Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Belgian Buns

Ok, I’m going to admit something which I think some of my regular readers will already have guessed… I don’t really ‘do’ diets and find it a bit of a struggle to practice any restraint when presented with delicious food. As such, it’s fairly evident that diets don’t feature heavily on my list of New Year resolutions!

I fully acknowledge that regular exercise and healthy eating are key to a long and healthy life but surely a little treat every now and again is good for the psyche and lowers stress levels! Well I find that it does for me anyway and there is nothing I like more than sitting down with a cup of tea and something nice to nibble on after a long, busy and tiring day. I also believe that it’s far preferable to eat something that you have cooked and baked yourself and where you know what ingredients were used and where they came from rather than mass-produced goods which are full of artificial colours, flavouring and other additives.

I have recently been baking a lot of my own bread and have been astonished how easy it is to achieve such delicious results. I always thought that yeast breads would be far more problematic and tricky to make, but once you follow a few simple rules, they are an absolute doddle. My children love the various breads that I have produced and keep begging me to make more.

There is something so therapeutic about kneading bread and seeing the yeast start to work as the dough proves. I really love it and can see why so many people are almost obsessional about artisan breads and bread making.  Using a couple of basic recipes, I have been having loads of fun experimenting by adding different ingredients to my breads. Both sweet and savoury ingredients, spices, herbs, nuts etc. can be added to ring the changes and create something full of exciting flavours.

I have always loved sweet yeasted buns, especially when split and generously spread with butter – they are just so delicious. This is my version of the cherry topped, icing covered buns that can still be found in some bakeries and tea-shops. For some reason the buns are called Belgian Buns, though the reasons for this have been hard to unearth… it’s not as if they are buns associated with Belgium nor are they specifically popular there. In fact, these are not unlike traditional Chelsea Buns, but with the addition of an obligatory, bright red glacé cherry. I think the finished buns look very retro and quite kitsch, but I find this very appealing. They are not meant to be elegant, but that doesn’t matter because they taste wonderful!

The buns also contain some dried fruit, which I have introduced into the dough in the same manner as one would introduce the fruit in a Chelsea Bun, by rolling up into a swiss-roll like cylinder and then slicing into individual buns.

This is the same basic bread dough that I used to make the Marzipan Buns, the recipe for which I posted a few weeks ago. I was very pleased with how those buns turned out and every bit as pleased with these.


300ml milk
40g butter
500g strong white flour
5g fine sea salt
15g fresh yeast
1 large egg, lightly beaten
150g dried raisins, soaked in 50ml boiling water
30g chopped, dried mixed peel
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
To finish:
200g icing sugar
A little boiling water
5-6 glacé cherries, halved


1. Put the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool down a little as you don’t want it too hot as it will prevent the yeast from working properly. Lukewarm is perfect.
2. Separately, place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together well so that the salt is well distributed. Crumble in the yeast.
3. Pour in the lukewarm milk and the lightly beaten egg and stir together with your hands, until the mixture comes together. Turn the dough out on to a clean work-surface until the dough feels smooth and silky and springs back when poked. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean, damp tea-cloth. Allow to prove for 90 minutes until the dough has almost doubled in size.
4. Line a large baking tray with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
5. Tip the dough out on to a clean work-surface dusted with a small amount of flour. Knock out the air from the proved dough. Allow to rest for a minute or two and then using a rolling pin, roll out into a rectangle about 30cms x 20cms.
6. Separately drain the soaked dried raisins, discarding an extra liquid that has not been absorbed. Sprinkle the raisins, mixed peel and lemon zest evenly over the rolled-out dough. Roll the dough along its long edge as you would a swiss-roll to create a long cylinder encasing the fruit as you go. Taking a sharp knife cut the cylinder into 10 equal slices and place flat, well-spaced apart on the baking tray. Cover with a clean damp tea-clot and allow to rise again until doubled in size (about 60 minutes).
7. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Place the baking tray containing the risen buns in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and a golden brown colour. Once baked, remove from oven and allow to cool on baking tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
8. Mix the icing sugar with about 1 tablespoon of boiling water to make a slightly stiff but still flowing consistency. Spoon the icing over each cooled bun and top with half a glacé cherry. Allow the icing to set and then serve.

Makes 10.