The eyes of the world might be on London in anticipation of a certain new baby, but today saw another royal development across the English Channel in Belgium. Today is Belgian National Day, and after 20 years in the top job, King Albert II choose today as the moment to abdicate in favour of his eldest son Philippe. Hence the Brussels-themes header, complete with the Atomium.
To mark this, I’ve foregone the more familiar waffles or baked endive, and instead made a batch of Belgian Buns. Spirals of rich, yeasted dough, filled with sultanas and topped with icing and cherry.
The funny thing is that, in spite of their name, there does not seem to be any basis for linking these buns to Belgium. Indeed, a Belgian friend told me that while they have something similar, it is named after Switzerland (the couque suisse). In the same way that the Danes refer to Danish pastries as coming from Vienna. Sort of.
While Belgian Buns might not be big in the low countries, they are a favourites in Britain. That said, I was quite surprised about how few recipes there are in cookbooks or online for these tasty treats. I’ve actually used my recipe for Swedish cinnamon buns, but without the spices. The cinnamon butter is replaced with brown sugar and sultanas, and the buns are finished with a soft fondant icing and the traditional red cherry.
After making these buns, I realised that it has been a good few years since I’ve last enjoyed one of these little fellows, but I am very pleased with the result. The dough is rich and buttery, and allowing a decent amount of time for the dough to prove means the texture is very light and fluffy. The only little note of caution I would sound is that you should go easy on the icing – it’s very sweet, so unless you’ve got the sweetest of sweet teeth, you don’t want more than a drizzle.
So there we have it – some (fake) Belgian Buns for the coronation of the new Belgian King. And part of me thinks that it would be rather nice if these things are being served in the Royal Palace of Brussels today.
To make Belgian Buns (makes 12):
For the dough:
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 130ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 325g strong white flour
For the filling:
• 120g sultanas
• 30g brown sugar
For the glaze:
• 200g icing sugar
• 3 tablespoons boiling water
• 12 glacé cherries
1(a). If using a bread machine: put the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!
2(b). If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.
3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large square (around 25 x 25cm). Brush the surface with milk, then sprinkle the sultanas and brown sugar across the dough. Roll the dough into a fat sausage, then cut into 12 equal slices.
4. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.
5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden.
6. When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).
7. When the buns are cool, make the glaze. Combine the icing sugar and boiling water, mixing until smooth. Drizzle over each bun and top each one with a glacé cherry.
Worth making? These buns are amazing! Very easy to make and they really look impressive when stacked up high, either on the breakfast table or with morning coffee.