Sweetness and spice, baking and butter, Chelsea Buns have everything going for them. Get in and make them for Easter!
Yeast cookery requires commitment – allow 4 hours from go to whoa for these babies – but the rewards are well worth it. The oven will be emitting the most tempting smells imaginable, of sweetness and spice, baking and butter. You'll fall on the buns as soon as they come out of the oven, I bet. And, I reckon they should be eaten while still warm, though they're still pretty good split and toasted the next day.
1 Tbsp dried yeast
140ml (5 fluid ounces) whole milk
150g (5 ounces) caster sugar (superfine granulated sugar)
550g (1 pound 4 ounces) high-grade flour (bread flour), plus a little extra for kneading
1 tsp salt
150g (5 ounces) butter, softened
4 medium (size 6) free-range eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
120g (4 ounces) currants (if currants are dry, soak in hot water for 30 minutes, drain and dry off)
Finely grated zest 1 lemon
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
To finish, icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar), or a simple lemon icing made by blending ½ cup icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) and a scant Tbsp of lemon juice, or sufficient to form a pouring icing
1 Heat milk in a jug (pitcher) until it feels warms to the little finger. Sprinkle yeast granules over milk, then sprinkle 1 Tbsp of the measured caster sugar on top. Leave to dissolve for 5 minutes, then stir from time to time until yeast is dissolved (about 10 minutes). When it is ready it will have a slightly frothy cream on top.
2 Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in HALF the butter, then add HALF the remaining sugar. Beat eggs together in a bowl, then blend with the milk and yeast. Add to flour mixture, mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon, then with your hand. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 10 minutes; you should not need any extra flour – it will be sticky and impossible to knead initially, but with a bit of patience, it will become smooth and slightly oily.
3 Form dough into a ball and put it in a warmed buttered china bowl. Turn dough to coat with butter. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic food wrap and leave dough a warm spot until doubled in bulk (about 1½ hours).
Punch the dough down with your fist to deflate it, then shape it into a ball again. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth or plastic food wrap and leave it to double in bulk again (about 45 minutes).
4 Turn dough onto a floured board and pat it into an oblong approximately 15cm/6” wide by 40cm/16” long. Dot two-thirds of the dough nearest you with the remaining butter, keeping it in from the edges. Fold the top third of dough towards you to cover half the buttered dough, then fold the top half of the dough over the buttered portion of dough (the unbuttered layer will be in the centre). It sounds complicated, but it is easier once you are doing it!
5 Roll out again to 30cm square, dabbing any exposed patches of butter with a little flour. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and the spice, currants and lemon zest. Roll up like a Swiss roll.
6 Cut into 12 slices with a sharp thin bladed knife. Put buns in a Swiss roll tin (jelly-roll pan) measuring about 30cm/12” long by 21cm/8-9” wide, first lined with baking (parchment) paper. Place in a warm spot, cover with a damp cloth and leave until well risen and touching (about 30 minutes). Sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.
7 Bake in an oven preheated to 210°C (400°F) for about 20 minutes. Serve warm dusted with icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) or drizzled with lemon icing, and accompanied by butter if you dare.
If making bread and sweet buns is something you enjoy doing, get yourself set up with a decent bowl. I’ve had my classic Mason Cash bowl for 30 years and it is just the ticket because it is nice and roomy, and china holds the heat well so keeps the dough warm and aids rising. Conversely, it is perfect for pastry, too, because if you chill it with cold water first (then dry it) it will keep the pastry cool during mixing.
All photography on this page is by the talented Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com