“Give her a Chelsea bun, miss! That’s what most young ladies like best!” The voice was rich and musical, and the speaker dexterously whipped back the snowy cloth that covered his basket, and disclosed a tempting array of the familiar square buns, joined together in rows, richly egged and browned and glistening in the sun.” — Lewis Carroll, A Tangled Tale
Sticky, swirly, raisiny. What’s not to love about a Chelsea bun?Any English bakery worth its crust will have at least a small basket of plumpcious yeasted Chelsea buns to tempt passersby. Bigger than the average fist these light, sweet pillows of sugar and dried fruits have been around as a treat since the 1700s. Not the same ones, obviously. The history of the Chelsea bun is murky but it is most frequently compared to the much older, and less sweet, hot cross bun.
Hot cross buns are a bit ubiquitous in British supermarkets and bakeries from about mid February to the end of April. But to my mind the softer Chelsea bun, with its invitation to unravel its twist of risen dough, is much the superior bun.
Of course I cannot hope to compete with a classic. I won’t even try. But I thought it would be fun to take the idea of the twisted yeast dough and subvert it. With salt – Marmite, cheese, dukkah, preserved lemon, za’atar. Savoury Chelsea buns.
I really didn’t know if this would work or not but as I kept the proportions of liquid to dry the same as most sweet buns, I knew I would at least be in the ballpark, if not actually sliding into home plate. Thankfully, unlike some of my baking inventions (which you will never see, unless you peek in my rubbish bin), this one was a keeper. I hope you like the idea of it.
The dough is very user friendly and doesn’t stick like superglue to the worktop, or snap back as soon as you attempt to roll it. I can see it being filled with all manner of things – crumbled cooked spicy veggie or meat sausages; softly sautéed chard and mushrooms; chopped toasted nuts, nutritional yeast and herbs; chopped hard-boiled eggs and bacon for a kind of breakfast bun thing – loads of potential here. Anything you might envelope in puff pastry would probably go well in this soft, childishly peelable dough.
The recipe is easy but does need two rises, so this isn’t going to be something you knock up and eat straight away. I did do a batch one evening to make the next day, putting it in the fridge to slowly rise overnight. It was absolutely fine this way, so don’t be put off making it partially ahead. And once made these keep for several days, rewarming them for five minutes or so to refresh them.
They are great as they are, with a mezze, with soup, as the starch with dinner, for breakfast with eggs or greens. I have made them quite a bit smaller than typical sweet Chelsea buns: for the same volume and weight of dough you would get nine with the traditional recipe, whereas I give you about 12-20. Mean, aren’t I? Adjust to suit yourself, of course. I aimed for American dinner roll size.
Slick, swirly and oh so savoury. What’s not to love about the Chelsea bun?
Last year: Quick Hot Chocolate Sauce with Iced Berries
Two years ago: Savoury Beetroot and Cheese Loveheart Scones
Three years ago: Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes (my first post!)
Miss R’s track of the week: Tensnake’s cover of Nile Rodgers and Fiora’s Love Sublime
Being a lover of savoury flavours I couldn’t resist turning the idea of the sweet, currant-stuffed Chelsea bun on its head.
I’ve given you two fillings to choose from. Or do as I do and make both in one batch. First, a decidedly British filling of Marmite – that love or hate yeasty condiment, Cheddar cheese and softly sautéed olive oil leeks. And then a very simple melting leek, preserved lemon and dukkah one that gives a respectful bow to the Middle East. Add crumbled best goats cheese or feta to the latter if you so desire, but perhaps ditch the preserved lemon. The beautifully malleable dough will, I hope, inspire other, more personal, flavour ideas from you. Let me know what you come up with. I am already dreamily spinning ideas.
