As a family, we used to go on holiday every summer to stay with some friends who lived in North Devon. The tiny village where they lived in the stunning but slightly desolate Dartmoor national park consisted of a few houses and a high street with a post office and a traditional bakery. I used to look forward to these holidays massively as they meant playing on the nearby pebble beach on the very occasional sunny day, chasing my brother around the seemingly enormous house on the more frequent miserable rainy days and visiting the village bakery every day to buy Chelsea buns.
Despite not having them for years, I can still vividly remember how incredible these buns, which are similar to cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, were. The dough was soft and yeasty and spiralled around sultanas and raisins, generously coated with cinnamon and nutmeg. No Chelsea buns seem to ever compare to those from the Chudleigh village bakery. My dad once drove for two hours from Bath to North Devon to buy four of them for each of us.
Last year , we revisited the village and we hugely upset to find that the bakery had disappeared and that we would never again we able to get hold of our favourite Chelsea buns. I felt compelled to try and reincarnate the Chudleigh Chelsea buns, and after spending five months working at a bakery, I feel confident enough to even attempt to make something that comes close.
For the filling
100g or three and a half oz sultanas
65g or two and one quarter oz raisins
30g or one oz currants
130g or four and a half oz soft brown sugar
two teaspoons of cinnamon
a quarter teaspoon of ground allspice
100g or three and a half oz soft unsalted butter
For the dough
55ml lukewarm water
270g or nine and a half oz milk
one large egg, beaten
560g or one pound, three and three quarter oz strong white flour
65g or two and one quarter oz caster sugar
7g fast action or instant yeast
65g or two and one quarter oz unsalted butter
a teaspoon of salt
a little sunflower oil, for oiling surfaces and your mixing bowl
For this recipe, I used a food mixer with a dough hook attachment. If you don’t have a mixer and are keen on making these Chelsea buns, follow the mixing instructions but mix until the dough becomes smooth, give it a five minute knead and then fold it every fifteen minutes as with the mixer method
Firstly, preheat your oven to 170°C (fan oven)/ 180°C/ 350 Fahrenheit/ gas mark 4 and close all the doors and windows in your kitchen to prevent any draughts and grease and line the base of a twenty-five centimetre or ten inch square tin. You can also prepare your filling ahead of time by mixing together the dried fruit, soft brown sugar and spices.
Next, gently warm your water and milk together until they are body temperature and then tip these in the bowl of your food mixer. Add the beaten egg, followed by the flour, sugar and yeast. As you are using fast action yeast, there is no need to soak the yeast in warm water before you start mixing, whereas if you were using dried active yeast, you would need activate it by dissolving the yeast in warm liquid. Mix the ingredients on a low speed for two minutes, adding a little lukewarm water into the dough if it looks too dry. You want all of the flour to be incorporated into the dough and for it be smooth but not sticky. Once the dough has been mixing for two minutes, stop the mixer and add the salt and butter, broken up into small pieces.
Mixing the dough initially without the salt and fat will allow the gluten to form, with the egg providing extra strength to the dough allowing you to add more fat. The salt gives flavour and prevents the dough from becoming over mixed, where the gluten becomes to stretched and breaks, and the butter adds richness. When you have added the salt and soft butter, mix again for another minute on a low speed setting. The dough might look slightly sticky at this point but just make sure all the butter is incorporated and mix by hand if you feel the dough is just spinning around aimlessly on the dough hook of your mixer. If you feel the dough is too sticky to handle, then add a little flour and mix until the dough becomes smooth. Allow the dough to sit for five minutes, which will allow the dough to relax and let the water absorb into the flour.
After this five minutes, mix the dough a slightly faster speed for another three minutes. This will give the dough a little knead to develop the gluten structure and ensure your dough is lovely and smooth. Instead of kneading the dough in the machine for around eight minutes which is pretty standard for bread baking, I have opted for only kneading in the machine for three minutes and developing the dough structure through folding. Using this method will ensure the dough doesn’t overprove, where the gluten strands become to long and gas in the dough tears them, ruining all your hard work in making the Chelsea buns. Folding does however mean that you need to stick around the dough as it will need folding every fifteen minutes, although this will only take about a minute each time, giving you fourteen minutes to do what you like with. Regularly folding the dough means that it is degassed and can’t overprove, and that the gluten chains are aligned parallel to each other, giving the dough an even better structure, which will be laminated a bit like a proper puff pastry.
Once the dough has been mixed, tip it out onto surface lightly oiled with sunflower oil and wash and oil your mixing bowl ready for the bread to prove in. Washing the bowl will prevent the dough sticking to any little bits of dough stuck to the bowl. Now for your first fold. Spread the dough out in to a square, a thin and even as possible, lifting it off the work surface and placing it back down, after a little stretch, to prevent it from sticking. Once you have a large square of dough, fold the bottom edge up two thirds, then fold the top edge down on top to create a long thin rectangle. Make sure you squeeze out as much air as you can as this will help to give you a great structure. Next fold the left hand side over two thirds of the rectangle, and then fold the right hand edge over the top of this, again squeezing out as much air you can. Turn this little rectangle over and place it into your clean, oiled mixing bowl and allow the dough to sit for another fifteen minutes before folding again.
Repeat this process until the dough has been folded three times and leave the dough for another fifteen minutes to relax before it is shaped. Once again, tip the dough out onto your lightly oiled surface, and spread/stretch it out to form a rectangle, sixty-eight centimetres by twenty-eight centimetres or twenty-seven inches by eleven inches. You don’t need to try and stretch it to this size right away, it’s better to stretch the dough in stages, allowing it rest a little in between to prevent tearing the structure. Spread the rectangle evenly with the soft butter for the filling and then sprinkle over the fruit, sugar and spice mixture, going right to the edges on three sides and leaving two centimetres or an inch on on the long sides.
Roll the dough like a Swiss roll, keeping the roll nice and tight and rolling towards the side with the gap on the edge. Once you have a long roll of dough, cut it into nine pieces, each measuring eight centimetres or three inches, and place these side by side in your greased tin, so that the spirals face upwards and the Chelsea buns are evenly spread about in the tin. Squash the spirals down a little so that there are gaps of a centimetre or so in between the buns and then allow them to prove in your warm kitchen for around an hour, covered over with a damp tea towel. The damp tea towel will help to keep the dough moist while it proves, which will accelerate this final prove, and prevent a skin from forming, which would stop the buns from proving properly. Once the buns have doubled in size and the dough springs back after a gentle prod, bake the buns in your preheated oven for about thirty five mintues. While they cook, you can prepare a glaze for the top of the buns.
Ingredients for the glaze
Two tablespoons of milk
Two tablespoons of caster sugar
Place the milk and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, swirling the pan around to keep the heat even. Once boiling, turn down the heat and gently simmer for two to three minutes. Give the buns a turn after about twenty-five minutes and check they haven’t browned too much. When cooked, the tops of the buns will be brown and crisp, with the dough coming away from the sides of the tin. As with all breads, you can check the Chelsea buns are cooked by testing for a hollow sounding tap on the bottom. Once cooked, tip them out on a cooling rack and brush the tops with the glaze. Glazing while hot will slightly soften the top crust and allow the glaze to soak in. Allow the buns to cool for an hour before breaking into individual Chelsea buns and enjoy.