This week I’ve got for you a wonderfully soft and pillowy – literally! – flatbread from Morocco called Batbout (also mkhamer or toghrift or matlou’). Unlike the Middle Eastern, oven-baked pita, batbout is baked on a griddle or in a heavy-bottomed pan on the top of the stove.

It is made from a mixture of strong wheat flour and semolina which makes the outsides wonderfully chewy and the inside soft and fluffy. And, stored in an airtight container, they stay soft for days, with a pocket that opens up beautifully even when cold.

If, like me, you’ve ever wrestled to open the pocket of a pita, where no amount of toasting and cajoling will work, you’ll find these little puff breads a real delight. Not only do they puff up gloriously during the cooking, they frequently stay puffed, even when cold. The two on the left of the picture were baked 2 days before I took the photo.

Cooking them is a real pleasure, just to see the way they inflate. It’s a “real moment of creation” thing, as the dough appears to be doing not very much at all in the pan, then all of a sudden it is as if they take a deep breath and fill up before your eyes. Here is a video showing this magic.

The secret is in the cooking, and after a few trials I am pretty sure I’ve managed to work out how to achieve maximum puff every time.


200g strong white flour
200g semolina
½ tsp salt
20g fresh yeast or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
warm water to mix

  • Mix the flours and the salt in a bowl.
  • Crumble in the yeast, or if you prefer, mix it with a little water and add to the flours.
  • Add enough water to mae a soft dough (around 300ml), although the actual quantity will depend on how the semolina absorbs the liquid.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until smooth, then cover and set aside for 1 hour to rise.
  • Tip out the dough and pat gently to deflate.
  • Divide the dough into portions according to the side of flatbread you want – around 75-100g for sandwich size is good, larger for tearing and sharing.
  • Roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball. You can use semolina to roll them out, but I prefer them without.
  • Use a rolling pin to roll them into a flat circle of around 10cm diameter, then set them onto a floured cloth. Cover lightly and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.
  • Cook your batbout one at a time until you’re confident with the timings.
  • Place one of the discs of dough into the pan for about a minute, then turn carefully. You want to dry out the surface of the dough, but not colour it. You should start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the uncooked side to show when it is ready.
  • Cook the other side for a similar amount of time, so that the dough is dried but not coloured.
  • Flip the bread back onto the first side, and cook until it starts to colour, then turn it over.
  • This is where the magic happens. As the underside cooks, there is no ‘stretch’ left in the lightly cooked outsides of the bread, so the only way it can expand is by inflating. Usually this will start at one side and then move across to the other side, inflating as it cooks. I just love this part. Here is another video.
  • If it doesn’t puff up, continue to cook each side lightly to dry out the surfaces a little more.
  • Once the bread is puffed and lightly browned on both sides, set it on a wire rack to cool.

In case you missed it:

This week on The earliest recipe for Sally Lun buns!

Stuffed Muffins

Stuffed Muffins

Here’s an idea I came up with for a no-mess breakfast sandwich, snack on the go – or brunch whilst lolling around on a Sunday.

Stuffed muffins!


Soft, pillowy muffin dough is folded around a filling of your choice, and cooked on the griddle (or in my case, a heavy-duty frying pan) for just 7 minutes each side. No more worrying that your filling is going to slide out from between your muffin layers, or spill down your front. Best of all, no greasy fingers!

I opted for a mixture of well-seasoned caramelised onions, chestnut mushrooms softened in butter and a feisty cheddar. It’s a combination that I’ve only recently discovered, having been rather ambivalent about mushrooms for many years, but now I’m slightly obsessed with it. The earthiness of the mushrooms, the richness of the onions and the sharp tang of cheese is seriously delicious. Chestnut mushrooms have a rich mushroomy-y flavour without the black of portobello mushrooms.

You can obviously customise the filling to your own tastes. I would heartily recommend a cheese of some sort – to bind everything together in a delicious, gooey bundle.

