It’s difficult to find a good chelsea bun these days. When I was growing up, there was a bakery up the road that used to make amazing ones – soft, thick and with just the right amount of raisins and icing that sort of oozed down into the bun. Sadly that bakery no longer exists, even if I did still live in the same city and could stroll up the road to it.
These days I find most chelsea buns are either too thin and crispy, more like a Danish pastry, or too sweet, a version of the Cinnabon which has made its way over from the States. Determined to try to recreate my childhood memory of the ideal chelsea bun, I experimented with adapting a recipe for sticky cinnamon buns.
The cinnamon bun recipe has been in my recipe file for years and originally came from a magazine. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the name of the magazine at the time so apologies to whichever one it was for not being able to give you credit here.
The only tricky thing in this recipe is the fact that proper chelsea buns require the use of yeast, which means there is some kneading and rising time involved. Instant yeast simplifies the process slightly as you can add it straight into the flour mixture rather than having to add it to liquid first. In theory it’s also supposed to rise more quickly but I find that the times stated by the instructions on the instant yeast packet are usually way too optimistic, so rather stick to the times specified in the recipe.
The idea of kneading dough might be a bit intimidating if it’s new to you. It’s really not difficult though and in this case it’s only for 5 minutes. Believe me, that’s a walk in the park compared to some dough I have kneaded – like the Portuguese King Cake, which requires serious muscle! I explain how to do it in the recipe itself, and if in doubt, you can watch a demo online here.
When you spoon the icing over the hot buns, it kind of sinks in a bit, and if you are eating them hot, you might like the buns just like that. Personally I prefer to cut them in half and spread the halves with some butter. This can be a bit tricky if the icing is still warm enough to come off on the plate when you turn the top half upside down, so it’s best done when the buns have mostly cooled and the icing has set. If you really can’t wait, you could try holding the edges of the top half in your hand, trying not to touch the icing while you butter it, but make sure the butter is soft and you do it gently.
After that your only job is to either stick the bun back together again or choose which half you want to eat first!
- 4 – 4½c cake flour
- 10g packet instant yeast
- 1/3c white sugar
- 1T finely grated orange zest
- 1t salt
- ½c warm milk
- ¼c warm water
- 4T butter
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½c brown sugar
- 1T ground cinnamon
- 3T butter
- 1c raisins or sultanas
- 2c icing sugar
- Approximately 2T boiling water
Place only 3 cups of the flour in a bowl then add sugar, salt, instant yeast and orange zest.
Mix to combine.
Warm the milk and melt 4T of butter on the stove or in the microwave.
Add melted butter, egg yolks, warm milk and warm water to the flour.
Mix all together with an electric beater.
Now add another cup of flour.
Note: Don’t try to use the electric beater again at this point or you may end up with dough actually inside the mixer – it kind of crawls up the beaters. Use your hands to mix in the flour then start kneading the dough. You can do it in the bowl if it’s big enough or else turn it out onto a floured surface. Flatten it a bit to begin, then fold it in half away from you and use the heel of your hand to push the dough down and slightly away from you. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. For an online demo, see here.
Continue kneading for about 5 minutes. Add the last ½ cup of flour as you go only if the dough is too wet (if you still have dough stuck all over your fingers about 2 minutes in, you need a bit more flour). It should end up smooth and only slightly sticky, then you can shape it into a ball.
Grease a clean large bowl and place the ball of dough into it. Note: Don’t re-use the bowl you mixed in or the bits that are still stuck to it may hinder the rising process.
Cover the new bowl with cling film and leave it in a warm place to rise for about an hour.
Then push the dough down again with the heels of your hands and turn it out onto a floured board. Let it rest there for 20 minutes.
Melt the butter for the filling. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
On the floured board, roll the dough out to an approximate rectangle about 30 x 45cm.
Using a pastry brush (or the back of a tablespoon if you don’t have a pastry brush), cover the dough with melted butter.
Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mix, then with raisins.
Starting with the long side, roll the dough carefully into a cylinder.
Place it seam-side down on the board and cut into slices about 4cm thick.
Grease a large oven-proof dish or tin with butter and carefully lay the slices down in it, slightly apart to leave room for rising.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you should see that the slices have risen again and the gaps between them have closed up.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Bake buns until golden, which takes about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave a few minutes to cool very slightly while you make the icing.
Place icing sugar in a bowl and add 1T of boiling water. Mix well then add just another teaspoon of boiling water. Mix again, making sure you have the lumps of dry icing incorporated. It goes very quickly from too thick to too thin so continue adding water just one teaspoon at a time until you have a thick but still pourable icing. If you find it’s suddenly too thin, just add a bit more icing.
Either leave the buns in the dish you cooked them in or carefully separate and place on a cooling rack. Spoon the icing over while the buns are still hot so it can ooze in between the spirals.
Serve warm or cool either as is or split in half and spread with butter.
© Alexandra Lawrence and Inspired Nourishment, 2014