bun a term which has a more restricted meaning in Britain than in the USA, where it simply means a bread roll of some kind, sweet or savoury. British buns are sweeter and richer than plain breads, or than muffins or crumpets. The term has been used in English since the 15th century. It is derived from the old French bugne, ‘swelling’, referring to the bulging shape (this is from the same root as beignet). The word survives in French for a puffy fritter.
The following are a few of the many sorts of bun.
Bath bun. In the 18th century, the original Bath buns were made from a rich, brioche-like dough, strewn with caraway comfits. A similar bun is still made in the Bath area, from a rich yeast dough containing flour, butter, sugar, and eggs shaped into rounds with a lump of sugar under each. After baking, they are sprinkled with crushed lump sugar. Some recipes require candied peel, currants, or sultanas. Eighteenth-century ‘Bath cakes’ may have been the ancestors of both these and sally lunns. The popularity of such confections led to Bath buns being much copied, not always with the original delicacy.
Black bun is not a bun; see separate entry.
Chelsea bun, a square bun made from a spiral of yeast dough containing eggs and flavoured with grated lemon peel, ground cinnamon or sweet mixed spice. When the dough has risen for the first time, it is rolled out into a rectangle and a mixture of equal quantities of currants, brown sugar, and butter is spread over it. Folding, rolling, and re-rolling follow and the buns are glazed after being baked. These buns originated in the Bun House of Chelsea, which was built around the beginning of the 18th century. It enjoyed the patronage of the Hanoverian royal family and flourished until its demolition in 1839.
Colston buns, a speciality of Bristol in England, still made in that city, take their name from Sir Edward Colston (1636–1721), a Merchant Venturer. They are based on a lightly enriched yeast dough, flavoured with sweet spices, and contain a little dried fruit and candied peel. The ‘dinner-plate size’ is marked out into eight wedges; in the ‘ha’penny starver’ size they are small individual buns.
Hot cross bun, a round bun made from a rich yeast dough containing flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants, and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. In England, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday; they are marked on top with a cross, either cut in the dough or composed of strips of pastry. The mark is of ancient origin, connected with religious offerings of bread, which replaced earlier, less civilized offerings of blood. The Egyptians offered small round cakes, marked with a representation of the horns of an ox, to the goddess of the moon. The Greeks and Romans had similar practices and the Saxons ate buns marked with a cross in honour of the goddess of light, Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter. According to superstition, hot cross buns and loaves baked on Good Friday never went mouldy, and were sometimes kept as charms from one year to the next. Like Chelsea buns, hot cross buns were sold in great quantities by the Chelsea Bun House; in the 18th century large numbers of people flocked to Chelsea during the Easter period expressly to visit this establishment.
London bun, a finger-shaped bun made from a rich yeast dough which may include currants, and sometimes caraway seeds. The bun is topped with white sugar icing after baking. The way in which the icing spreads out prompted an alternative name, ‘candlegrease buns’.
Saffron buns are discussed under saffron cake.
© the Estate of Alan Davidson 1999, 2006, 2014 © in the Editor’s contribution to the second and third editions, Oxford University Press 2006, 2014.