Stuffed Muffins

Makes 10

1 batch of fresh yeast muffin dough, after the first rise
6 onions, peeled and diced small
250g chestnut mushrooms – sliced thinly
60g unsalted butter
30ml vegetable oil
pepper and salt
100g cheese of choice

cornflour to sprinkle

  • Melt 30g of butter in a heavy pan over a medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
  • Melt the remaining butter and the oil in the pan and add the onions.
  • Sprinkle with a little salt and stir over a medium low heat until softened and starting to brown. Season with pepper.
  • Drain the excess oil from the onions by placing a sieve over a bowl and pouring the onions into the sieve. Leave to drain and cool.
  • Cut the cheese into small (5mm) dice.
  • Mix together the cheese, onions and mushrooms in equal quantities by volume. Use a cup. Any cup. You’ll have onions and mushrooms to spare. Keep the remainder in the fridge in plastic boxes to brighten up sandwiches and snacks.
  • Tip out your risen muffin dough and divide into 100g pieces.
  • For each piece of dough, fold the edges in towards the middle, then turn over so that the folds are underneath and the top is smooth. Cup your hand over the dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball.
  • When all the dough has been shaped, for each piece of dough, roll out gently to a diameter of about 10cm.
    • Add 2tbs of filling to one half of the dough. Dampen the edge of the dough with a little water, then fold the dough over the filling.
    • Pinch the edges together neatly to form a tight seal.
    • Sprinkle the worktop with cornflour and set the shaped and filled dough aside to rise.
    • By the time you’ve finished filling and shaping all of the dough, the first ones will be ready to cook.
  • To cook the stuffins:
    • Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat until thoroughly hot.
    • Turn the heat down to low and add in 2 or 3 of the stuffins turning them upside down as you do so. By cooking the slightly dried top first, the stuffins will retain a more muffin-y shape.
    • Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
    • Gently turn the stuffins over and cook, uncovered, for another 7 minutes.
    • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.
  • To reheat, zap in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, then toast each side for 1 minute in a dry pan.

18th Century English French Bread

18th Century French Bread

Bread is a curious topic to go a-hunting in the recipe archives because there are relatively so few recipes. Considering how central it was for such a large part of the population, the proportion of recorded recipes is surprisingly low.

The reason for this might be similar to that often cited as being behind Marco Polo’s failure to mention paper money in his account of travels in China: familiarity. It is a theory that Polo was so familiar with its usage after his many years in the country, and since his memoirs were written so long after his return, he completely forgot the surprise and wonder that the concept paper money would have for his readers. Perhaps the ability to make bread was so fundamental, so ingrained, few thought to write down the recipes since it was a skill everyone possessed.

It was also, however, a specialised craft, requiring both skill and equipment to produce on a large-scale, not to mention the unsociable hours and back-breaking work mixing huge quantities of dough without machinery. As such, as hard, manual labour, it was firmly in the province of the labouring classes, however skilled.

The more well-to-do, whose recipes have survived in household manuscript books, seem to have been partial to French bread, and it has been interesting to note the numbers of recipes for French bread consistently exceeding those for anything English. A large proportion of them are variations on this recipe, using egg whites as part of the liquid component.

French Bread

French Bread recipe dating from 1703, MS7788 in the Wellcome Library

I chose this 1703 recipe because of its simplicity – other recipes use whole eggs/butter/milk/cream, and I wanted to see whether the egg-whites had a noticeable effect on the flavour and texture of the loaf without any other distractions. The answer is yes – it is certainly different to a bread made without egg-whites. There’s no way to tell whether this is a genuine approximation of the French bread of the time, but I suspect that it wouldn’t have been too far removed from the sourdough bread enjoying a resurgence today.

Traditional sourdough, baked in a wood-fired oven, is a wonderful thing – insanely crusty with a great ‘chew’. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, though – which is where this loaf might gain favour. After baking, the crisp crust softens as it cools, making it easy to slice without the dangers of crust fragments ricocheting off at alarming speeds that comes with cutting a traditional sourdough. The crumb is open and springy with enough of a chew to make it very satisfying. From the photo above, it would appear that the centre of the loaf actually has a more open texture than the edges. It can be relished spread with just a little butter – and how long is it since you can say you honestly enjoyed a slice of white bread and butter?

I’ve obviously scaled this recipe down from the original and have made just one change: salt. True to my own code of conduct when working with old recipes, I did bake it ‘as written’ in the first instance, and while it had the great crust and texture described above, the flavour was lacking. Finally, I find it amusing to note that 300 years after it was jotted down, this recipe still takes just 30 minutes to bake.

