Sugar, spice and all things nice – Chelsea Buns

It occurred to me the other day that while I happily call my blog “LondonEats” I have not really looked at London recipes. So time to make a bit of a change, and presenting the famous Chelsea bun.

They are said to originate from the 1700s, and were apparently a particular favourite of the then-new monarchy, the House of Hanover, including George II and George III (he of the “Madness” fame) and Queen Charlotte. History does not, alas, record whether these buns played any role in George III’s deterioration, or indeed in his subsequent recovery.

The name tells you about exactly where they sprang from – a bun house in Chelsea, called – surprisingly – The Chelsea Bun House, located between Chelsea and Pimlico. Even if the original is long-gone, you can still stroll down Bunhouse Place today. Well…actually…this street is now technically in Pimlico, but it’s probably too late to try and change the well-established name of this sticky treat.

So what are they like? Think of an enriched yeast dough (not too sweet), which is formed into swirls and studded with dried fruit, baked in a single tin so that the buns merge into each other as they prove, then glazed with a sweet, sticky syrup which seeps down into the fruit filling. The result is fruity and delicious, and utterly perfect with a cup of tea. Most English cakes are at their best with a cup of tea.

When it comes to exact recipes, there is, as ever, a variety of recipes. Some contain cinnamon, some recipes feature nutmeg, and then there are those with a little or lots of citrus peel, and those that have just currants or sultanas. Even the syrup has lots of variants – ranging from a light glaze through to thick, sticky, sweet  coating with butter and honey.

Taking all this in the round….I came up with my own version. The biggest shock to myself was that I didn’t include any cinnamon. I’m normally a huge fan of cinnamon, but I thought that this could so easily overpower the flavours from the sultanas, brown sugar and honey. In the event, each of these ingredients still imparted a subtle “spiciness” to the finished buns, which was very welcome. The filling was otherwise a combination of mixed dried fruit (currants, sultanas and a few dried cranberries) plus candied peel. But if you want to add nuts, cherries or anything else, then feel free. Spices and fresh citrus zest can also go in there if the mood takes you.

So give them a bash! Perfect to tuck into while you are watching the Royal Wedding on 29 April.

To make Chelsea buns (makes 9, can easily be doubled):

For the dough:

• 100g plain flour
• 125g strong white flour
• large pinch of salt
• 40g butter
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 120ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

• 100g dried fruit
• 25g candied peel, chopped
• 50g soft brown sugar

For the glaze:

• 25g brown sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 tablespoon milk

• Pinch of salt

Put the flours and salt in a bowl, and rub in the butter. Add the yeast, sugar, milk and egg. Start mixing with a spoon, then use your hands. Work for around 5 minutes, until you have a smooth dough. Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave somewhere warm until the dough has risen and is about double the size (30-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°C) and lightly grease a square tin with butter. Take the dough, knock it down, then on a floured worktop, roll out into a large rectangle.

Now prepare the filling: mix the fruit, candied peel and brown sugar in a bowl. Scatter evenly across the rolled dough. Roll up the dough like a swiss roll (roll lengthwise), seal the edge, and cut into 9 pieces. Arrange cut side down in the tin (the buns might not touch when you put them in the tin – this will change when the puff up, as in the pictures).

Leave the buns to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake for around 25-30 minutes until the buns are golden-brown. Just before the buns come out of the oven, melt the honey, sugar, salt and milk to make the glaze. Allow the buns to sit for a couple of minutes when the come out of the oven, then brush with the glaze. Leave to cool.

Worth making? If you like fruity breads, then you will like these buns. They are very easy to make (if you’ve got a bread machine, you make the first stage using the dough cycle). The result is rich, sweet, sticky and delicious.


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2 responses to “Sugar, spice and all things nice – Chelsea Buns

  1. Suryaprabha

    Some discoveries. I was just eating a chelsea bun and googled a bit and found out where I live and eat chelsea buns is yards from the ex-Chelsea Bun House. Bunhouse Place is a mews behind Linleys (he’s 14th in line so another royal connection) and, no it’s not in Pimlico, but Belgravia. The main road is indeed Pimlico Road more meaning “leads to Pimlico.”

    • That’s all very interesting – I don’t hang out in that part of London, so I’m never quite sure where one neighbourhood ends and another starts. Hope you enjoyed the buns nonetheless!

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