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Elizabeth David’s Sugary, Spicy, Sticky and Square Chelsea Buns

‘There’s a charm in the sound, which nobody shuns
Of smoking hot, piping hot, Chelsea Buns’

                                           Eighteenth century song

Reading Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery is like visiting the most eclectic bakery you can imagine and being given a taste of every development in British baking from the middle ages to the modern day. As she rolls out the history of every bun, cake and bread,she puts them in context, describing where they came from  and  how they were  invented or discovered. The book I have was bought for me by my mum and for me, is the ultimate guide to bread and yeast cooking.

This book is amazing. Sometimes it takes a few goes to actually get a grip on a recipe and it always takes a couple of thorough readings, but because they are such a joy to read, this is no bad thing. That said, they are not always the easiest recipes to follow, for example the recipe for Chelsea Buns tells you to follow the method for Bath Buns on the previous page which is rather confusing when they contain different ingredients in different quantities! However, my first batch of Chelsea Buns turned out exactly as I remember them, therefore, exactly as they should be.

Before we begin, I’ll pay homage to the great Elizabeth David by filling you in on the history of the wonderful and decadent and apparently ‘friendly’ (according to my friend who assisted with the baking) Chelsea Bun, in her own words. Hopefully this excerpt will whet your appetite to go out and buy this lovely book and explore it for yourself. It certainly makes me want to open a cafe in the style of the wonderfully described Chelsea Bun House…

“The famous Bun House of Chelsea was probably build towards the end of the seventeenth century or in the early years of the eighteenth. It was a large establishment, situated near Sloane Square in what was then Jews Road, later the Pimlico Road, and within easy reach of the river. Evidently a bakery, pastry cooks’ and refreshment shop combined, the Bun House provided tables at which the customer could sit down and eat their cakes and buns fresh from the oven. In its early days the Bun House was renowned chiefly for its hot cross buns, sold in massive quantities on Good Fridays and during Easter celebrations, when great crowds flocked to Chelsea expressly to visit the Bun House. Caroline of Ansbach, Queen of George II, was a frequesnt visitor to Chelsea during the early years of the reign (he succeeded in 1727) going there by water –  tradition has it that she, her family and the King himself visited the Bun House on many occasions. Possibly, then, the popularity of the Chelsea bun , as distinct from the older and more famous Good Friday buns, dates from the days of Hanoverian royal patronage, although already in the days of Queen Anne, Swift, staying at Chelsea for a change of air, reported to Stella how ‘Rrrrrrrare Chelsea buns’ were cried in the streets, and how the one he bought for a penny was stale adding, not surprisingly, ‘I did not like it’ (1) [This exchange refers to Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels among many many other things, and ‘Stella’, real name Esther Johnson, who was his student, the daughter of a servant of a friend of Swift’s and they remained in rather ambiguous contact for the rest of Stella’s life.]
A century after Swift’s brief stay in Chelsea, the Bun House was still flourishing. For four generations it was in the ownershp of a family called Hand [see illustration below] and according to Chamber’s Book of Days ‘families of the middle classes’ would sill walk a considerable way to taste the delicacies of the Chelsea Bun House (2). Demolished in 1839, the original Pimlico Road Bun House was re-created in Sloane Square for a brief period in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations.

For four generations the Chelsea Bun House belonged to a family called Hand. One of them became an officer in the Staffordshire militia. Inevitably he was nicknamed Captain Bun. From a print dated 4 January 1773; Chelsea Public Library

‘It is singular’ wrote Sir Richard Phillips (1), an addict of the original Chelsea buns, ‘that their delicate flavour, lightnedd and richness, have never been successfully imitated… for above thirty years I have never passed the Bun House without filling my pockets’
Sugary, spicy, sticky, square and coiled like a Swiss roll, the Chelsea bun as we now know is a pretty hefty proposition. That it can be very usefully adapted to smaller scale needs was demonstrated to me in the letter quoted further on. So it worth knoing the principle on which Chelsea buns are made. Recipes vary considerably in details, the but the basic bun dough is fairly constant…”