18th Century English French Bread

450g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp salt
50ml egg-white whisked with 300ml warm water
Additional warm water (maybe)

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.
  • Whisk together the eggwhites and the warm water and add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly, adding more water if required (unlikely), to form a rather soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover lightly with plastic and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. If your kitchen is on the cool side, you can turn the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan for 2 minutes, then switch it off and put in your dough to prove.
  • Tip out the risen dough and pat gently to deflate.
  • Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a greased 1kg loaf tin. The dough should half-fill the tin. If you’d prefer a taller loaf, use a smaller or longer shape.
  • Set aside to rise for 30 minutes. On cold days I put the loaf into the small top oven while the main oven below warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, turning the loaf around after 20 minutes to help colour it evenly.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Slice when cold.

Sheets and Blankets

Sheets And Blankets Loaf

We’re back on the yeast this week, but to mitigate your groans of “Not AGAIN!?”, it’s an unusual and wonderfully quirky recipe.

I’ve adapted it from a description found in John White’s “A Treatise on the Art of Baking” from 1828, free copy available here.

It is made from a mixture of both wheat and rye doughs, but instead of the more usual marbling, the doughs are laid on top of one another in layers, so that when the loaf is cut, the contrast between the two doughs is quite striking.  This striped effect gives the loaf it’s name of Sheets and Blankets, as it resembles a stack of folded bed-linen.

As a loaf, it was already fading from popularity in 1828, as people moved away from the dark rye breads and the fashion moved towards whiter loaves, but not only is it pretty to look at, it is also delicious to eat.

The rye layers are both darkened and slightly sweetened by the addition of a little treacle and delicately flavoured with caraway seeds. Neither is overpowering, and the addition of the white dough layers does much to lighten the crumb. Whilst sturdy, and having a fabulous crust, it is nowhere near as heavy or as dense as an all-rye loaf.

The challenge with this recipe is the proving times of the different flours. Rye is much slower and so reluctant to respond to the yeast, it requires a staggered start, and only when your rye dough is starting it’s main proofing should you start making your wheat dough. I used wholewheat flour as the starter for the rye, otherwise the proving time would have been a much more lengthy process.

I chose to bake this loaf in a tin to accentuate the layers, but you can leave it free-form on a baking sheet if liked. It’d probably be closer to how it was originally baked.

You can also bake this using brown bread flour instead of the white, for a sturdier loaf and a more subtle contrast between the layers. Stoneground wholemeal flour is do-able, but just that bit too heavy on the chew, in my opinion.

Sheets and Blankets

You need to start the rye dough at least 1 hour before your wheat dough. You can use your regular white dough recipe, or follow the method below.

For the rye sponge
100g brown bread flour
15g fresh yeast – crumbled
25g treacle – warmed
180ml warm water

150g rye flour
1tsp caraway seeds
1tsp salt

For the wheat sponge
100g strong white flour
15g fresh yeast – crumbled
200ml warm water

150g strong white flour
1tsp salt

  • Whisk together the ingredients for the rye sponge, making sure to get plenty of air into the batter.
  • Mix the other ingredients together and sprinkle onto the yeast mixture.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to prove for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, the sponge will have broken through the dry flour on top, and bubbles should be visible.
  • Mix everything together into a soft dough and knead for 10 minutes. You may need to add a little extra warm water if it’s looking a bit dry.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to rise.
  • Whisk together the ingredients for the wheat flour sponge.
  • Sprinkle the rest of the flour and the salt onto the yeast mixture.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to prove. This will probably take less time than for the rye flour.
  • After 30-40 minutes, the sponge will have broken through the dry flour on top, and bubbles should be visible.
  • Mix everything together into a soft dough and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to rise.
  • The two doughs should be fully proved at around the same time. Since the wheat dough is going to be more lively, you can deflate it and set it to rise again if the rye dough still needs some time.
  • When both doughs are risen you can shape them into your loaf.
  • Tip out each of the doughs and deflate.
  • Cut off 1/3 of the rye dough and set aside. Divide the remainder into 3 even pieces.
  • Cut 3 x 100g pieces of the white dough. You will have excess dough, so shape it into rolls or put it in the fridge to use later.
  • Shape the six pieces of dough into similar shapes, and stack them alternately one on top of the other, starting with a piece of the rye dough on the bottom.
  • Take the remaining rye dough and roll out thinly. The original recipe recommended having the final layer of the loaf of rye dough, and I chose to roll the remaining dough really thinly and wrapped the whole loaf in a thin layer of rye. This was extremely tricky. Since the bottom layer of the loaf is rye, a much easier approach would be to drape the rolled-out dough over the loaf and either join it to the bottom layer by pinching together, or tuck the edges underneath. I then transferred the loaf to the tin, but if you’re baking the loaf freeform, you can leave it on a baking sheet as is.
  • Sprinkle the top of the loaf with rye flour to prevent it from drying out and set aside to rise for about 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • There’s not much oven-rise, so no urgent need to slash the top of the loaf, but it shows a nice contrast of the white dough beneath the rye if you like.
  • Bake for between 50 minutes and 1 hour, until the base sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
  • Do not slice until completely cold.

