Chelsea Buns [Cinnamon Rolls]

I woke up yesterday with a sudden memory flash of school dinners. As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post about Cornflake Crunchies, I have rather happy memories of school dinners, although admittedly most of these involved primary school desserts as opposed to the reckless daily plates of chips served up in high school. However, it was here that I first tried a Chelsea bun. I loved it so much, I ate one almost every lunchtime for the next five years, which was not particularly wise but doesn’t appear to have done me much harm. Everyone has eaten a Chelsea bun in some form – although they do tend to have different names in  different regions; and in the US, they seem to be widely accepted as Cinnamon buns, sometimes Sticky Buns in the South – but we are all familiar with this sweet bread, rolled up with a sticky filling of brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins, topped with a thick glacé icing (the last two being optional for cinnamon buns).

After I made these, my family and I enjoyed one or two before I wrapped the remaining ones up and gave them to a friend – who reported a short time later that her mother-in-law had described them as being the best Chelsea Buns she’d ever eaten. There is no higher praise! Give them a whirl and let me know how they go.

Makes 16 buns. You will need a baking tin measuring at least 9″x12″ (23cm x 33cm). A smallish roasting tin is ideal. I used this classic Mary Berry tray-bake tin from Lakeland.

For the dough:
210ml milk
55g butter, fridge cold and cut into cubes
80g caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast (1/2 tbsp)
1 large egg (US extra large)
450g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt

For the filling:
50g butter, melted
50g soft light brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
150g currants or sultanas (optional)

For the icing (optional):
170g icing sugar
2 tbsp milk

Make the dough:

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Measure the milk into a heatproof jug and put it in the microwave, on high, for 2 minutes. Stir in  the sugar and butter until melted. The butter must be cold so that it can cool down the milk while melting nicely.

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Sprinkle the yeast on top and use a fork to whisk it in. Leave it to stand for 15-20 minutes until the yeast creates a thick, bubbling foam on top of the butter and milk.

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Measure the flour and salt into your mixer bowl. Briefly whisk the foamy milk mix so that it combines, then pour it on to the flour. Add the egg and use a wooden spoon or strong spatula to roughly bring the mixture together, scraping down the sides as you go.

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Once you have formed a rough ball, use the dough hook on a low setting to knead it. It will seem quite sticky; allow at least five minutes of kneading before deciding whether or not to add an extra tablespoon or so of flour. This is a lovely soft dough, too much flour will spoil it so go easy.

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Scrape the dough out on to a floured surface and use your hands to gently make a smooth ball.

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Place it into a large, oiled mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel, shower cap (!) or cling film and leave it to prove for about an hour. Normal room temperature is fine (19-22c). If it’s really cold, seek out a warm place but otherwise, it really doesn’t matter. Once it has doubled in size, tip it out and lightly knead for a minute or two, then roll it out to a rectangle about 12″ x 16″ (30 x 40cm).

Add the filling:

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Measure the butter into a heatproof bowl and melt for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Measure the brown sugar into another bowl and stir in the cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted butter all over the rectangle. It might seem like too much but use it all up – and remember to go right to the edges.

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Then, sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mix all over, as evenly as possible, followed by the raisins. Now, starting at the longest side closest to you, use both hands to roll up the dough, like a Swiss roll. Keep the roll as tight as possible.

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Now you need to cut 16 slices. The easiest way to do this is just to cut it in half, then gently mark the dough into eight sections as shown. Each section will be approximately 1 inch thick. I use a solid dough scraper for this!

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Place the buns in your tin (just lightly oiled with melted butter or sunflower oil is best) as shown. Leave about a centimetre between each piece if possible, for expansion. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about 30-40 minutes. They should have puffed out nicely as shown above right. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190c / 375f / gas mark 5.

Brush with milk (or a beaten egg if you’re feeling generous) and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are a beautiful deep golden colour, and enjoy the fabulous cinnamony smell that is now wafting through your kitchen. When the buns are completely cold you can smother each bun with a simple glacé icing – just measure the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the milk until until a thick, gloopy white icing forms. Add a little extra milk if you like it thinner. These buns must be stored in an airtight container and are best enjoyed within 24 hours.

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