[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
With the Chief Inspector always nearby to check for ingredient quality, here’s how things went with making these doughnuts:
BBB Anniversary Stuffed Chelsea Buns diary:
18 December 2018, 08:31 Whoa!!! That looks complex! But, thank goodness you’ve given permission to reshape however we want to make it more fitting for February. (Why am I suddenly thinking about chocolate and roses? DOES rosewater even go with chocolate?)
Is it just me, or is Paul Hollywood pretty much out of his mind? (I keep thinking of those naan of his we made back in 2010 – the ones that probably got me in so much hot water with the BBBabes because I was so insulting about the recipe.)
Looking at the two recipes, I cannot believe that the mincemeat buns don’t have sugar in them but the Turkey stuffed buns do. (Is it just me, or is Paul Hollywood pretty much out of his mind?)
If I were using the turkey stuffing, I’d be inclined to use the bread dough that DOESN’T have sugar. But maybe that’s just me.
Of course, Tanna has already given us permission to do whatever we want, so it’s a moot point, isn’t it?
20 December 2018, 15:56 I searched on Netflix Canada and, as surprising as it is considering that Canada is in the Commonwealth and has the same queen as the UK, the Great British Baking Show is not available here. I know that it has been shown on one of our PBS channels but who knows what time it’s on – IF it’s still on.
14 February 2019, 14:46 Oh dear. It’s high time to make BBB anniversary bread, isn’t it? I don’t know why I am so reluctant! Maybe it’s my deep seated prejudice against Paul Hollywood for his past transgression to add curry powder to naan. [eww] Or perhaps it is that I cannot get out of my head that the fillings for the original recipe were intended to be mixed higgledy-piggledy, sweet and savoury – to mimic the wildly different decorations on a Christmas tree.
I know that T wants me to make cinnamon buns. But that seems so ordinary, doesn’t it?
So. What about cranberry sauce? Would that work, I wonder?
SO being Babes why don’t we take that Christmas tree and make it our own. Shape Shifters that we are … or is that recipe shifters that we are?
– Tanna, message to BBBabes
Taking Tanna’s challenge to heart, I have decided that I’m NOT going to use either of Paul Hollywood’s bread recipes. Eggs are at a premium right now – with these wild weather fluctuations, the chickens are on strike at the farm we get our eggs from. I’m NOT wasting eggs in bread dough!
Instead, I’ll make our usual Tartine Country Bread recipe. Maybe I’ll add a little oil. Then again, maybe I won’t….
23:13 I’ve mixed the leavener and it is happily sitting in the oven with only the light turned on. I still haven’t decided if I’ll add a little oil or not. Or should I substitute some of the water with a bit of yoghurt?
Ha! I love being given permission to do shape/recipe shifting!
15 February 2019, 09:55 It’s always so thrilling when the leavener floats! I’ve mixed the dough and will add the salt in about 40 minutes.
In keeping with this brilliant shape/recipe shifting plan, I substituted a little butter and yoghurt for the water in Robertson’s recipe.
12:25 I just turned the dough – it’s beautiful! As I stretched and folded, I continued to waffle about what I’d fill the buns with. Am I really going to make cranberry sauce? Or will I just grate some aged cheddar?
Earlier, I consulted with T to say that I was thinking about using cranberry instead of cinnamon/sugar/butter, he said, “sure”. And just now I asked what he thought about cheddar instead, and he said, “okay” and to do what I thought would work.
What to do. What to do….
12:56 As I came upstairs after folding the dough just now, again I said that I couldn’t decided what filling to use.
T: [calling hopefully] Cinnamon! [calling louder]
With lots of butter!
I’m still waffling….
14:39 I’ve decided at last! Because I can’t decide which filling to use, I’m going to use all three!
Just before rolling up the cinnamon version, I threw on a few Thompson raisins.
16:18 I was just in the process of putting on the 3rd filling and happily showed T the shaped buns with the other two fillings. Alas, he was unable to make out the stunning (errrm… stunned??) design of the two Bs.
There are now three B’s (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) rising in the oven with only the light on to be baked in about an hour.
I’m pretty excited! There were nice little bubbles in the dough as I rolled out each rectangle.
17:07 I’m very excited now! The oven is preheating.
17:46 They’re puffing!! They’re puffing!! …10 more minutes, I think.
18:02 Not done yet. They’re still too blonde. Kathryn Hawkins would NOT approve if we took them out of the oven now.
