Chelsea buns have been on my 'To Make' list for ages.
They're a very British bun - invented in London, at the Bun House in Chelsea, in the 18th century. A Chelsea bun is essentially a bit like a cinnamon bun - soft enriched bread stuffed with butter, brown sugar, warm spices and orange-infused dried fruit. They're also highly addictive, just like their cinnamon cousin.
Aside from the fact that Mum loves them, I kept on hearing about them in relation to Fitzbillies, the Cambridge institution famous for its signature Chelsea buns. It was recently saved from closure by Tim Hayward (a food writer who runs the wonderful Fire & Knives) and his wife, Al. You can read the story
here - it all started with a tweet! I haven't tasted their buns yet, but when I next find myself in tabland I'll definitely seek
So I felt I had to try my hand at making some. Apart from anything else, I seem to be obsessed with dried fruit and spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger - at the moment. If you're not on a dried fruit kick, you could always make Super Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls...
I decided to adapt Peter Reinhart's recipe for cinnamon buns - his recipes always seem to give amazing results. The bread itself came out very soft, fluffy and full of flavour. I rolled it chunky and thick as it seems to help the bread be light instead of getting a bit leathery. I only used sultanas as that's what I had on hand - but raisins, currants or a mixture would be just as good.
Chelsea buns are traditionally square - a fact I conveniently forgot until they had already risen to full puffy glory and couldn't be touched for fear of squishing. If you arrange them in a square grid I imagine they would expand to fill the shape.
I actually love how irregular these are - all odd shapes and ungainly limbs. They're perfect in their imperfection, homemade to the core of each swirl.
(Dough adapted from the cinnamon rolls in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, filling inspired by Delia's Book of Cakes)
For the dough:
80g granulated sugar
70g unsalted butter
5g (1 tsp) fine sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
400g white bread flour plus extra for dusting/adjusting
250ml milk, at room temperature
16g fresh yeast (crumbled) or 2 tsp instant yeast
a little flavourless oil
For the filling:
1/2 orange, juice and zest
75g unsalted butter, soft
75g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of fine sea salt
For the glaze:
30g caster sugar
1.5 tbsp water
strip of orange rind
To start the dough, cream the sugar, butter, salt and zest together with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Scrape down the sides then add the egg and combine. Add the flour, yeast and 200ml of the milk (you may need more to adjust the dough, but start with 200). Combine on a low speed until the dough comes together. If it is very wet, add a bit more flour. If dry, add more milk (keep in mind that some moisture will be absorbed during kneading).
Change to the dough hook then knead for 10 minutes (about 15 by hand, but it will be very sticky for hand kneading). By the end it should be smooth, silky and tacky - not too sticky - to the touch. Take a little ball out of the mix and do a windowpane test (with floured fingers stretch the ball outwards, smoothing it thinner and thinner. If you can make it thin enough to see your fingers through the dough without it ripping then it's ready - but this does take practice!).
Lightly oil a big bowl (your mixer bowl will be fine, it doesn't need to be cleaned) and place the dough inside, turning it so it is oiled all over. Cling film the top and leave to rise for 1hr30-2hrs until doubled. Sit the dried fruit in a bowl with the juice of the half orange and leave to steep, stirring occasionally if you're nearby.
When the dough is nearly ready, cream the butter, brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt together. Tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled table and punch down. Roll out into a fairly thick and even rectangle of about 45 by 22cm (18" by 9"). Spread the rectangle with the buttery mix. Drain off any excess orange juice from the fruit then sprinkle them evenly over the rectangle. Tightly roll the dough up from the long edge, moving along the bottom, then zigzagging from side to side. Finish with the seam on the bottom.
Use a sharp knife to slice the dough log into 12-16 pieces (I had 13 - a baker's dozen!). Place onto a lined baking sheet, leaving 1-2cm in between each round. Loosely cover with cling film then leave to rise at room temperature for 75-90 minutes or until the buns have puffed up to fill the gaps and nearly doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown - in some of the thicker sections you might also get a hollow noise when tapped. While they're baking combine the sugar, water and rind together and heat until clear. Leave to infuse then when the buns are fresh out of the oven, brush the syrup over the tops. Leave to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then remove to a rack.
(Makes 12-16 buns)