Cracked Wheat Bread

Cracked Wheat Loaf

Something a little different this week – not just an unusual recipe but also a method of baking a loaf that might be new to you.

It’s called baking ‘under tin’ and is very useful if your loaf is decorated on the outside with seeds or grains, as it prevents them from becoming over-coloured in the high heat necessary for baking bread. It’s not just for use with speciality loaves, however, it is also useful for creating a very regularly-shaped loaf for making sandwiches, etc or keeping a delicately-crumbed loaf of enriched or milk bread from over-browning. You can splash out and buy a special sandwich tin with a lid that slides on/off (also known in the US as Pullman Tins), but it’s not necessary. Ideally, the tin would have vents in the lid to allow the steam to estape, but inverting a solid tin is fine – since the tin isn’t weighted down, any steam can escape from under the edges.

The other interesting aspect of this week’s post is one of the ingredients. I found the recipe for cracked wheat loaves in Walter Banfield’s classic book “Manna”: A Comprehensive Treatise on Bread Manufacture (1937). The cracked wheat is used both in the dough itself and also to decorate the outsides. I decided to adapt the recipe slightly in order to use an ingredient I picked up recently but had yet to use in anything – freekeh.

Freekeh a cereal made from air-dried and roasted green wheat and is popular in the middle east. It can be used as an alternative to rice or couscous, or substituted for bulgur wheat in tabbouleh salad. It is available in a couple of UK supermarkets, and also health food shops and online. It needs only a brief amount of cooking in water in order to soften it. If you zoom in to the picture, you can just make out the little yellow nuggets of chewy freekeh dotted through the slice. They make for great texture and add a pleasantly nutty flavour. This loaf is also nice made with half freekeh, half bulgur or all bulgur if you can’t find freekeh anywhere.

Whilst you can choose any flour to make these loaves, my recommendation is for strong brown flour (pictured) or malted flour. 100% stoneground wholemeal is tasty, but extremely dense. If you want the grains to be more noticable, you could mix 1/2 brown and 1/2 white, or experiment with rye, barley and other unusual grain flours.

Cracked Wheat Bread

100g freekeh, bulgur wheat or a mixture of both
500g strong brown flour
10g salt
EITHER 15g fresh yeast mixed with 5g brown sugar until liquid OR 1 sachet fast-action yeast.
warm water to mix

50g freekeh and/or bulgur wheat for coating

  • Put the 100g of freekeh into a small pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then drain. If using bulgur wheat, there’s no need to pre-cook, just cover with water and allow to soak for 30 minutes, then drain.
  • Add the drained freekeh or bulgur to the rest of the dry ingredients.
  • Add sufficient warm water to bring the dough together.
  • Knead for 10 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size (about an hour).
  • Prepare the 50g freekeh and/or bulgur wheat in a similar manner and drain.
  • Grease a large loaf tin. The tin should be slightly larger than you would normally use for a loaf of this quantity of flour.
  • When the dough has risen. turn out of the bowl and deflate by patting gently.
  • Fold the edges into the middle and form the dough into a loaf shape. The top should be smooth and the seam underneath. Use as little flour as possible. The surface of the dough should be tacky to the touch.
  • Scatter the prepared grains over the work surface and roll the loaf of dough over them to coat. If there are any patches, pat the grains onto those areas by hand.
  • Put the dough into the loaf tin UPSIDE DOWN – that is, with the seam uppermost – and set aside to rise for about 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • When the dough has risen almost to the top of the tin, lay a sheet of parchment over the top of the loaf tin and lay a baking sheet on top. Carefully invert both loaf tin and baking sheet so that the upside-down loaf tin is on top of the baking sheet, and the dough completely enclosed.
  • Slide a second baking sheet under the first and put all into the oven. The second sheet will help prevent the bottom of the loaf becoming too crisp.
  • Bake for 45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Turn out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.