CHELSEA BUN: A loose spiral bun with fruit and spice, squared off at the sides. It is well baked and golden, and sugar crusted. Chelsea buns have been known since the eighteenth century and were originally sold from a cooks’s shop known as the Bun House, situated in London’s Chelsea.
-Kathryn Hawkins, Food of London: A Culinary Tour of Classic British Cuisine, p.26
18:24 Oops!! In my haste to get the other buns golden, the cheese buns are a little overdone now. And the three B’s can only be (sort of) deciphered by me.
Otherwise, though, these buns look and smell delicious. Sure, they may be a little dark on the bottoms and not quite up to Chelsea’s Bun House standards. Still, in spite of putting no eggs in the dough and not really following the recipe at all, I think I can safely say:
We tasted a couple of buns after dinner – T tried a cinnamon bun and I tried a cranberry bun.
Hmmm. They really are a little bit tough. I really like the sweet tartness from the cranberry. The buns taste good, even though they’re not the soft delicate buns that they probably should be….
But I have to say that I really love the chewiness.
We still haven’t tried the cheese buns. And now that I know what is SUPPOSED to go into a Chelsea bun, I’m kicking myself about using raisins in the cinnamon filling. If only we’d had actual dried currants!!
That was fun! Thank you for choosing shape/recipe-shifted Chelsea Buns, Tanna.
Here is the BBB recipe for Anniversary Chelsea Buns that we were given. And here is how I shape-shifted it:
BBB 3 flavours of Chelsea Buns
based on the recipes for ‘Basic Country Bread’ in “Tartine Bread” by Chad Robertson, and Paul Hollywood’s ‘Chelsea Bun Christmas Tree’ from The Great British Baking Show
makes 33 small buns:
Leavener and refreshing the starter
- dessert spoonful bubbling wheat starter from the fridge
- 65gm 100% whole wheat flour
- 65gm water at body temperature
- 115gm of the above mixture (the rest goes back into the jar in the fridge)
- flour (as of I’m ever going to use just one kind of flour….)
» 450g unbleached “no additives” all-purpose flour
» 50g “no additives” 100% whole wheat flour
» 5g wheat germ
» 7g malted wheat chops
» 5g buckwheat flour
- 20g unsalted butter, softened
» 25g plain yoghurt (3% butter-fat)
» 325g room temperature water
- 10g salt
- 25g water at body temperature
- unsalted butter, melted
- 1 dried cayenne chili, seeded and chopped finely
- aged cheddar, grated
- cranberry sauce (please see our recipe here)
- unsalted butter, melted
- unsalted butter, melted
- brown sugar
- scant sprinkling of salt
- Thompson raisins
- leavener: On the evening before baking the buns, put the pre-dough ingredients into a largish bowl and using a wooden spoon, mix the pre-dough ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Remove all but 115 gm and mix into the jar in the fridge. Cover the bowl with the 115gm with a plate and leave overnight in the oven with only the light turned on.
- mixing the dough: When a small spoonful of the above floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the rest of the pre-dough. Put all but the salt and 25g water into a large mixing bowl along with the now bubbling leavener. Mix as well as you can with a wooden spoon or dough whisk. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter to rest for about 40 minutes. Chad Robertson says Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting period allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.
- adding the salt: Stir the salt (I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?) into the water in a little bowl and pour the salty water onto the dough.
- kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy. But persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. When it has returned to being a rough dough, put the dough onto an unfloured board (you don’t want to add more flour) and “slap and fold” it until it forms a smoothish ball. (See Richard Bertinet) Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
- stretching and folding: About 30 minutes after slapping and folding the dough, run your working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it’s a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You’ll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter for about 30 minutes.
