Chelsea Date Buns

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So I have just a few weird habits.

1. Occasionally listening to Phil Collins and Westlife late at night when nothing else seems to appeal to my senses as much.

2. Burning toast on purpose.

3. Eating properly burnt toast with a knife and fork.

And lately, it’s been trying to perfect a specific recipe which is both nutritious and spectacularly delicious– a date lemon glaze!

But more on that a little later. I’ll get to the real meat (or should I say, crumb) of the whole situation first. I’ve been wanting to make chelsea buns for a while now, after coming across Paul Hollywood’s (anyone else here a massive Great British Bakeoff fan?) recipe online. It all seemed simple enough. I modified it a little, using a different proportion of dried fruit, as well as dates, and softened instead of melted butter for the filling. Chelsea buns are traditionally flavoured with lemon zest, cinnamon and dried fruit, but I incorporated the lemon more so in the glaze rather than the actual dough. If you’re giving this a shot, there’s no harm going all traditional as well.

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I’ll tell you now– this dough is a dream to work with. Probably the best ‘roll dough’ I’ve worked with in quite a while, and kneading was a pleasure even in this 38C weather. Is it just me or has it been extra sauna-like here recently? Once baked, the bun itself is soft, white and fluffy, though not as buttery as a brioche cinnamon bun or something of the sort. It’s a little headier, denser, but nevertheless upholding a tender, moist crumb. Those punch marks made my knuckles feel like they were in heaven, by the way.

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You can use any sort of dried fruit here, but I knew dates might be a little different given their soft, squidgy, texture, and I didn’t want anything too sickly sweet either. I was rather afraid of creating a mess of melting dates, but that fear was quickly replaced with hope ad excitement because it’s just these dates, not the cranberries or apricots (top), that, when mixed with the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, created the most glorious soft, caramelised inner filling. The bottoms were dripping with toffee-hued, sweet goodness. So yes, dates were a terrific idea, a sublime encounter.

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Pretty much a date caramel, now that I’m sitting here recalling its texture and taste. All it is is dates, hot water, and a squeeze of lemon. Oh wait, and just a touch of cream. My my, it’s healthy (??). These chelsea buns aside, it can also be drizzled on fruit and whipped cream, or ice cream. Quite versatile, so easy and forgiving.

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Chelsea Date Buns with a Date Lemon Glaze (makes 10-12)

For the dough:

500g white all-purpose flour

7g instant yeast

3/4-1 tsp fine salt

300ml milk of choice (I used whole)

45g unsalted butter, melted in the microwave

1 egg

For the filling:

30g unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

80g brown sugar

170g dried fruit (I used a mixture of dried apricots, dried cranberry, and chopped, pitted dates)

For the date lemon glaze:

10 dates, pitted (I used medjool)

juice of half a lemon

250ml hot or boiling water

1 tbsp heavy cream

Make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then add the yeast on one side of the bowl. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter and milk together. Add this milk-butter mix to the flour-yeast mix, then crack in the egg, and mix everything together with a wooden spoon, or in a mixer if you’re using one.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Sprinkle a little more flour on top. Knead the dough for a good 5-10 minutes, until it’s no longer sticky and it looks smooth, pale and elastic. After kneading, put the dough back into the large bowl, cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise until it has visibly doubled in size, around 60-90 minutes. Grease two baking sheets and set these aside. Preheat your oven to 190C.

Whilst waiting, make the filling. In a medium bowl, mix the cinnamon, sugar and dried fruit together. Take the butter out so it can soften to room temperature during this period. After the dough has proven, lightly flour your work surface and tip it out. Lightly punch down on the dough, and with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 12×8 inches. Using a pastry brush, brush the softened butter all over, leaving a small border round the edges. Sprinkle on the mix of cinnamon, sugar and dried fruit. Roll the dough starting with the long side, so you end up with a 12-inch log. With a serrated knife, cut off the jagged ends (if you have any), then cut the log into 12 rolls. You may have more or less, but you should end up with 12 1-inch thick rolls. Put the rolls swirl side down on the baking pans, with a little space between each one. Cover the rolls with a piece of aluminium to prevent the tops from burning, then pop in the oven (you can do one baking sheet at a time) and bake for 18-22 minutes. Mine were perfect after 20.

Make the date lemon glaze. Take your dates and put them in the hot water, then add the lemon juice. Let this mix rest for 15 minutes. After waiting, put them in a blender (I have a Vitamix, so I used that), and blend for a full minute. The mix would look like it has already been fully blended after around 15 seconds, but don’t stop here. The dates thicken the glaze once they fully break down, and this only occurs a few seconds later. So don’t stop blending. Once a minute is up, pour the glaze into a bowl. It should be smooth, almost lump-free, and golden-brown. At this point, add the tablespoon of heavy cream.

Once the buns are baked, let rest on the baking pan and a cooling rack for half an hour. Drizzle the buns liberally with the date lemon glaze and, if you wish, top with slivered almonds.

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