Whitby lemon buns


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

E. Botham & Sons from Whitby have been making Whitby buns and Whitby gingerbread since the 1860s. The company was started by Elizabeth Botham, who began selling her bakes at local markets to make ends meet. She was so famous for her bakes that she opened a shop and later also a tearoom. The company is still owned by the same family today and you can still enjoy an afternoon tea in the tearoom that Elizabeth founded.

Whitby lemon buns are made from the same dough as the Iced finger, but with added raisins or currants, lemon zest and a lemon glaze. The British store, Marks & Spencer, adds lemon curd as a filling, which is rather nice.

The buns are usually square from being baked in a baking tin that’s small enough that the buns touch when they expand in the oven, but sometimes you find them finger-shaped. Botham’s serves them with a generous amount of soft lemon icing. The icing in this recipe will become hard. For a softer version like Botham’s, add an extra teaspoon of water.


For the buns

  • 15 g (½ oz) dried yeast
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz) lukewarm full-fat milk
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 60 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 100 g ( oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 g ( oz) fine sea salt
  • zest of ½ lemon, grated
  • 150 g ( oz) raisins or currants

For the glaze

  • 200 g (7 oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 35 ml (1 fl oz) lemon juice


For a 39 x 27 cm (15½ x 10¾ inch) baking tin

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, baking powder 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, lemon zest and raisins or currants. 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 the baking tin with baking paper.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Take a piece of dough and lightly flatten it on your work surface, then pull the outer parts in like a purse and gently squeeze together like a dumpling so that the dough can no longer split open while rising. Turn the dough over so the squeezed ends are on the bottom. It should be nice and smooth on top – if not, flatten it and start again. Place in the baking tin and continue shaping the other buns, adding them to the tin to form neat rows.

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 210°C (410°F).

Bake the buns for 8-10 minutes until pale golden brown. Allow them to cool completely, then make the glaze by mixing the icing sugar with the lemon juice. Put the glaze in a piping bag and pipe a line on the top of each finger, then use a palette knife or the back of a spoon to smooth it out. I’ve decorated mine with dried marigold petals. You can freeze these buns before you glaze them, thaw and then pop them into a hot oven to revive them before adding the glaze.