These original Bath Buns are known as the ‘London Variety’, purely and simply because another famous bun also comes from Bath, the Sally Lunn. Made from at least the early 1800s the Bath Bun recipe below is an authentic one which would have been traditionally made in a bakery, however the earliest Bath Bun recipes can sometimes call for the addition of coloured-sugared almonds and currants, these were added on top after baking, sticking to a sugary glaze. At the end of this first page are recipes from the 1800s, and if you are interested in reading the early original Baker’s recipes, from books published for the baking trade, these follow on after this first page.
‘Chambers Journal’ published in 1855 by W. Chambers
The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper—a new potentate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun. This bun is rich and handsome, yellow with the golden yolk of eggs that mingles with its flour, wealthy in butter and sugar, adorned with milk – white sugar – plums, curiously coloured comfits, and snowy almonds. Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers. Take a child into a confectioner’s shop, ask it what it prefers, and, ten to one, its tiny finger will point to where, among tartlets and sausage-rolls, nestles the Bath-bun.
Bath Buns (London Variety) Recipe
Bath Buns are made in a two step process, first the ferment is made, then the dough (the dough ingredients are incorporated into the ferment, with the butter added last). The original recipe calls for ‘sugar nibs’ these are large, very coarse grained sugar granules, when baked these leave behind ‘sweet spots’ in the breads – just use the coarsest sugar you have.
For the ferment (first stage)
- 150ml milk (warm)
- 20g caster sugar
- 20g yeast
- 70g plain flour
For the dough (second stage)
- 500g plain bread flour (strong)
- 250g butter (softened)
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolks
- zest of a lemon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
For the flavourings:
- 225g coarse sugar (sugar nibs)
- 225g finely chopped candied peel
- a little beaten egg, milk, and caster sugar
- caster sugar
Making the ferment: In a large mixing bowl add the warm milk then stir in the sugar, plain flour and yeast, in that order. Keep the ferment at a temperature of around 29C and let it stand until it drops (it will froth up then start to collapse in on itself).
Making the dough: Into the mixing bowl with the yeast ferment stir in all the dough ingredients, except for the butter. Bring this together into a well developed dough (add more flour if needed). Then beat in the softened butter thoroughly until fully mixed. The dough should be silky and smooth and elastic. Leave it covered in the bowl in a warm place and ‘knock it back’ after one hour (60 minutes), and then again after half an hour (30 minutes). Knocking it back just means to gently punch the air out of the dough and bring it back down in size.
After an hour and a half (90 minutes) of proving, thoroughly mix in the sugar nibs (coarse sugar) and the candied peel. Once mixed pinch off a small hand-full of dough and place these spaced apart on a well greased baking tray – the shape of the Bath Bun is ‘rocky’ with very few smooth edges. Just break off a piece of dough and place it on the sheet without shaping or moulding it. Brush each Bath Bun with a little beaten egg glaze. Leave these to prove for another half an hour (30 minutes).
Preheat the oven 230C
Sprinkle over each Bath Bun a little caster sugar, and then bake in the oven until a rich golden colour at 230C for about 25 to 35 minutes.
‘THE FRUGAL COOK’, E CARTER, 1851
Take a pound of butter, and rub it into an equal weight of flour, with a spoonful of good yeast. Warm some milk, and make it into a light paste. Set it to the fire to rise, and when you make them up, take four ounces of carraway comfits, work part of them in, and sirew the rest on the top. Make them into round cakes, about the size of a French roll. Bake them thirty minutes, on tins.
‘THE ART OF COOKERY’, JOHN MOLLARD, 1836
Knead well together four pounds of sifted flour, a pint of yeast, a little orange flower water, three eggs beaten, a little grated nutmeg, some salt, three ounces of oiled butter coloured with saffron, and a pint of warm milk. Set in a warm place to rise, make into buns, wash them over with a little oiled butter, bake ‘n a brisk oven, and strew comfits over.