Chelsea Date Buns

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

Whole wheat buns

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Featuring my new Daniel Wellington watch! Which I do admit, looks rather incongruous in this picture. But I’ve been lusting after one of these babies for the longest time, so to receive this in the mail really was the highlight of the week. Now before I get on to one of the shortest and easiest recipes known to man, I feel like bringing up a book which I think everyone should read– The Story of the Human Body by this brilliant chap named Daniel L. Lieberman.

Although I am a Christian, I strongly admire the way Lieberman notes and discusses how evolution has played a gargantuan role in the making of our physicality, in our attitudes and cultures as well. What I appreciate about his writing, despite my own religious beliefs, is its systematic yet personal approach. I know I’m deviating from baking and whatnot here, but I truly found the last few chapters (particularly ‘The Hidden Dangers of Novelty and Comfort’) relevant to our attitudes towards food and diet, something most of us think very little of. You see, we have grown to lust after comfort, prized indulgence to the point that we have practically eliminated the usefulness of challenge and gruff. What do I mean? I mean we have shoes, kitchens and… delicious, processed foods right at our fingertips. That sounds like a bit of an oxymoron; how can ‘delicious’ and ‘processed’ be in the same sentence? I would agree, but I’m speaking on behalf of most of the population who favour store-bought goodies, which, sadly, are usually highly processed and jam-packed with unnecessary chemicals. The thing is, it is exactly these sugary, fatty foods which our ancestors craved back when there was no such thing as convenience stores and people like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. There’s no harm having all this once in a while, but I’m a much stronger advocate of real food. As in, I would much rather buy ingredients to bake a lovely batch of brownies or cookies rather than spend my arse off at the grocery store. People so commonly walk down those glistening aisles, enticed by the pleasure of convenience (look! 4 mini bags of sugar puffs for $2?!) and then, like giggly robots, keep on giving the cash, trapped in an endless cycle of artificiality.

Now I’m not saying that buying junk is bad, nor does doing so make you a bad person. Hey, we’re people of a modern world right? We hurry here and there, always pressed for time, and who has hours at a go to indulge in some good old-fashioned kitchen time? Pass on the tim-tams? Ok, but wait. All this is fine as an occasional treat, but I believe more of us should make an effort to buy quality food and indulge in quality pleasure, to make up for all the lost quality in, perhaps, other aspects of our lives, and to feel good about the whole process. It saddens me to see parents buy mountains of junk, junk and more junk for their children. The thing is, they have been conditioned to enjoy the flavour of processed foods. We have become so used to these treats that the pleasure has been replaced by normalcy, and, unfortunately, excess. In the book, we glamourise comfort– we love soft beds but they are indeed bad for our backs, we love shoes when really they have caused harmful interaction between our genes and the environment, so things like flat feet or weaker Achilles heels have cropped up. And with food, we have prized the artificial so much that we forget its long-term effects. Perhaps in the future, if we go with the flow, we might become more immune to these debilitating consequences, but is not the ruggedness of physical activity and healthy, real food better than the typical sedentary, 21st century, filled with fake fad diets those horrid ‘fat-free’ labels (which, by the way, actually make one even fatter since these products are full of sugar and other chemicals to make up for the lost fat, therefore wreaking havoc on your blood sugar levels)? There is nothing wrong with having brownies baked with real chocolate, to have home-baked brioche doused in eggy batter and fried for a glorious Saturday morning french toast-themed perk-up. There is nothing better than the real stuff. The real deal. That must be said now, in a world which profits from the opposite.

Alright. I’ve done lots of ‘easy’ posts before, especially the strictly breakfast-themed ones, but this is by far the easiest. Talk about shortcuts. I started out wanting to make Semlor, the Swedish dessert comprising crisp little buns filled with almond paste and choked with whipped cream. However, along the way, I discovered that the base recipe, which I adapted from a few previous personal trials, made for the perfect whole wheat buns. They are incredibly versatile and work with any sort of topping– my favourite must be the ‘fake semla’, which you can see above, toasty and crisp, topped with whipped cream and icing sugar, as well as these little babes below. Bressert, anyone?

top: butter and marmalade bottom: almond butter, maple syrup, cinnamon and sea salt flakes
top: butter and homemade marmalade
bottom: almond butter, maple syrup, cinnamon and sea salt flakes

They are on the denser side. I think I shall experiment more with the addition of brown sugar the next time round. Slightly sweet, very robust, and go wonderfully crisp and crusty with the heat from your toaster.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Whole wheat buns (makes 5-6)

120g white all-purpose flour, 60g whole wheat flour

5g insteant yeast

40g unsalted, melted butter

120ml (half cup) milk of choice (I used whole), at room temperature

1.5 tbsp white sugar

pinch salt

1 egg, beaten, for the egg wash

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and milk.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Be careful to have the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl, because salt is hygroscopic and induces osmotic stress on the yeast, thereby killing the poor guys.

Add half the flour mix to the wet and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the rest of the flour, but be careful here as you might not need all of it. It should be soft and workable, not too sticky (definitely more robust than your typical brioche or cinnamon roll dough) or moist. Roll into a ball and leave in the same bowl to rise for an hour.

If you’re making the ‘fake semla’, then here you may wish to whip up some cream (best ratio is 200ml of cream and 1 tbsp powdered sugar). Preheat the oven to 225C. After the hour, take chunks of dough and roll into balls. Mine were around 70g each. Put the balls onto a greased baking pan. Cover them and let rise for another hour. You can do this step overnight, just make sure to remove the dough at least a half hour before baking in the morning. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash.

Bake the buns in the preheated oven for 8-11 minutes. Mine took 9 exactly, The tops will be golden-brown, shiny and crusty. Once cool, which doesn’t take long at all, you may freeze these for later consumption. Before eating, slice one lengthwise, pop in the toaster, and have a toast-themed morning. I think these go especially well with butter, honey and cinnamon. Cinnamon and whole wheat anything is a yes, please.