Belgian buns, 20th century


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For



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

The name of these buns is very amusing for a Belgian like me, because you don’t see them in Belgium at all. The first time I saw these buns at a bakery in Oxford I had to ask the shop assistant what a Belgian bun was and why they think they are Belgian. Of course, there was no answer, because these buns have been sold for more than a century and nobody remembers where they come from. The 19th-century version of this bun is more like a rock cake and you’ll find the recipe.

We do have a similar pastry in Belgium, but it is made with laminated dough and, although it has a modest amount of icing, the glacé cherry is missing. I think Belgian buns look cheerful, and when I see them lying in rows of two in the bakery window, I always have to smile.

As there is no strict recipe, every bakery makes these buns from their basic bun dough, and so do I.


For the buns

  • 7 g ( oz) dried yeast
  • 120 ml ( fl oz) lukewarm full-fat milk
  • 275 g ( oz) strong white bread flour
  • 30 g (1 oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 60 g ( oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • flour, for dusting

For the filling

  • 3 tbsp lemon curd
  • 120-150 g (4¼-5½ oz) currants, soaked for 1 hour in water or brandy, drained

For the glaze

  • 200 g (7 oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 3 tbsp water

For decoration

  • 3 glacé cherries, halved


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 egg. 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, line a baking tray with baking paper.

Shape the dough into a rectangle on a floured work surface and roll it out until it measures about 25 x 35 cm (10 x 14 inches). Spread the lemon curd over the dough and sprinkle it with the currants. Roll up the dough from the short side like a Swiss roll.

Cut the dough into six equal parts with a serrated knife and place on the baking tray with the spirals facing upwards.

Cover the tray of buns with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 1 hour or until the buns have doubled in size. Towards the end of the resting time, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Bake the buns in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Let them cool completely while you make the glaze by mixing the icing sugar with the water.

Apply a layer of glaze to the cooled buns and finish with half a glacé cherry.

You can freeze these buns before you ice them, thaw and then pop them into a hot oven to revive them before adding the glaze.