Chelsea buns

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    24

    buns

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About
Chelsea buns were sold in The Chelsea Bun House in London as far back as 1711. They may be considered the first sweet confection that people ever queued for in masses, just to get their hands on a bun or two. It might not be as modern as a cronut or a freakshake, but the Chelsea bun managed to live through the ages without being forgotten along the way. Today it is still the bun you see most frequently sold in bakeries, although it’s getting some competition from the Scandinavian cinnamon bun.
Chelsea buns are made from a rich yeast dough and must have a square shape, with a circular spiral dotted with currants. The pleasure of unrolling them while you eat them and tearing the dough is addictive. The size of the baking tins is important to ensure that the buns touch one another and push each other into a square shape. The trick to making the best Chelsea bun is to roll out the pastry as thinly as you can manage.

Ingredients

For the buns

  • 30 g (1 oz) dried yeast
  • 600 ml (21 fl oz) lukewarm milk
  • 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) strong white bread flour
  • 120 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 140 g (5 oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 10 g (¼ oz) fine sea salt
  • flour, for dusting

For the filling

  • 450 g (1 lb) butter, at room temperature
  • 285 g (10 oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 350 g (12 oz) currants

For the sugar syrup

  • 60 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 5 tbsp water caster (superfine) sugar, for sprinkling

Method

For two 39 x 27 cm (15½ x 10¾ inch) baking tins

Add the yeast to the lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the butter on top. Pour half of the yeast mixture over the butter and start kneading. When the milk and butter are completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture, along with the eggs. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it stand for a few minutes (at this point the dough will be very wet). Add the salt and knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and side of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and elastic dough that is not too dry but also not terribly wet.

Cover the dough and set aside for 1 hour until it has doubled in quantity.

Meanwhile, make the filling by whipping the butter with the sugar, cinnamon and salt until creamy.

Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F) and line the baking tins with baking paper.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a rectangle that’s about 60 x 95 cm (24 x 37½ inches) and 2 mm (1/16 inch) thick (or as thin as possible). Place the dough in front of you horizontally. Cover the top half with a third of the filling, then fold the bottom half over the filling. Roll over the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it out.

Spread the whole surface of the dough with the remaining filling, dot with the currants and roll up lengthways to make a long roll. Cut the roll into 5 cm (2 inch) slices and place in the baking tins with the spiral facing upwards and a little space in between each bun. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the buns are golden brown.

Prepare the syrup while the buns are baking by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the buns with the sugar syrup as soon as they come out of the oven and sprinkle with caster sugar. The buns are best eaten on the day they’re made, but they can be revived in a hot oven for a few minutes the next day or you can freeze the baked buns, thaw and then pop them in a hot oven for a few minutes.