What are Bath Buns?
Bath buns were one of Jane Austen’s weaknesses. She said as much to her sister in one of her letters. One of the problems was that when Austen went to stay in Bath with her Aunt Leigh-Perrot, the meals were so stingy that ‘I will endeavor to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns.’ Of course, Jane was being her usual humorous self, but although too many Bath buns may not be good for the digestion, she obviously had a liking for them..
Now if you have read my blogs, you will probably know that Regency food fascinates me and brings me closer to Jane and her Georgian era peers. So, when I wrote ‘A Bath Affair,’ I have my heroine’s family regularly having Bath buns for breakfast, as this was generally when they were eaten. So, what are Bath buns?
I am sure you have heard of the Sally Lunn bun—well, it seems Bath buns were the cousin of this sweet doughy delight. The Lunn was a brioche, and lighter, while Bath buns are more dense, and have the delightful addition of caraway seeds. When they first appeared in English cooking, Bath buns often were sprinkled with sugared caraways, known as comfits, rather than just plain. To make caraway comfits, I have included the method below the recipe for the buns.
Although you can still eat Bath buns in the many tea houses in Bath geared to tourists and Jane Austen fans, you might like to try making them at home if you cannot, like me, get to Bath any time soon!
This is Jamie Oliver’s recipe (thank you Jamie!) for Bath buns:
- Gently heat the milk until tepid, then stir in the yeast
- Combine the flour, sugar and 1 teaspoon of sea salt in an electric mixer or another large bowl.
- Using your hands or the mixer’s dough hook on medium, work in the butter till the mix is like fine breadcrumbs.
- With a wooden spoon, stir in the caraway seeds (if using) and yeasty milk until well combined. It will appear a bit wet, but don’t add any flour. Rest the dough for 10 minutes.
- Skip this stage if using an electric mixer. Grab a handful of dough, stretch it out and slap it back into the bowl. Continue to stretch and slap for 5 minutes until it’s more elastic and easier to handle.
- Turn the dough out onto a flour-dusted work surface and, with floured hands, knead it for 8 to 10 minutes (or 6 to 8 minutes using the mixer’s dough hook) until it is smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a large clean bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 190ºC/gas 5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper (or use a non-stick baking tray).
- Knock back the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls.
- Place them seam-side up and push a sugar cube into the centres. Pull the dough around it so it is completely enclosed. Reshape into balls.
- Place sugar-side down on the tray and cover with a damp cloth. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Beat the egg, then brush over the buns. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped underneath.
- Just before you take them out the oven, warm the milk and sugar for the glaze until the sugar has dissolved.
- Transfer the buns to a wire rack and brush generously with the milk glaze while they’re still hot.
- Lightly crush the sugar cubes for the topping, then sprinkle on top with the caraway seeds (if using). Eat while warm.
fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
butter, at room temperature
tablespoon caraway seeds, optional
rough-cut white sugar cubes
rough-cut white sugar cubes
2 tablespoons sugar
rough cut white sugar cubes
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional
The buns will last for 3 days in an airtight container, but you may want to reheat them before eating.
To make the caraway comfits if you want them to be REALLY authentic:
4 tablespoons of water
4 tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons of caraway seeds
Put water and sugar into a saucepan and stir over a medium heat until dissolved and boiling. Add caraway seeds and stir over the heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir until the mixture is dry. Pour onto a plate or wooden board and cool.
If you would like your seeds doubley crunchy, do the whole process again, with the pre-sugared caraways. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container until ready to sprinkle on your Bath buns!