Chelsea Buns

I've been putting off writing about Chelsea Buns for a while now, because sticky sweet and filled with raisins just doesn't do it for me.

Especially not if there are glace cherries anywhere near the mixture as there seem to be frequently in my local supermarket.

Do yo want to know what changed my mind?

History and my tattered collection of Georgette Heyer books... pathetic, right? Never mind, I can't keep away from history for long - and why would I want to?

Chelsea Buns are an 18th century invention, made famous by the Chelsea Bun House in London. The precise location of the famous bakery - which was around until 1839 - got lost over time, but Pimlico seems a fair bet.

Close by were the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens - a favourite 18th century hangout for everyone from kings to shady characters - and it's said that both King George II and King George III would stop at the Chelsea Bun House to stock up with comestibles before a night on the tiles.

I've even located a book about it, should you like to take your historical excavation further than Georgette Heyer.

So what about those Chelsea Buns, then ...
Well, they're meant to be buttery and sticky, and honey-sweet .. and exceedingly more-ish. And glace cherries are NOT mentioned anywhere that I could find.

I'd almost suggest that they'd be better made at home, but they do take a little while and a bit of effort. The right thing for a rainy Sunday, in fact. Just remember that they're best eaten on the day they're made. So either take it easy at breakfast time, or invite a few friends round to help you demolish your creations.


Chelsea Buns © Luis Solis

Ingredients

This quantity makes about 9 Chelsea Buns ... just about as many as I can fit on my baking tray. If you have a bread machine handy, you can make the dough in that. Mine even has a recipe for it ....

For the dough:
  • 9 oz / 225g plain flour
  • 1 oz / 25g butter
  • 1 oz / 25g caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 sachet of easy blend dried yeast
  • 3 fl oz / 75ml warm milk
  • 1 egg
For the filling and topping:
  • 2 oz / 50g melted butter
  • 5 oz / 125g currants
  • 3 oz / 75g dark brown sugar
  • golden syrup
  • 9 oz / 225g icing sugar
  • 3-4 tbsp hot water

Preparation

If you're using a bread machine, put in all the ingredients for the dough and let it run on the dough setting until done.

Otherwise sift the flour and salt and rub in the butter before adding the sugar and yeast.

Beat the egg and milk together and add to the dry ingredients.

Mix to a soft dough, then turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Add a little more flour or milk if you need to adjust the consistency.

Return dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise. You're ready to continue if the dough has roughly doubled in size. Depending on the warmth of your kitchen, this can take as little as one hour - or as much as two and a half!

Once your dough is risen (or when you're bread machine tells you to) turn it out onto a board and roll it into a large rectangle, about 40cm x 30cm (12in x 16in).

Brush all over with the melted butter and sprinkle with the currants and brown sugar.

Roll up your dough, and then cut it into 9 slices with a sharp knife.

Arrange the buns on a greased baking tray, leaving a little space between them.

Cover again and leave to rise until the gaps between the buns have disappeared and they look nicely risen.

While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 220°C / 450°F / gas 7.

Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown. As soon as they're out of the oven brush your Chelsea buns all over with golden syrup, before placing them on a wire rack to cool.

Mix the icing sugar with the hot water into a thinnish paste and spread it over the buns with a knife.

Leave to cool completely before digging in!