, I feel it is my obligation to tell you that you should not buy these. But at the same time, anyone who can afford to do their weekly grocery shop entirely at Farro could maybe do with an overpriced dry bun every once in a while.

As a side note: I once again ask bakers to stop making hot cross buns so tall. We were using an industrial toaster with generous headroom and even so, Farro’s (among others) required extra slicing in order to fit inside. This ranking was based on taste but the bad vibes in a too-tall bun certainly don’t help.

5. Countdown ($4.00 for six)

Again, Countdown struggled with the the shape and texture. “Plain” and “forgettable” were two adjectives thrown out by the panel. “No flavour” was another one thought, though it had one fan who liked the flavour “of the bun itself”.

Worth mentioning here that as I write (days after the tasting), one of the panellists had a Countdown hot cross bun in isolation and thought it was “OK”. Essentially, every hot cross bun on this list is fine when eaten on its own and with enthusiasm. But when compared immediately with others, suddenly Countdown didn’t fare so well. If you buy from Countdown, I’m sure they all taste pretty good. But there are definitely better options out there if you’re in the market for an upgrade.

4. Pak’n’Save ($3.99 for six)

Too tall! These buns were huge, both tall and wide. It required first a heavy squash to fit in the toaster, and then an extra slice. Despite that, they were rather enjoyed by the panel. “Quite dry but nice taste,” wrote one, who probably noticed the ridiculous size and therefore difficult butter-bun ratio. “Nice spice, too dry,” agreed another taster. Overall, a good spice blend but too dry due to being twice as tall as it needed to be. But one of the cheapest so a pretty good deal regardless.

3. Costco ($11.99 for 24)

This one was a crowd favourite and a surprise late entry thanks to me coincidentally visiting Costco the night before to make the most of our household membership. Technically the oldest of the bunch (baked the day before) but they held up beautifully. Opposite to Countdown, the Costco bun lacked for spice flavour but more than made up for it in fruit. “Flavoursome fruit and not stingy with it,” was one review. “Lots of fruit, good fluff,” was another. At 50c per bun, Costco was also the cheapest (albeit inaccessible to many) and had a remarkable operation running to pump out massive quantities throughout the day.

2. Bakers Delight ($12.00 for six)

“Traditional! The everyman’s hot cross bun!” The enthusiasm for the classic Bakers Delight bun leaps off the page. The reliability of the standalone bakery shone through, with no question of quality and a collective endorsement of the “perfect raisin:spice:bun ratio”. Big flat bonus points for the big flat buns. The Bakers Delight hot cross buns were arguably the largest of the lot but were also the only ones to toast smoothly thanks to being flat and wide rather than tall and skinny.

As one taster put it: “That’s how you do it!”

1. New World ($5.99 for six)

Full disclosure: I have believed for a long time that Pak’nSave and New World shared a bakery due to both being owned by Foodstuffs. But if they do, they’re baking two separate batches of hot cross buns because while both were tall, the flavour and texture was a (new) world apart. Where Pak’nSave served up a dry bun, New World had “a nice bounce” and “good texture”. Mid-sized and “fluffy”, it was deemed the “all-rounder” of the group. Not too tall, not too small, pretty good fruit coverage and consistency. The priciest of the major supermarkets, at $1 per bun, but still great value.

New World is the clear winner for best supermarket hot cross bun, summed up succinctly by one taster: “Quite scrummy.”

Keep going!