1. Journal to Stella, 2 May 1711
2. Chamber’s Book of Days, Volume 1, 1869 *

So now we can proceed with the recipe, but in my own words…

Chelsea Buns

Dough

550g flour

2 eggs

225g butter, softened

150g milk

15g yeast (or  1 sachet of dried yeast)

Grated peel from 1 lemon

1tsp cinnamon

1tsp salt

2tbs sugar

Filling

85g currants

85g butter

85g soft brown sugar

85g castor sugar

1tsp cinnamon

Glaze

1tbs milk

2tbs castor sugar

First make the dough:

Warm the milk very slightly in a pan and then pour a little over your yeast in a bowl. This activates the yeast and should make it bubble a little and become smooth. If you are using dried yeast, it will dissolve and become silky.

Mix the salt and sugar into the flour then rub the softened butter into this mix until it resembles breadcrumbs (rather like when you make a crumble)

Add the creamed yeast, eggs,  milk, cinnamon and lemon peel and mix to a light dough. I would add the milk in increments until you have a stiff-ish dough that isn’t sticky. (If you are going by my mum’s description, it needs to look like a baby’s head! We always affectionately pat the ‘baby’ when it is ready…It makes a fat little sound: ‘plap plap’)

Now cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours until it has roughly doubled in size. It’s quite a slow process with this dough, especially if you’re making it in winter so don’t be afraid to leave it a little longer.

While it is rising mix together the currants, sugars, and butter (cut into little pieces) to make the filling you do not want to combine the sugar and butter, but have each thing separate (see picture below)

When the dough is risen well, punch the dough down and then knead it well for about 5 minutes. I do this in the bowl but you can do it on a surface, just try not to add any extra flour as this will stiffen the dough.

Now divide the dough into 2 equal portions and roll each into a rectangle about 20cm x 30cm (it is important to try and keep them fairly square, I had trouble doing this but have a bash.

Sprinkle the filling over the rectangles, spreading it as close to the sides as you can

Now, fold the filled dough rectangles into 3 (as your would for puff pastry if you have ever made that) up from the bottom along the longest side so you have 2 short sausages. Seal the edge with a bit of milk or water and press together. Then give it one turn and roll the dough out again to roughly it’s original rectangle size

(can you see the smear of butter on my camera lens in these pics?!)

Now you make the final roll. Roll the dough up firmly along the shortest side (as you would a Swiss roll if you have ever made that) so you have 2 long sausages, seal the edge again and turn it over so the seal is on the bottom. (I forgot to seal mine so the square shape was a bit undone once they were baked, never mind, see pics below)

Now cut the sausages into your buns around 4cm thick (you can actually make them as small or big as you like but remember once they have proved and cooked they will be approximately double in size)

Arrange your buns in a greased dish or 2 (seven to a row used to be the rule of professional bakers) with about 4 cm between each bun. The spacing is important, for during the proving period the buns grow in size and move together assuming their characteristically square shape.. I didn’t leave quite enough space as I had so many (about 26 I think) and not enough tins! It didn’t seem to hinder them too much…

Now leave them to prove with cling film over the top in a warm place, until they are all but touching (probably around 45 mins but keep an eye on them)

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees or gas 7

When they have proven, sprinkle them with castor sugar and bake them for 15 minutes. during the baking, the merging process is completed. You want them to be golden brown and soft to the touch

Make the sugar and milk glaze by warming the milk and sugar in a pan until the sugar has dissolved

 When they come out of the oven brush them with the glaze.

Leave them to cool for a couple of minutes then separate them with a knife and put on a wire rack. They are truly amazing eaten still warm, even hot. They are so soft, so sticky and fragrant you’ll probably eat them all in one sitting but make sure to invite some friends over and munch with a cup of tea while everyone goes silent. When there’s a warm Chelsea bun in the room, on your plate, in your mouth; nothing else matters.

They keep well in an air tight tin and can be quickly re-heated in a hot oven for a couple of minutes. They are perfect for breakfast.

