I love Chelsea buns. My family loves them too. My dad has jokingly banned my family from calling them “Chelsea” buns; something to do with football club rivalries between Chelsea and Arsenal… But that hasn’t stopped him tucking into many a bun!
The Chelsea bun is a type of currant bun that was invented around 1700 at the Old Chelsea Bun House between Chelsea and Pimlico in London, hence the name. It is said that on the day they were introduced, 50000 people queued up outside the shop to buy one! The Bun House had many royal patrons such as Kings George II and George III and other members of the aristocracy. In his 1855 Curiosities of London, John Timbs states that George II often visited with his whole family. Due to this royal connection, the bakery became known as the Royal Bun House.
However, the buns were popular with working class people as well as royalty. The popularity of the Chelsea Bun led to many other bakeries in the area creating their own versions. Despite its popularity, Chelsea Bun sales declined from the beginning of the 19th century, especially after the closure of the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens, which had been an important source of customers for the Bun House. The bakery was closed in 1839 and a new one built in its place.
Sweet and sticky, full of currants and spice and shaped into an attractive spiral, they are a perfect treat to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee. The bun is made with an enriched yeast dough which is rolled out, covered with dried fruit, brown sugar and butter, and then folded, rolled and cut into pieces. The buns are torn apart to serve and much of the joy of these buns is unravelling them as you eat them! You can use a bread-maker to make the dough (which is what I did) but it is also possible (although admittedly more time-consuming) to make it without. They do take a lot more effort than, say, a sponge cake, but they’re worth it, trust me.
- 500g bread flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 50g softened butter
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 225ml milk
- 1 egg
For the filling:
- 25g melted butter
- a handful of sultanas/raisins
- a handful of currants
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1tsp mixed spice
- In a breadmaker: Measure the flour into the bread machine pan, followed by the salt, sugar, yeast and butter in seperate corners. Pour in the milk and then add the egg. Start the machine using the basic dough setting.
- By hand: sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add the sugar. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the yeast. Melt the butter and milk together in a saucepan. Add this to the flour, and then add the egg. Stir until the mixture forms a dough. Tip the dough into a floured work surface and knead for a couple of minutes. Place the dough in a bowl, cover the top with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Grease two loaf tins.
- Tip the dough onto a floured worksurface and knead it gently.
- Roll it out into a long, thin rectangle, about 25cm x 50cm.
- For the filling, melt the butter and brush it onto the dough.
- Sprinkle the mixed spice over the dough, followed by the dried fruit and then the brown sugar.
- Carefully roll the dough up like a swiss roll so you have a 50cm long roll of dough .
- Cut the roll in half, then cut each half into eight buns.
- Place eight buns in each tin with the swirls facing upwards.
- Cover in cling film or with a slightly damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes, or until the buns have doubled in size.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200c.
- Bake the buns in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove from the tins straight away and cool on a wire rack.