They’re the British version of a Danish pastry, first invented in the Bun House in Chelsea some time during the 1700s. The dough is enriched and often flavoured with lemon or spices, the classic filling is butter, brown sugar and dried vine fruits and once they’re baked they’re glazed with syrup. Fie to ‘clean’ foods and worthy bowls of grains, these glistening spirals of sweet, light dough, drenched in toffee-ish flavours or water icing are an unashamed treat. Chelsea buns are a celebration of British baking at its best.
Fitzbillies, down the road from us in Cambridge, are famous for their Chelsea buns and yes, I’ve tasted them. The glaze is deliciously sweet, rich in cinnamon, the dough dreamily soft and this particular eating experience was over far too soon (after about 40 seconds). The Chelsea bun is a feature of the shelves of most bakeries in Britain – I confess I haven’t eaten many of them so haven’t built up a huge range of bun experience. The ones that most inspired me to open the baking cupboard today were the ones I saw being conjured on the Great British bakeoff: tantalising flavours, fluffy spirals of sweetened or enriched dough and delicious iced or caramel glazes. I’ve been meaning to make my own for a year or two and this morning I took the bun plunge.
I didn’t have high expectations. I’m still a relative bread-making beginner so yeasted recipes of any sort give me some trepidation (I’m always an anxious yeast cell mother, fear they’ll all die and yield no more than a tragic dry pancake). I certainly didn’t hold out much hope for the dough being ‘as flaky and white as if baked by the light’- as described by a poet and customer of the Bun House in the 1700s. I wasn’t drawn in by the usual filling -brown sugar, butter and currants didn’t inspire me too much-so I freestyled a little, split my dough into two and invented chocolate-caramel and apple-caramel fillings.
I had a bun-ish surprise. They were decadent, gooey, rich with sticky caramel flavours,chocolate that had become deliciously toasted and crispy on top, jammy, sticky toffee-isn apple and the dough was light. The apple filling is rather wet so I expected the resulting buns to be soggy. They weren’t – instead they were dreamily soft and ever so slightly chewy and the brown sugar and golden syrup had combined with the juice from the apple to make a heavenly sort of appley toffee substance beneath the buns. OH YES.
There ARE two provings and yes, if you decide to make them it’ll be two whole hours before you eat your first bun, but believe me these are worth the effort. Oh and I’m planning at least two savoury versions – a sort of spiral pizza Chelsea bun with prosciutto, mozzarella, and a thin layer of tomato sauce, and a pesto variety with a toasted pinenut and parmesan topping.
I was thrilled with my warm buns (and now I’ll desist from euphemising and give you the recipe). This is a modification of the BBC Food Chelsea Bun recipe and Paul Hollywood’s recipe.
For the dough
500g strong white bread flour
1 x 7g sachet of easy bake yeast
1 tsp salt
NOTE: The amounts given here are for making an entire batch of either filling. To make both using one batch of dough as I did, split the dough in half and halve these amounts
For the apple caramel filling
Small cooking apple (preferably one that ‘falls’ during cooking) peeled and grated
50g soft brown sugar
Good handful of cranberries or chopped dried strawberries (optional)
30g butter, melted
Good drizzle of golden syrup
For the chocolate caramel filling
50g good dark chocolate of your choice/dark/milk blend
50g soft brown sugar
30g butter, melted
Good drizzle of golden syrup
For the glaze
4 tablespoons of milk
4 tablespoons of golden syrup (tip: oil the tablespoon before measuring out and it’ll slip off the spoon right nice)
Good pinch of salt
- Preheat your oven to 190 degrees
- Warm the butter and milk in a pan until the butter melts and the mixture is just lukewarm
- Put the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl, make a well in the centre, break the egg into it and pour in the butter/milk mixture, mixing with a fork until all the ingredients come together into a uniform, rather sticky dough
- Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 minutes
- Leave to rise in a clean, lightly oiled bowl covered in a clean tea towel in a warmish place for an hour
- Meanwhile mix together the ingredients for your chosen filling(or half amounts of both if you’re making two varieties and lightly grease your baking tin – I used a deep roasting tin to bake my buns
- Once the dough has risen to twice its original size roll it into a rough rectangle, spread your filling onto the surface (it should be fairly was to spread because of the melted butter) and roll the rectangle into a large sausage shape in the same way as you would if making a Swiss roll.
- Trim the ends off the sausage of dough, then cut the remainder into slices about 2cm wide and place into your baking tin. Place them next to each other – if you push them together just a little the next proving will result in a pleasing square-isn bun with a spiral of filling-the classic Chelsea bun design.
- Place the ends of the dough sausage into the tin to bake with the rest – they’ll be slightly small and hard but still have some filling in and are so good dipped in a mug of tea
- Bake at 190 for 25-30 minutes or until a deep golden brown. I had to cover mine with a roof of foil after 15-30 minutes as they were browning quite fast and I didn’t want them to burn on top before the dough was baked.
- Whilst they’re baking make the glaze – simply put the milk, salt and golden syrup into a pan, bring to a brisk boil, then allow to simmer for three minutes or so to thicken slightly, then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
- Remove from the oven, drizzle generously with the glaze and serve to friends or loved ones in triumph
- Eat at least three as they really are quite small
Jose Heroys says
Wow! These sound awesome! You’ve inspired me to try making a gluten-free version with strong GF bread flour… All hail the Chelsea Bun Queen.. ?
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