Chelsea buns: A sweet treat sure to raise the spirits this winter
These buns do take hours to make but only require a few minutes of actual hands-on time
Chelsea buns: these are best eaten on the day they are baked, though they freeze well without the icing. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
Our Cooks Academy certificate course students learn so many essential culinary techniques, but bread making has to be one of the most enjoyable. Spending an entire day pummelling dough and learning a good kneading technique is a guaranteed ice breaker (and bicep builder) for newly enrolled students.
On bread days, we always set aside some of the ingredients to make this sweet bun dough. It is a basic bread dough with added butter, sugar and milk. Enriched doughs such as this one take a little longer to rise than plain doughs. The students can put it to one side to rise slowly while they get on with shaping their other breads into loaves, plaits and buns.
When the dough has risen, it is ready to fill and shape into those classic Chelsea bun spirals. At this point the buns can be left to prove overnight, if you like, and baked first thing in the morning. The smell of freshly baked Chelsea buns wafting through the house on a Saturday morning is guaranteed to raise the spirits of any household.
Admittedly, Chelsea buns do take a good few hours to make, but they only need a few minutes of actual hands-on time. There is none of the repeated rolling and folding needed for a Danish pastry or a croissant dough.
You can easily make the dough using a heavy duty stand mixer, but kneading by hand is a brilliant way of working through the stresses of the week.
These are best eaten on the day they are baked, though they freeze well without the icing.
450g strong white flour
50g caster sugar
40g butter, cubed
7g dried yeast (fast acting)
1 egg, lightly whisked
For the filling:
50g butter, softened (or melted)
50g demerara brown sugar
For the icing:
150g icing sugar, sieved
1 tbsp lemon juice, plus more if required
1 Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl.
2 Gently rub the cubed butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
3 Warm the milk gently until tepid. Check the temperature of the milk (don’t overheat the milk or it will kill the yeast), then add in the dried yeast. Allow the yeast to ferment for five minutes, creating frothy bubbles on the surface of the milk.
4 Make a well in the centre of the flour. Stir in the egg and yeasted milk to a raggy dough.
5 If kneading by hand turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes (if using a stand mixer, use a dough hook and knead on a slow speed for five to 10 minutes). Once it has been adequately kneaded the dough will feel soft and springy with a smooth surface.
6 Place the smooth ball of dough in a large clean mixing bowl, cover with a cloth (or cling film) and place in a warm, draft-free spot in your kitchen, to allow the dough to rise, which will take approximately two hours. Once it has doubled in size, punch the dough to release the air, turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead again briefly.
7 Take the sweetened dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 30cm x 20cm rectangle. Spread softened butter over the rolled-out dough.
8 Sprinkle the surface evenly with demerara sugar and sultanas.
9 Roll up in the style of a Swiss roll.
10 Cut into nine to 12 thick discs (nine will fit in a square tin, 12 in a rectangular tin). Transfer the buns into a lined baking tin, fitting them snugly together, but leaving 1cm space between each. Leave them in a warm place to prove for 30 minutes, after which time they will have increased in size.
11 Bake in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsius, fan, or equivalent, for 15-20 minutes.
12 For the icing, gradually stir lemon juice into the icing sugar, until the icing is bright white with a pouring consistency (add extra lemon juice, or water if required). Allow the buns to cool slightly before drizzling with icing. Serve warm.
Brush the tops of the buns with apricot jam instead of the icing, or add jam to the filling.