Chelsea buns are what I make (or call what I make) when my traditional English baking genes are stirring. Other times, I might make (or call what I make) ordinary American cinnamon rolls. Of course, cinnamon is optional in a Chelsea bun but not so in a cinnamon roll. And currants, or other dried fruits, are optional in a cinnamon roll but not so in a Chelsea bun. Unlike the thick glaze on a cinnamon roll, the thin glaze on a Chelsea bun is invisible except for the shine.
Though the original London shop that started Chelsea buns in the 18th century is long gone, Chelsea buns are alive and well and being produced in vast quantities by the beloved 91-year-old Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies. Fitzbillies was closed briefly last year before being rescued by UK food writer Tim Hayward. One can actually place an order at fitzbillies.com and get Chelsea buns by post.
Back in the day when I tried to "health" everything up, I used a fraction of the butter and sugar in the filling. Then I decided to just go for it! I know 3/4 cup sounds like an awful lot of brown sugar, but it's really just one tablespoon each--not that bad. I still make most things with far less sugar than is typical, but this is a splurge.
So which is it going to be for you--Chelsea buns or cinnamon rolls?
No-Knead Overnight Make-Ahead Cinnamon Rolls or Chelsea Buns
4 dip-and-sweep cups (20 ounces/566 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces/50 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup (8 fluid ounces/237 ml) milk, microwaved 1 to 2 minutes in 2-cup glass measure
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and added to heated milk
3 large eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces/149 grams) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons (0.625 ounce/18 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons cinnamon (optional in Chelsea buns)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (for Chelsea buns only)
1/2 to 1 cup currants and/or other finely chopped dried fruit
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/43 grams) unsalted butter, softened completely
Glaze for Chelsea Buns
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons milk
Brown Butter Glaze for Cinnamon Rolls
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/43 grams) unsalted butter
1 firmly packed cup (4 ounces/113 grams) unsifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Start rolls the day before. In large bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Add milk, butter and eggs, and stir until thoroughly combine. Stir slowly for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup flour a half cup at a time. The dough will be elastic and sticky.
2 Leave dough in the bowl. Using reserved 1 cup flour, flour hands and sprinkle some flour over the dough. Lightly squish the dough around in the bowl with one hand (not really kneading!), adding a little of the reserved flour at a time. Save about 1 tablespoon of the flour for shaping the rolls. Gently shape the dough into a smooth ball (it will be sticky). Place in lightly oiled bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure so I can easily see when the dough has doubled); lightly oil surface. Cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (took a little over an hour in cold oven).
3 Punch down dough by pressing down in center and folding in edges; cover an let relax in bowl for 20 minutes. In small bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour (save 1/2 teaspoon for the currants), cinnamon (and, for Chelsea buns, lemon zest) and salt. Put the currants or other dried fruit in another small bowl and stir in that little bit of flour, separating any currants that are clumped together. Grease with soft butter or cooking spray a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
4 Turn dough out onto lightly floured (from the reserved flour) surface, and pat out to 12x16-inch rectangle. Spread on softened butter, leaving 1/2-inch border, then spread on the filling. If using the currants or other dried fruit, sprinkle evenly over the filling. Starting with the long edge nearest you, roll (not too tightly) away from you; seal edge by pinching together. Measure and see that the roll is 18 inches long, not counting the ragged ends (the roll will lengthen as you roll it).
5 Using dental floss or serrated knife, trim away the ragged ends and cut roll into twelve 1 1/2-inch slices. Put in prepared baking dish. Cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, and then place in refrigerator overnight.
6 Remove rolls from refrigerator 2 hours before baking. During last 15 minutes of that time, preheat oven to 375F/190C/Gas5. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes.
7 For Chelsea buns, prepare glaze during last 5 minutes of baking time. In small pan, heat sugar and milk to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for a minute. Brush hot glaze on hot rolls the minute they come out of the oven.
8 For cinnamon rolls, prepare glaze during last 10 minutes of baking time. In small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; whisk in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Spread over warm rolls.