Chelsea Buns - an English Bun with a past!
So What Exactly is a Chelsea Bun?
Smelling the homely comforting aroma of freshly baked sticky Chelsea buns in a bakery is one of the most delicious experiences! But even better is having this smell in your own home, with the satisfaction of baking these buns all by yourself.
Chelsea Buns are made from enriched dough and rolled into spirals, filled with juicy raisins and topped with a sugary glaze. They are warm, soft, fruity, sweet and sticky!
To enhance the sticky bun experience, you can unroll your bun from its spiral as you eat it - messy but lip smackingly satisfying! These buns are especially good with a strong cup of coffee or tea mid morning. They are very similar to a cinnamon roll, but sooo much better!
Read on to see how to make these gorgeous sticky sweet buns and the history of the Chelsea buns recipe. The recipe is easy to make but involves time and love, but you will reap the rewards!
Why is this Bun Called "Chelsea"?
The Chelsea Bun is so called because it comes from Chelsea, London! In fact where the Chelsea Bun was first invented and baked was called the Chelsea Bun house but this area in modern London is now Pimlico.
The History of the Chelsea Bun House
A 300 Year Old Bun!
The original recipe for Chelsea buns originates from the early 1700s in Chelsea, London. They were first baked in the Old Chelsea Bun House, where they got their name and became immensely popular. London's nobility and gentry would pay a visit to the Old Bun House on route to the nearby Renelagh Pleasure Gardens. Even King George II and later King George III (mad King George) were fans! Four generations of the Hands family ran the Old Bun House and acquired some celebrity from it; their buns have been mentioned in Charles Dickens' books 'Barnaby Rudge' (Chapter 42) and 'Bleak House' (Chapter 53). The Hands family furnished the bun house with paintings, curiosities and modern antiques, which also drew in the customers in droves.
The Old Chelsea Bun House was open for century and a half. When the Renelagh Gardens closed, business declined for the Old Bun House and eventually was closed in 1839 when the building was demolished. Another bun house opened in its place, but didn't have the charm of the original establishment and was not as popular.
The Chelsea Bun House was situated at the end of Jew's Row, near Grovesnor Road - both of which no longer exist. Chelsea was quite a rural area then; you could reach the Bun House by walking over fields. Pimlico (quite near to what is now Chelsea) is now said to be the approximate place where the Bun House once stood.
This article about the Chelsea Bun House is from "The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 11" published in 1839. This is just one page from the article about the Chelsea Bun House, if you want to read the second page click the image below.
Ingredients for this Easy Bun Recipe... - time to go shopping...
My favorite recipe for Chelsea buns comes from a Good Housekeeping (magazine) recipe, and it is brilliant!
This will take about 30 minutes to prepare and then 1 to 2 hours waiting time for the dough to rise. The cooking time is 25 to 30 minutes.
The Chelsea buns can be frozen, but unglazed.
450g/1lb strong white bread flour
5ml/1 tsp salt
50g/2oz caster sugar
7g sachet of fast action dried yeast
200ml/7 fl oz warmed milk
1 free range egg, beaten
Grated rind zest of 1 orange or lemon
50g/2oz Sultanas and 50g/2oz of mixed candied peel
(or substitute the peel for currants if you prefer)
50g/2oz of almonds or hazelnuts, roughly chopped
For the glaze: 50g/2oz caster sugar and 5ml/1tsp of orange flower water
Optional - half a teaspoon of ground mixed spice to add to the dough
So Lets Get Baking a Batch of Chelsea Buns - There is nothing more satisfying than kneading dough!
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Mix in the dried yeast. Rub in half of the butter and half of the sugar.
In another bowl, mix together the milk and egg. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and stir in the mixed egg/milk. Mix to a soft dough with a round bladed knife, adding more milk if the dough is dry or add a little more flour if the mixture is sticky. Knead for 5-10 mins on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough into a large oiled bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave the dough to rise in a warm place. This will take about 1 to 2 hours until it is doubled in size.
Then, turn out the dough on to a floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Then roll out into a 30cm/12 inch square.
Cream the remaining butter and sugar and dot over the dough, leaving a border of about 2.5cm/1 inch around the edge. Then fold in half and roll out again to 30cm/12 inches.
Sprinkle the last remaining sugar, sultanas, nuts, peel and spice (if you are using it) over the dough, leaving a border. Roll up like a Swiss roll.
Cut the roll into 12 slices. Arrange cut side up in a greased tin measuring 23 x 38cm/9 x 12 inch. Cover with oiled cling film and leave the buns to prove in a warm place until they are double in size and touching each other. This takes about 15-20 minutes.
Bake at 200C/400F for 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
For the glaze, dissolve the 50g of sugar in 75ml/3 fl.oz of water over a low heat. Then bring to the boil for about 5 minutes until it turns syrupy. Add in the orange flower water. Then brush over the warm buns.
Pull apart and serve warm. Enjoy!
The Result! Soft, Warm, Fruity Chelsea Buns! Yummy!
The Best and Stickiest Chelsea Buns in England
Fitzbillies bakery in Cambridge is considered to be the best place for Chelsea buns. Established in 1922, Fitzbillies claims that it produces the worlds stickiest Chelsea bun - and I can attest that they are indeed! Their buns are sublime! You can now mail order Fitzbillies buns straight to your door - where ever you may live in the world.
Fitzbillies Famous Chelsea Buns
These links will take you to other great recipes and articles about the famous Chelsea Bun!
- Marmalade Chelsea buns recipe | Dan Lepard | Life and style | The Guardian
How to bake: Our master baker uses a clever trick he learned at school to give these buns extra lightness
- BBC Good Food - Apricot and Almond Chelsea Buns
Escape to the kitchen this weekend and make these gorgeous glazed teatime buns
- Baking for Britain: Chelsea Buns of London
A great blog about Chelsea Buns
- Gathering Holly: Chocolate Chelsea Buns
A recipe for chocolate Chelsea Buns
- Apple snow with chelsea bun: Recipes: Good Food Channel
Topping toasted fruit bun with cloud-like apple mousse is Clodagh McKenna's recipe for an easy dessert
The Chelsea Bun Song!
This song was sung by an 80 year old man in 1898, who said his father used to sing it to him. I love the lyrics, but have no idea what the tune was!
As I went to Chelsea one day
I met a pretty fair maid on the highway
I asked to salute her, but this was her tune
Why can't you be easy and leave me alone?
I say my sweet creature
I'm not in for fun
If you come to the bun house
I'll buy you a bun
Oh no! she replied
I've money enough of my own
To buy half a hundred
So leave me alone
I followed her, I followed her field after field
After persuading I brought her to yield
Next day I was wed, and she altered her tune
For she teases me now if I leave her alone