500g flour (I used Sharpham Park spelt flour with truly fantastic results)
7g dried, active yeast (the kind that doesn’t need activating first)
200ml yogurt + 50ml semi-skimmed milk OR all milk (yogurt gives a softer texture) – warmed but not hot
100ml olive oil
½ tbsp sugar or honey (I used coconut sugar)
1 ½ tsp salt
400g leeks (trimmed weight), chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter/vegan butter (or all olive oil)
100g grated strong Cheddar cheese or equivalent (you want something punchy)
2 ½ – 3 tbsp Marmite, warmed so it is very easy to spread (I mixed mine with a little olive oil to warm)
‘Middle Eastern’ Filling
200g leeks (trimmed weight), chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter/vegan butter (or all olive oil)
Preserved lemon – 2 heaped tablespoons of finely diced rind
100g feta or goat’s cheese, crumbled (optional)
Extra olive oil to drizzle over the just-baked Chelsea buns
1. To make the dough I used a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook (my trusty Kitchen-Aid), putting all of the dough ingredients straight into the bowl and mixing on medium speed just until the dough lifted off from the base and clung to the hook – about four minutes. Otherwise mix together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the warmed yogurt/milk and the oil. Mix with one hand (I favour making a claw shape), holding the bowl with the other. Or you could use a wooden spoon, missing out on the messy fun. Turn and mix until you have a sticky, well-mixed dough.
2. Turn the tacky dough out onto a floured surface and knead until elastic and silky smooth. It should pull easily from the kneading surface when ready. Wipe the mixing bowl, rub in a dod of oil, and pop the dough back into it. Cover and leave to double in size.
3. While the dough is rising, sauté the leeks for your chosen filling. I sautéed them over a low-ish flame, stirring fairly frequently, for about five minutes.
4. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle about 60cm x 40cm – more or less. It is pretty big.
5. If you are opting for the British filling, spread over the warmed and emollient Marmite then top with the leeks and cheese – leave the briefest of margins on the long side furthest from you. For the Middle Eastern filling spread over the glossy, sautéed leeks and top with the remaining ingredients.
6. Brush the furthest edge with water and carefully and slowly roll up the dough, starting from the long end closest to you. Keep it fairly tight, but not mashing the filling. Smooth down the joining edge with a spoon or wet finger. I lightly pinched the join and then smoothed as I was paranoid about the filling leaking out, but I don’t think such pedantry is necessary. Cut the dough into anywhere from 12-20 pieces, depending on how you feel about portion sizes. Traditional Chelsea buns are nine pieces, but that is pretty generous. Flatten any slices that are a little taller so that they are of uniform height. I didn’t and one or two ‘skyscrapers’ were browner than I wished.
7. Place each piece, cut side uppermost, into an oiled baking tin or ceramic dish so that they just touch each other, or nearly so. The size of the tin depends on how many buns you cut. I did so many that I used an extra tin and didn’t fill it, but that wasn’t an issue so don’t worry if you have extra, unfilled space. Cover the buns with a clean cloth or cling film and leave to double again, or near enough. I opted for near enough as I am impatient.
8. While the buns are rising (proving) preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Most Chelsea bun recipes stipulate 200C/400F but I found that too hot for the already cooked leeks. Pop the buns in the oven (lol) for about 30 minutes, covering any buns that seem to be baking faster than the others. Timing is very dependent on your own oven so use your judgment, checking the middle buns for doneness as you see fit. When they come from the oven, immediately drizzle over more olive oil just until it soaks in and no more – about 4 tablespoons. You don’t need to do this, but oh boy is it delicious.
Eat warm. These keep well for a couple of days if covered and kept at a cool temperature. Re-warm them in a low oven.
These are fantastic as a savoury breakfast bread with stir-fried greens and mushrooms, but of course they are perfect with soup and as a snacky meal, a la mezze. You could even slice them and stuff with yet more goodies. Go on, spoil yourself.
This is another recipe on my month-long spelt challenge. Thanks so much to Sharpham Parks for the lovely organic spelt products. I am not being paid for my recipes and all opinions are my own, and freely given.