The ‘letter’ Elizabeth David refers to in the excerpt above is a lovely thing, taken from correspondence she had with her lifelong friend, the painter Arthur Lett Haines with some incredible sounded alterations to the Chelsea bun which I really want to try:

” [He] always had interesting and beautifully imaginative ideas about food. He writes “I like Chelsea buns. But find them rather large and bucolic [Surely not?!]. So make them very small, exaggerate the quantitiy of fruit, chopped small, and serve them no larger than big petit fours, coated with Royal icing.
1. lemon-flavoured and peppered with a crushed pistachio
2. Royal icing flavoured with angostura and sprinkled with poppy seeds’
Now that seems to me a most admirable approach to the problem of re-creating a speciality which would otherwise have little place in our lives today” *

Now Elizabeth David, that is one thing we disagree on, I cannot imagine a world where the Chelsea bun would take a little place in my life today and I encourage everyone to disprove her theory.

*Excerpts from Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Penguin Books, 1977, pg474-484

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Filed under Baking, Bread, Cake, Christmas, Pudding, Recipes

Feta, Leek and Spinach on Toast

A quick lunch was required and I was at a loss until I saw the feta in the fridge and decided that it had the type of consistency that would be excellent whipped up into a frenzy with some lightly sauteed veggies and then spread thickly on toast.

Leeks go very well with feta cheese and the addition of spinach was more necessity to use it up and a craving for colour than anything else, but it’s silky texture really added to the finished experiment. This was a brilliantly simple Saturday lunch to whip up when a friend was over. It would be lovely with a crisp glass of white wine.

A variation I have thought of since would be to bake it…. If you fancy trying this just pop the whole lot in the oven for 10 minutes with a little more oil and maybe some fresh tomatoes until the feta gets really spreadable…and let me know how it turns out!

Feta, Leek and Spinach on Toast

1 block of feta

1 leek, sliced

olive oil

20g spinach

Parsley

1/2 lemon

pepper

Slice your leeks into rounds and sautee in a teaspoon of olive oil until soft, then remove them.

Wash the spinach and add to the pan until it has wilted, then squeeze out excess moisture and slice

Chop your feta into very small pieces and put it in a bowl with the parsley, lemon juice and a glug of oil

Beat until it is leaning towards smooth

Now stir in your leeks and spinach and season with plenty of pepper and some more olive oil.

Serve on top of hot toast

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Filed under Cheese, Lunch, Recipes, vegetables, Vegetarian

Party Party!

There’s nothing I  relish more than a good birthday party. So many opportunities to cook!  On Saturday we held  our birthday Ping Pong Picnic Party in the Park with mulled cider on a camping stove and lots of delicious cheeses. And birthday cake of course.

Below are several of my favourite party food recipes from a few past birthday celebrations…

Mulled Cider

Lemon Polenta Cake with Pistachio Cream

Spinach and Feta Filo Parcels

Party Biscuits

‘Caspars’

Chicory Leaves with Gorgonzola, Pear and Walnuts

Don’t f0rget to decorate the kitchen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mulled Cider

For 2l good dry cider use 100ml cloudy or freshly squeezed apple juice

1 apple studded with cloves

1/2 an orange, sliced thinly

1 cinnamon stick

Put all the ingredients into a pan and warm gently.

Drink, preferably outside, under a tree, in Autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apple, orange and cinnamon will last for at least 4 rounds (that is 4 lots of 2l of cider) but after that the spiciness will have weakened, so make sure to have spare, this goes down a bit quickly especially at a big party!

Lemon Polenta Cake with Pistachio Cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cake

330g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

130g fine polenta, plus extra for dusting

300g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs, beaten

300g ground almonds

1½ tsp baking powder

4 tsp plain flour

Grated zest of 4 large lemons and juice of 2

Syrup

100g caster sugar

Juice of a large lemon

Icing

150g mascarpone

100g ricotta

150ml double cream

2 tbsp icing sugar

4-5 tbsp lemon curd

Handful of chopped pistachios to decorate

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees, gas 3

Butter a 23cm springform cake tin, line the base with baking paper, butter again and dust all over with a little polenta.

