Having missed my Easter baking due to our our wet but very enjoyable weekend of camping and cycling in Mudgee, I decided to mix up a batch of spiced buns after the fact.
Now I have to admit that the spiced buns I have made over the years bear no relation to bakery made ones, which makes me wonder if I am a bad bun maker or whether mine are actually more true to the recipe and the bakery ones more bread with spice and dried fruit added to them, mine usually turn out more cakey than bun like, more like german simnel cake or a good quality rock cake.
I wanted an old recipe and had heard about the Albans buns that were having a resurgence, supposedly they have been made for over 1000 years but died out last century, sadly googling failed me, I could find many references to the buns but not to a recipe. According to the BBC, the Alban bun recipe includes "grains of paradise" - cardamom seeds which the BBC says, are credited with giving the bun its "special spicy, medieval taste".
Google having failed me, I turned to Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 1977 and used her spiced bun recipe on p.475 and as she firmly says that 'there is no need to restrict the baking of these delicacies to Easter time' I felt that it didn't matter that Easter had passed me by. Also, the formula for the spice blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and white peppercorns sounded suitably 15th century to my mind. She also recommends the addition of cumin to give a 'wonderful warm and attractive flavor, unothodox but well worth trying" Here's her recipe...
To make twenty to twenty-four buns:
1lb to 1lb 20z plain flour, preferably strong (I used wholemeal, biodynamic stone ground flour)
1 oz yeast
4 oz currants (I used the BM co-op mixed fruit mix and also their lemon and orange peel)
A level teaspoon of salt
Approximately 1/2 pint of milk
2 oz of soft light-brown sugar (I used raw caster sugar)
2 oz butter
2 teaspoons of mixed sweet spice (usually ground allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, I used her other spice blend mentioned above, plus I added ground cardamon to simulate the alban bun)
2 whole eggs
For glazing the buns:
2 tablespoons of milk taken from the 1/2 pint above and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
For preparing the bun trays
Unless they are non-stick a little extra butter and flour are needed
First warm the milk to blood heat and use a little of it for creaming the yeast.
Warm the flour in a big bowl. Add salt, sugar, spices. Make a well in the centre, pour in creamed yeast, then add the softened butter, the whole eggs, one at a time, and the rest of the milk, or as much as can be absorbed by the dough, which should be soft but not too liquid. Stir or mix by hand until all the ingredients are well amalgamated. Finally add your dried fruit and mix them carefully so they are well and evenly distributed through the dough.
Cover bowl, leave in a warm place for the dough to rise for about 2 hours or until it is doubled in volume and light and fluffy.
Now break the dough down, knead it briefly and break off pieces into twenty or twenty-four balls of similar size. ED says to use bun molds, I don't have these so used a lightly buttered baking sheet (cooks note: I also only managed to get 16 pieces which I placed onto the tray with space in-between so they could rise again and double in volume), leave in a warm place - a steamy atmosphere is good for buns - until once more grown and doubled in volume. When they are ready they should feel soft and light to the touch.
Bake the buns in the centre of a fairly hot oven 375oF to 400oF for 15 to 20 minutes.
To make the glaze:
Just before the buns come out of the oven, boil the milk and sugar glaze until it is bubbly and syrupy. Brush buns with this glaze while they are still hot, giving them two successive coatings. According to EB provided the dough was well matured and baked at the right moment, the crusts will e fine and soft, and the glaze will not turn tacky or sticky but will form a fine shinning mirror-like finish to the buns.
Here's one of mine, buttered and waiting to be gobbled up....