Apricot, apple and almond Chelsea Buns

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I was just thinking I hadn’t made an enriched dough recipe for a while…

Background/history of the recipe

Chelsea Buns are a specific version of a traditional, rolled enriched and sweetened bread. Unusually for a bread, their origins are actually known, as they were invented at the Chelsea Bun House in London, probably in the early 1700s, as contemporary literature and reports from as early as 1711 cite the bakery.

The Chelsea Bun House would have been located just off the Pimlico Road (and technically in Pimlico not confusingly in Chelsea – perhaps it relocated premises at one point). There is a Bunhouse Place, but it appears it’s unlikely that this was the location and was named after, with Grosvenor Row or Jew’s Row more likely candidates listed in the food/London history books (Wikipedia says Jew’s Row but you know never to fully believe wikipedia, right?) If you want to find where Bunhouse Place is, this is it on Streetmaps.

Anyway, the original Chelsea Bun House is no more as it closed down in 1939. At the height of it’s popularity (and it was very popular) even Royalty succumbed to its treats as it’s reported both King George II and King George III actually visited. Although the Chelsea Bun bore it’s name, the bakery actually was most famous for it’s hot cross buns

Chelsea Buns are usually made with extra butter, dried fruit (currants, sultanas or raisins) and coated in a honey glaze. The sweet dough is pressed into a rectangle, covered with butter, sugar and fruit and rolled, like a roulade. This is then cut into slices and arranged, with a cut side showing, grouped together in a tin so they rise and cook touching together.

Though currants are the real traditional ingredients, Chelsea buns are often altered but the main thing is to keep their coiled shape and glaze.

My new flavourings for Chelsea Buns – apricot, almond and apple

I’ve chosen to try a new recipe, and it worked out even better than I’d hoped. The combination of apple, apricot jam and crunchy almonds was lovely. I think I definitely prefer them with a bit of a crunch (other nice alternatives are chopped pistachios; chocolate drops and orange; dried fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg – a Christmassy taste and red berries).

Notes

Chelsea buns are big and hearty! If you want something more delicate you can roll the dough up from either long edge into the middle of the rectangle of dough at stage 13. So you would have two mini rolls, and then cut down the middle between the two rolls to separate them before cutting into about 10 slices each and arranging them in a tin. Proving and cooking time shouldn’t be affected.

Equipment

  • a tin to place the buns in. I used a 23 cm round springform tin, but a square or oblong one would be just fine
  • large bowl
  • pastry brush

Ingredients – for the enriched dough

  • strong white flour – 450 g
  • easy-blend yeast – 15 g
  • caster sugar – 50 g
  • milk – 125 ml (doesn’t have to be warmed but it’s better if it’s not fridge-cold)
  • water – 75 ml (tepid rather than warm)
  • medium egg (beaten) – 1
  • unsalted melted butter – 25 g

Ingredients for the filling

  • butter, softened – 20 g
  • small dessert apple – 1
  • flaked almonds (toasted or non-toasted – either will do) – 90 g
  • apricot jam – about half a standard jar (I like it with the lumpy bits of fruit but if you don’t you could warm it, sieve it and let it re-cool or buy a smooth jam)

Ingredients for the glaze/topping

  • apricot jam – 3 tbsps
  • water – 1 tbsp
  • a few extra flaked almonds

Method

Preparing the dough

  1. Add all the dry ingredients into your bowl (that’s the flour, sugar, yeast and salt) and mix them up a bit.
  2. Make a well in the middle and tip in the milk and water, beaten egg and melted butter and start to mix. This is a little wetter than bread and is messy (half the fun) so you may want to use a wooden spoon first to bring it together before you start to knead).
  3. Tip it out onto a clean surface. Try to resist adding a dusting of flour to the surface if you can (or if it’s not too ingrained a habit). Yes, some of it will stick to the surface but as you continue kneading it will lift off and combine, and then you haven’t changed the chemical constitution of the dough too much by increasing the ratio of flour. Alternatively, I expect you can use a machine with a bread hook, but I’ve not tried that myself with sweet dough, I always do it by hand.
  4. If the dough is a little hard work add a touch more milk – as mentioned, it should be just slightly wetter than bread (more like how wet a sourdough or brioche would be).
  5. The kneading will take about 8 – 10 mins depending on how vigorous you are! Just like other breads, the dough will be smooth and a bit bouncy when it’s ready. This is one of those things that you just get used to seeing after you’ve baked for a while.
  6. Clean out your original bowl and lightly grease it (or use another) and pop in the dough. I usually chuck a large linen teatowel over my rising bread, and sprinkle over a little bit of water onto the towel, but cling film will do nearly as well (this shouldn’t need dampening as it creates an airtight seal and the bread is already moist).
  7. Leave it to double in size somewhere warm but not hot – this will typically take an hour or so but it depends on the warmth. Like other sweet doughs you could make this one evening and leave in the fridge or somewhere cool to rise overnight.

Shaping, filling and rolling the buns

  1. Grease the cake/bread tin.
  2. Gently roll the dough out of the bowl on to a floured surface and start to press it down gently (no heavy pummeling!) into a rectangle. You’re aiming for something about 30cm by 20 cm.
Chelsea buns - prepraing the filling ingredients
The rectangle of dough with the ingredients spread and scattered on
  1. Now you’re ready to add the filling ingredients. Spread the butter all over the rectangle of dough – you may not need all 20g – but leave a 1 cm gap down one long edge (this is to help the dough stick into a roulade shape later). Now spread over the half jar of apricot jam.
  2. Peel, core and dice the apple finely now (if you do this earlier it will discolour – one way to stop that would be to cover it in lemon juice but that will make the apple too acidic for this recipe).
  3. Scatter over the diced apple and the almonds.
  4. Now you need to roll up the dough like a roulade/Swiss roll, starting from the long edge which you haven’t left with a 1 cm gap. Brush a little bit of water or milk onto that edge you left so it sticks to the outside of the dough once you’ve roll it all up. It should look just like a doughy Swiss roll.
  5. Cut the roll into about eight slices.
Chelsea buns - cutting the filled dough into coils
The roll of sweet dough with the ingredients inside, sliced into coils
  1. Pop the slices end-on into the tin, so that you can see the Swiss roll shape and all the lovely fillings from the top. You may need to push the back into more of a round shape, as slicing them may have flattened them a little. Space the slices between 1 – 2 cm apart so that when they rise they bump into each other.
Chelsea buns arranged in tin prior to baking
  1. Cover with a that clean, damp tea towel or cling film from earlier and leave it to rise and prove a second time. You want them to puff up to about double what they were but this shouldn’t take as long as the first rise – about 30 mins.
  2. Pop on your oven to 180C fan/200C conventional.

Baking and glazing

  1. When risen, take off the covering and pop the tin in the middle of the oven and set the timer for 10 mins. After 10 mins don’t take them out – turn the oven down to 160C fan/140C conventional and cook for between 10 – 15 mins more. You want a nice golden top (not light but not too dark). You may need to turn the tin after the first 10 mins if your oven is not cooking very evenly (as you want the buns to all have the same depth of colour).
  2. Fetch the buns out when ready and leave to cool in the tin a bit.
  3. Now make the glaze by melting the jam and water together until just bubbling. Brush (or pour) it all over the tops of the buns (while they are still in the tin) and then scatter the extra few flaked almonds over the top.
  4. You can either enjoy them slightly warm or leave until fully cool.
Chelsea buns
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