- Repeat the above step 3 or 4 times (Robertson says to do this 4 times in all). Robertson writes [N]otice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough. […] A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be […] shaped
- prepare the fillings and the pan: Melt butter, chop dried chili, and grate cheese. Set aside in separate containers. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- shaping and adding the fillings: Scatter a dusting of wheat flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Cut it evenly in 3 pieces. cheese filling: Put 2 of the pieces back in the bowl and roll the first piece into a longish rectangle. Brush the surface with a thin layer of butter. Scatter grated cheddar overtop. Roll jellyroll-style the rectangle into a long tube. Use a bench knife to even cut the tube into eleven pieces. Place each one swirly side up on the edge of the pan: 5 pieces in a straight line and the other 6 pieces to fashion a B. cranberry filling: Take another piece of dough out if the bowl and roll it into a longish rectangle. Brush the surface with a thin layer of butter. Spoon cranberry sauce overtop, making sure that the cranberries are evenly spaced. Roll the dough rectangle jellyroll-style into a long tube. Use a bench knife to even cut the tube into eleven pieces. Forming another B, place each disc swirly side up beside the cheese buns. cinnamon filling: Take the last piece of dough out if the bowl and roll it into a longish rectangle. Slather the surface with too much butter. Sprinkle cinnamon and a hint of salt overtop. Scatter a good shot of brown sugar evenly over all. Roll the dough rectangle jellyroll-style into a long tube. Use a bench knife to even cut the tube into eleven pieces. Forming the final B, place each piece swirly side up on the right edge of the pan. Try not to be too upset that there isn’t quite enough room to make the letter actually look like a B.
- proofing: Cover the baking tray with a clean tea towel and put it in the oven with only the light turned on for about an hour, or until the buns have almost doubled.
- baking: Making sure that the rack is at the highest slot, preheat the oven to 375F.
- When the oven has preheated, put the tray on the top rack (to prevent burning on the bottom) and immediately turn the oven down to 35F. Bake for a total of 40 – 50 minutes, turning the tray around half way through to account for uneven heat in the oven.
- cooling: When the buns are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on a footed rack before serving; they are still baking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm buns (of course you do), reheat them after they have cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
:: leavener The leavener is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)
I know. Tanna suggested we make hearts because of Valentine’s Day on Thursday. But the idea of 3 hearts seemed wrong, and mixing those 3 fillings onto one heart also seemed not quite right.
Ha!! B’s weren’t quite right either, were they?
Happy Anniversary, BBBabes!
Speaking of hearts, T and I are both kicking ourselves that when we were looking for a new colander at the dollar store and noticed it in with all the other Valentine tcha-tchas, neither of us thought to sneak back to get the small mud green (!!) velour sort-of-heart shaped pillow with the felt letters L U V Y A pasted on the front. (Who thinks of manufacturing things like that?!)
Bread Baking Babes
BBB 11th Anniversary Chelsea Buns
11 years of baking together! BBBabes, let’s keep baking!
Tanna is the host of February 2019’s Anniversary Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:
I’ve been super saturating myself with the Great British Bake Off on Netflix and last night saw Paul Hollywood do his Chelsea Bun Christmas tree …
Yes I know Christmas will be long past in February. BUT it’s all hearts and cupid and LOVE in February. SO being Babes why don’t we take that Christmas tree and make it our own. Shape Shifters that we are … or is that recipe shifters that we are?
– Tanna, in message to BBBabes
We know you’ll want to make BBB Chelsea Buns too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the doughnuts in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 27 February 2019. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.
For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:
- BBB Kitchen of the month: Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups, February 2019 11th Anniversary Chelsea Buns
- BBBuddy guidelines
- about the BBBabes
Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ February 2019 Chelsea Buns.
- Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen: Egg Free Chelsea Buns
- Cathy, Bread Experience: Sourdough KAMUT Chelsea Buns #BreadBakingBabes
- Judy, Judy’s Gross Eats: Happy Eleventh Anniversary: Chelsea Buns
- Karen, Bake My Day: Italian Chelsea Buns
- Karen K, Karen’s Kitchen Stories: Pesto and Mozzarella Buns
- Katie (BBBBB), Thyme for Cooking: Bread Baking Babes Bake Buns! Chelsea Buns, that is
- Kelly, A Messy Kitchen: A BBB Bake from the Heart – Chelsea Buns
- Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms: Bread Baking Babes Go Hollywood – Paul, that is
- Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups: Chelsea Bun Valentine (kitchen of the month)
» And we have a new pet… (Jane Mason starter, July 2017)
» Tartine Bread: 3rd time’s the charm (and 4th and…) (Tartine Bread made with Jane Mason starter, August 2017)
» Brioche flower; or is it a star?? (BBB December 2014)
» Exploring my Celtic roots with Kouign Amann (BBB February 2015)
» not hot cross buns… cinnamon buns please (WTSIM…#4) (UofA Tuck Shop recipe)
» Banana Cinnamon Buns are delicious!
» Peachy! Jam Fan Tans (BBB January 2013)
» More Jalapeno Cheddar Buns Please…
» cheese pinwheels