These small buns were once found in both Cornwall and Devon. The recipes are almost the same, but the splits from Cornwall are larger. A Cornish split spread with treacle (or molasses) is known as ‘thunder and lightning’. In her 1932 book, Good Things in England, Florence White recommends rubbing the splits with a buttered piece of paper after baking to make them shine and then wrapping them in a tea towel to keep them warm. The splits are best served fresh from the oven. When they cool, they lose their airiness, but then they can certainly still serve as regular white buns. The name ‘split’ tells us that the buns must be split open for the filling.
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. 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 then 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 two baking trays with baking paper.
Briefly knead the dough and divide it into 16 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 the bun on the baking tray and continue shaping the other buns.
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,
These buns are best eaten straight from the oven. When cooled and left for a few hours they become perfect little buns for lunch, but less suitable as an afternoon tea treat as they become heavier as they cool. You can also freeze the baked buns, thaw and then pop them in a hot oven for a few minutes to revive them.
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