[It’s] the best of all buns, on account of their melting buttery sweetness, and the fun of uncoiling them as you eat them. – Jane Grigson, English Food
Ha! There’s nothing like looking something up after it’s made, to find out its origins….
In the days before roller-milling, when all breads were wholemeal to varying degrees of fineness, and the finest flour was probably off-white or a pale fawn, the baker’s delicacies for the English gentry were the buns that bore the name of a town or district. London had the Chelsea bun and the London bun, while the city of Bath produced the mighty Bath bun, full of dried fruit and sprinkled with crushed sugar.
– Adrian Bailey, ‘Cousins Under the Crust’, The Blessings of Bread, p133
The Chelsea Bun is closely related to the Currant bun. In 1824 Duncan Higgins adapted Wigley’s currant bun recipe to create the classic Chelsea bun at his bakery close to the fashionable Chelsea district in London. It is rolled up like a cinnamon bun.
-Pamela Foster, Abbey Cooks Entertain, p.50
According to legend, on the first day that [the bun] was introduced by the Old Chelsea Bun House, 50,000 people queued up to buy one. […] [T]his spiced fruit bun, which was once an Easter speciality, spawned dozens of imitations. […] Related to the long-established fruit and cinnamon buns from which it’s inspired, this sweet, sticky treat is a square-ish form of currant bun first created [around 1700] at the Chelsea Bun House on the Chelsea/Pimlico borders. It’s a rare example of a food item associated with just one place.
– Sejal Sukhadwala, The Londonist | London Food History: Chelsea Buns
They’re the British version of a Danish pastry and were first invented in the Old Chelsea Bun House in London some time during the 1700s. This Chelsea bun recipe is enriched and often flavoured with lemon or spices; the classic filling is butter, brown sugar and dried vine fruits, and once baked, they’re glazed to make glistening spirals of light bread dough drenched in toffee-ish flavours or icing.
– Rachael Funnell, Emma Mitchell’s Apple and caramel Chelsea Bun recipe https://www.theenglishhome.co.uk/apple-caramel-chelsea-bun-recipe/
‘It is singular’, wrote sir Richard Phillips, an addict of the original Chelsea buns, ‘that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated […]‘
Sugary, spicy, sticky, square and coiled like a Swiss roll, the Chelsea bun as we now know is a pretty hefty proposition. […] [I]t is worth knowing the principle on which Chelsea buns are made. Recipes vary considerably in details, but the basic bun dough is fairly constant.
First prepare a simple bun dough, as for the Bath buns on p.480
– Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, p483