Mum was visiting recently so, as always, this meant trying something out in the kitchen. She suggested we try Chelsea Buns and as I had never made them before this seemed like great idea – she had me at bun!
The Chelsea bun is a type of currant bun, akin to a cinnamon role, that was first created in the 18th century at the Bun House in Chelsea, London. The yeast dough is rolled out into a rectangle, spread with currants and then rolled up and cut into the buns.
The old recipe we used was Mum’s from a 1954 edition of a Good Housekeeping cookbook, the same book I used for my hot cross bun recipe this Easter. The recipe actually said that the dough should be rolled into an ‘oblong’.
As mum and I discussed this, my 13 year-old daughter and her friend, who were watching us make the dough, looked at us with bemused expressions and asked, “What’s an oblong?” We were very tickled by this, as they really had no idea what an oblong is! Obviously rectangle is the noun of choice for this geometric shape these days!
Mum and I also discussed the fact that when this recipe was written it would have called for fresh yeast to be used. I remember mum buying yeast from the bakery when I was a child, sometime after 1954. She would bring it home in a small, white paper bag, the earthy smell of the yeast escaping through the opening.
Mum told me that one of her aunts would eat a knob of fresh yeast every day claiming it was good for the skin. I’ll stick to getting mine in bun form or from a dollop of Marmite! I used a package of dried yeast that is readily available in most US supermarkets and it worked a treat.
Traditionally the baked bun is coated with an icing sugar and water glaze that makes the bun sweeter. Eaten fresh out of the oven, perhaps will a little butter melting over, what could be better with your afternoon cup of tea?
They were really easy to make so give it a go!
4 oz/1 stick butter
¼ pint milk
4 oz/½ cup caster (superfine) sugar
½ oz/1 packet dried yeast
1 lb/3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
A little melted butter
3/4 cup currants
Melt the butter, add most of the milk. Reserve a heaped tablespoon of the sugar and add the remaining sugar to the butter and milk. Warm these ingredients together in a pan on the stovetop. Do not boil.
Cream the yeast with the rest of the milk. Beat the eggs. Sieve the flour, add the warmed ingredients and the creamed yeast to the flour, together with the beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. You can do this in a mixer with a dough hook or by hand.
Cover with a clean damp cloth and put to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. Turn the risen dough out and knead slightly.
Roll the dough into an oblong/rectangle, brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle the currants over and the remaining sugar and roll up. Cut slices 1 inch thick and place close together on a greased straight-sided tin.
Prove for 25 minutes.
Bake at 450 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until well risen and golden.
Brush with a sugar glaze.
Lucinda Sears is a British expat living in Massachusetts. She and her friend Donna started a business selling British items called The Bees Knees British Imports. You can also find The Bees Knees British Imports on Facebook and Twitter. Read more of Lucinda’s guest posts here.