Bara Brith

Bara Brith

The obsession with yeast continues!

This time, it’s the classic Welsh speckled bread Bara Brith. Nowadays, this is usually made using baking powder as the leavener, but personally I prefer the more traditional yeast.

And bonus! There’s two recipes for you to choose from!

When looking at an old recipe, I usually study the range of recipes available and select the one that, to my imagination, sounds the nicest. If there is a tie, then I will make both and decide which makes the cut by taste. This time, however, it was too difficult to decide, so I chose not to choose and leave that decision to you.

Both recipes have their strongpoints, not least from their provenance and pedigree.

On the left of the photo above, we have the recipe from Walter Banfield’s classic book “Manna”: A Comprehensive Treatise on Bread Manufacture (1937), a book admired by Elizabeth David and breathtaking in its breadth and scope. It is based on additions made to ordinary white bread dough after its first proving. The large quantity of fruit and peel contrast brightly against the white of the dough and make for a very sturdy slice that will keep moist for a long time.

On the right of the photo, a possibly more authentic Bara Breith from Mrs E.B.Jones, who, for many years, ran the Powys Temperance Hotel on Market Square, Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant in the first half of the 20th century. The recipe was collected by Dorothy Hartley and included in her iconic book Food in England, first published in 1954. As can be seen from the picture, this recipe isn’t as heavily fruited as the first one, but it has the added interest of being made from half wheat flour and half oat flour (finely ground oatmeal). Against expectation, the crumb is very light, making it a much more delicate slice.

I love the richness of the fruit in the bread dough version, but also really enjoy the delicate flavours of Mrs Jones’ version. I suggest you make both and decide for yourself.

Both loaves will keep well wrapped in parchment and foil, in a cake tin. Both are best enjoyed sliced and buttered, with a hot cup of something in front of a roaring fire.

Mrs Jones’ Bara Brieth

Don’t feel the need to order oat flour especially for this recipe, you can make your own by blitzing rolled oats in a spice grinder, or just use medium oatmeal for a more robust texture.

60g candied orange peel – diced
100g currants
70g sultanas
225g strong white flour
225g oat flour or medium oatmeal
115g lard
115g Demerara sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast

  • Put the peel and the fruit into a bowl and pour over boiling water. Set aside to plump for about 30 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, cream the yeast and the soft brown sugar together.
  • Put the flours and the lard into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into the bowl you will be using for mixing and add the Demerara sugar, spice and salt
  • Drain the fruit, retaining the water, and use it to mix the dough. Keep the fruit warm in a low oven while the dough is kneaded.
  • Add the yeast to the flour mixture with the egg, lightly whisked. Use the (by now just) warm fruit-soaking water to mix everything to a soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Mix in the warm fruit, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size. Due to the richness of the ingredients, this may take anything between 1 and 2 hours.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen, tip it out and pat down to deflate. Form into a loaf shape and lay into the prepared tin.
  • Cover lightly and allow to rise for about 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Walter Banfield’s Bara Brith

450g strong white flour
½ tsp salt
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast
warm water to mix

115g lard in small cubes
5g mixed spice
65g Demerara sugar
1 large egg
300g currants
90g sultanas
90g raisins
60g candied orange peel – diced
50g plain flour

  • Cream the sugar and yeast together with a tablespoon of the flour and a little warm water and set aside to work
  • Mix with the rest of the ingredients into a soft dough.
  • Cover with plastic and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  • After 30 minutes, spread the fruit (not the peel) out on a baking sheet lined with parchment and put into the oven on its lowest setting, just to warm through.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen to twice its original size, add in the finely cubed lard, spice, egg and sugar and knead smooth.
  • Add the warmed fruit and peel and mix thoroughly.
  • Sprinkle over the flour and mix thoroughly.
  • Shape into a large loaf and place into the prepared tin.
  • Allow a long second rise, of 1-2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Luxury Bath Buns

Bath Buns


Here’s a variation of a recipe in MY BOOK  – brazen, shameless plug! – which I have adapted from one of my favourite vintage recipe books, snappily entitled “Morning and Hot-Plate Goods including Scones, Buns, Teabread, etc” by John Boyd.