In a big bowl or your food mixer beat the softened butter and caster sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs

Fold in the polenta, almonds, baking powder and plain flour with a metal spoon.

Add the lemon zest and juice, combine.

Spoon into the cake tin and smooth the top.

Bake for 1¼ hours until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean

Meanwhile, make the syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice in a pan until the sugar has dissolved

When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and poke holes into the cake with a skewer. pour over the warm syrup and let the cake cool in the tin for 20-30 minutes, then remove from the tin and completely cool on a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, make the icing. In a bowl or your mixer, beat together mascarpone, ricotta and cream until smooth and thick. Sift in the icing sugar and mix well in. Spread the icing over the top of the cake and then drizzle over the lemon curd, you can swirl the curd into the icing with a skewer. Finely chop your pistachios (or you could use almonds) and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Watch it disappear in milliseconds.

Spinach and Feta Filo Parcels

6 sheets of filo pastry

6 shallots

2 tbs chopped fresh parsley

500g cooked drained and chopped spinach (squeeze all the juice out so you have a sort of spinach paste or use frozen which is pre-chopped, you’ll still need to squeeze it)

200g feta cheese

50g butter, melted

salt and pepper

Nutmeg

Cook or prepare your spinach (if using frozen, thaw out, drain and squeeze then use. If using fresh, wash it, then put it in a pan over a low heat with the lid on, you will need no more water than this, then drain, squeeze and chop finely)

Pre-heat the oven to gas 4 / 180 degrees

Chop the shallots finely and sautee in a little olive oil for 5 minutes or so.

Chop the feta into 1cm squares

Mix the spinach with the shallots until heated through, add the parsley feta and a good grating of fresh nutmeg to taste. Season.

Slice each of the filo sheets in half length ways, you want strips about 10cm wide and 30cm long (or you can make little hors d’oeuvre sized parcels by slicing each sheet into 3)

Brush a little butter along the edges of the pastry and put about 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture into the right hand corner.

Now for folding:

Take the pastry by the bottom right hand corner and and bring it to the opposite corner above the mixture.

Brush the edges with a little melted butter then take the bottom left hand corner and lift it straight up and over. Continue until you reach the end (it should take about 5 folds.) Make sure to press the edges together so the filling can’t leak out.

Brush a baking tray with melted butter and the top and sides of each parcel too and bake for 35 minutes until pastry is browned and crisp.

Party Biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This recipe is from the bbc website. They are VERY sweet, but that’s what you want at a party. Classier biscuits to follow…

250g plain white flour

85g golden caster sugar

175g unsalted butter , at room temperature, cubed

2 tbsp lemon juice

250g white icing sugar

1 tbsp raspberry jam

Heat oven to 180 degrees / gas 4. Put the flour, sugar and butter into a food processor. Whizz until the mixture forms crumbs, then pulse a little more until it forms a ball.

Put in the fridge for at least an hour

Dust a clean surface with a little flour, then roll out the dough to about the thickness of a £1 coin. Stamp out rounds using any biscuit cutter or a water glass, then if you want them ina ring shape cut out the middles with the end of a piping nozzle. Lift onto baking sheets and bake for 10 mins until pale golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Put the lemon juice into a bowl  and sieve in 175g of the icing sugar; stir together to make a smooth icing add a DROP of water if it’s not liquid enough).

Into another bowl sieve the raspberry jam (or you’ll block up your nozzle!) and add 2 tsp boiling water, mix, then sieve in the remaining icing sugar.

Spoon the lemon icing over the biscuits, then drizzle or pipe the pink icing over. I piped people’s initials on the biscuits but you can just drizzle with a teaspoon to make splotchy wobbly lines or dots or anything else you fancy!

Leave to set for at least 20 mins. Will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight tin, longer if left un-iced.

 

 

 

Caspars

I invented these biscuits for a brand new perfect baby boy, Caspar or Mr C as he is known to his friends. Obviously he couldn’t eat them but his parents were happy to have something to give to visiting friends and family. I think they make a perfect gift, very pretty, delicate and light. And they taste delicious!

