Activate yeast and combine liquid ingredients: Whisk the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl and set aside until bubbles start to appear on the surface. In the meantime, whisk together the milk, melted butter and sugar. Add the activated yeast mixture and whisk until combined.
Make dough: Add the flour, cinnamon, allspice, orange zest (if using) and salt to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Add the milk mixture, then knead on medium-low speed for 5-10 minutes, or until you have a smooth ball of dough. Add a few extra tablespoons of flour, one at a time, if your dough feels too sticky!
First rise: Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough sit at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Add raisins: Punch down dough and remove to a lightly floured countertop. Spread into thick rectangle, then scatter raisins over top. Fold dough over raisins, then knead a few times to evenly distribute.
Second rise: Place dough back into bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap again and let sit for another 30-60 minus, until doubled in size again.
Shape: Lightly butter bottom of a 9x13 inch (22x33cm) baking pan. Punch down dough, then divide into 12 equal pieces; shape into balls. Pinch bottom seams to form a smooth, rounded top and place seam-down in prepared pan.
Third rise: Cover pan with plastic wrap and let buns rise at room temperature until big and puffed up, about 20-30 minutes.
Add crosses and bake: Heat oven to 360°F (180°C). Combine flour and water for crosses and place mixture into piping bag. Pipe lines over rolls to form crosses. Bake buns for around 25-35 minutes or until a deep golden brown in color and middle rolls are fully baked.
Glaze: Once rolls are baked, combine ingredients for glaze in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until glaze is clear (1-2 minutes). Take off the heat and immediately brush over warm buns.
Flour: I recommend using all-purpose flour. Whole wheat flour will yield denser rolls and you’d need to slightly increase the milk for the buns to stay soft.
Milk: I used whole milk for extra-soft rolls, but 2% or 1% will also work. I do not recommend skim milk.
Yeast: I used active dried yeast. Instant dried yeast can work, just watch your dough as it will rise quicker. Organic yeast is really difficult in enriched doughs (= a dough with fat and sugar, which has more difficulty rising as-is). I do not recommend using organic yeast in this recipe.
Butter: I used real butter, which yields the best flavor in this recipe. If you must use margarine, please only use stick margarine and not a spread.
Orange zest/juice: If you’re not a fan of orange flavor, feel free to leave these out. I do not recommend lemon zest in place of the orange zest, it doesn’t work as well with the warm spices. Use water in place of the orange juice for the glaze.
Allspice: Feel free to leave this out if you don’t keep it on hand. You can also use pumpkin spice mix in place of the allspice, if you have it.
Currants/raisins: Use either currant or raisins, or a mix of both. If you like it, you can also add ½ cup of mixed candied peel.
Make sure to measure your flour correctly (spoon it into the measuring cup, then level with the back of a knife). Otherwise, you will end up with way too much flour in the dough, which yields tough, dense rolls.
If your dough doesn’t start coming together after 5 minutes of kneading, add more flour gradually (one tablespoon at a time!) until the dough forms a pall and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Do not add too much flour! The dough should be very soft and feel a little sticky.
Knead the dough long enough until it is fully smooth. This will take 5-10 minutes in your stand mixer, or 10-15 minutes by hand. You should be able to pull a small piece of dough apart until you can almost see through it, without the dough ripping.
Take your time for all three rises, else the rolls will not have the soft and fluffy texture they are supposed to get.
Shape the rolls carefully to make sure they have a smooth, rounded top. This ensures the best bake on them.
Make sure to use a 9×13 inch pan or very close to it. If your pan is much too small, the rolls will not bake and melt into one large bread. If your pan is much larger, the rolls will not touch and will end up too dry. My pan was actually a little small. My husband recently gifted it to me and it said 9×13, but after baking I measured it and it was an inch short on both sides. You can see that my rolls are very squished together, but they were still fine (and actually came out super tall and fluffy this way, loved them!). I would definitely not go smaller than 8×12 inches, though.
Don’t skip simmering the glaze, it only takes 1-2 minutes and it’s worth the nice finish.
Serve the rolls hot or still very warm, that’s really when they are the tastiest. If you have leftovers on the next day, split and toast them. I do not recommend keeping the rolls beyond one day.
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