It is a book for professional bakers, in that the recipes inside involve ingredients measured in pounds rather than ounces, but it is compact nevertheless, with a jaunty yellow cover and both line and photographic illustrations throughout. It is undated, but after a quick search of t’internet, the mid 1940s seems a good guesstimate of age.

The book claims that this is the original recipe of those NORTY buns in the 18th century that caused everyone ‘taking the waters’ in Bath to put on so much weight, allegedly forcing Dr Oliver to invent the altogether much less fun Bath Oliver biscuit for people to nibble on instead. The dough is a deep, golden colour from all the butter and eggs, and dotted with crunchy sugar and orange peel. Don’t be alarmed at the quantity of nutmeg, it looks a lot, but it’s not overpowering at all – skimp on it at your peril.

These buns are definitely an indulgence  –  a delicious, DELICIOUS indulgence, but the freezer is your friend and thus these treats can be spread over a few weeks, rather than having to consume them all in one sitting, however tempting that may be.

Since my book came out, I’ve picked up a couple of snippets of additional information about Bath Buns. Despite their rich ingredients, their appearance wasn’t supposed to be a smooth, spherical ball of dough, rather they were deliberately of a rough and craggy exterior, which, I must admit, is a great contrast to their soft, luxurious interiors. The iconic sugar nib topping remains.

Some recipes suggest using a pair of spoons to portion out the soft dough, but thanks to a quick flick through MANNA by Walter Banfield, I discovered an altogether easier method (see below).

The recipe calls for fresh yeast – my latest fad – but feel free to substitute rapid-rise yeast if preferred.

Luxury Bath Buns

Makes 16-ish

450g strong white flour
4 large eggs
225g unsalted butter
30g granulated sugar
30g fresh yeast
60ml milk
2 whole nutmegs – grated
225g sugar nibs
2oz candied orange peel – finely chopped
3 drops lemon essence (original) or the zest of a lemon (my suggestion)

1 large egg for glazing

  • Heat some water in a small pan.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the milk.
  • Whisk together, then put the bowl over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warmed, but no hotter than blood-temperature (dip a clean finger in to test).
  • Whisk in the yeast and 50g from the flour and set aside  to rise for 30 minutes.
  • While this is working, in another bowl, gently warm the butter over the simmering water until soft. Add the granulated sugar, nutmeg and lemon essence/zest and whisk to combine.
  • Combine the two mixtures after the yeast has been working for 30 minutes and stir into the remaining flour.
  • Knead well for 10 minutes. It is an extremely soft dough, but please resist the temptation to add any more flour as this would compromise the texture of the finished buns (I use a stand mixer & a dough hook).
  • Adding the nibs and peel: Here you have a choice. You can add in 150g of the nibs at the end of the kneading, then set it to rise, OR you can add in 150g of the sugar after the first rise. Adding the sugar straight after the kneading will mean it leeches moisture from the dough and starts to dissolve as the dough rises, leading to less of a crunch in the bite of the finished bun. Add 150g of sugar nibs after the first rise, and they are still relatively large and crunchy, even after baking. The rest of the nibs will be scattered over the top of the buns, so their crunchiness needs to be factored into your decision as well. The peel can be added at either time, but I generally add it after the kneading to allow its aroma to permeate the dough.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  • Tip out the dough and pat down.
  • Add the sugar/peel if not already done so.
  • Portion the dough into pieces weighing 150g. Form these pieces into neat balls, then gradually stretch the ball of dough between your hands until it pulls in half – pretty much like those diagrams of cells dividing. Place the buns with the torn side upwards onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. In the recipe in my book, the buns were placed atop a sugar cube soaked in lemon juice. As the buns cooked, the sugar and lemon juice melted together to give a deliciously crunchy coating to the base of each bun. These buns are so rich from the butter and the sugar nibs, this isn’t necessary, however the parchment is a must to ensure they don’t stick.
  • Whisk the egg with a little water and glaze the buns, then allow to rise for 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Glaze the buns again, then top with the remaining sugar nibs
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the tins around after 10 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • Remove from the oven and leave on the tins. Cover the hot buns with clean tea towels to keep the crust soft as they cool.
  • Enjoy warm.