Almond, Lemon and Honey ‘Caspars’

4oz butter

2oz castor sugar

1oz muscovado sugar

4oz plain flour

2oz ground almonds

2tbs honey

zest of 1 lemon

handful of flaked almonds

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees or gas 3

Beat butter and sugars together, add honey and combine

Add flour almonds and lemon zest and mix until a rough dough

Form into a ball and chill in the fridge for at least an hour (this dough freezes very well too)

Dust a clean surface with a little flour and roll the dough out to the thickness of a £1 coin.

Cut out with a water glass (or biscuit cutter) and sprinkle over a couple of flaked almonds, a few poppy seeds and a scattering of castor sugar

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the biscuits on

Bake for 15 mins but keep a close eye on them. They are done when they are golden brown but they’re very delicate so be careful when lifting them onto a wire rack to cool

Chicory Leaves with Gorgonzola, Pears and Walnuts

A very simple pretty snack to serve at a party, we had these at my mum’s birthday and they went down very well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 heads of red chicory and 3 of green

200g gorgonzola

2 tbs yoghurt

3 pears quartered and sliced very finely (put the slices into ice cold water with the juice of a lemon to stop them browning)

100g walnuts, chopped and toasted for 10 mins in the oven (gas 4 / 180 degrees)

You want to make small batches of these as chicory browns quite quickly, have about 8 on a plate and 8 in the fridge at all times

Mix gorgonzola and  yoghurt together to form a soft loose consistency (add more yoghurt if needed)

Slice the end off the chicory and separate the leaves. You probably can’t use the first 3 leaves as they will be too thin and floppy

Put around 2 teaspoons of the cheese mix into a leaf, tuck a pear slice in next to it and sprinkle with walnuts.

We also had excellent parma ham from the fabulous deli with finely sliced melon, home-made hummus, mini goats cheese and red onion tarts (recipe later) and my sister’s amazing bulgur wheat salad (recipe please R!)

Eat, drink and be merry…Have a great party! Remember to invite me and I promise to bring edible gifts.

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Cake, Cheese, Drinks, Fruit, hors d'oeuvre, Kitchen Tips, Pudding, Recipes, vegetables

Linguini with Prawns

Another pasta supper, this one is Tom’s favourite so he was supposed to make it, but I took over. Typical.

We have an old friend staying with us for the night and this is a great pasta to entertain with; it’s very tasty and very quick.

It’s recipes like this one that make me realise I cook intuitively most of the time. There must be a thousand similar recipes around for this linguini all with their own additions or subtractions, if you’ve read a few, you can tinker all you like and make it your own. The basics are prawns, chilli and lemon, after that you’re free to experiment. I like to use dried chillies to add a kick and a fleck of colour, and white wine to make a loose sauce rather than make it heavy with cream. Sometimes I add a vegetable like savoy cabbage, leeks or courgettes but most of the time I keep it simple. It’s a clean tasting dish, perfect for summer or winter. Soothing, spicy and fresh.

Linguini with Prawns

300g linguini

100g king prawns

25g butter

4 cloves of garlic, chopped small

1tsp dried chilli flakes (more or less to taste)

1/2 a glass of wine

juice of 1 lemon

salt and Pepper

parsley, finely chopped

parmesan to serve

Serves 3 (2 boys and a girl) – 4 (normal portion eaters)

Get all your ingredients ready, this is a quick dish so you need everything to hand.

Cook your linguini in a large pan of boiling salted water.

When the pasta has 5 minutes cooking time left melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy bottomed pan (preferably bigger than your pasta pan).

Add the garlic and chilli and cook gently for a minute.

Turn the heat up and add the wine. It will bubble and reduce quite quickly, you want all the alcohol to burn off.

If you are using raw prawns add these with the wine and cook until pink and firm.

If you are using cooked prawns , add them just a minute before you add the pasta otherwise they will become rubbery

When the pasta is ready lift it straight out of the boiling water with tongs and into the sauce . Add parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, toss and serve with lots of parmesan and a tomato salad.

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Filed under Pasta, Prawns, Recipes, Supper