A Sally Lunn (sometimes as Sally Lund) is a delicate, gold-topped and sweetened bun which originated in Bath, but these are not to be confused with a Bath Bun (London Variety). Dorothy Hartley (1954) in her ‘Food In England’ wrote, “This yellow-white bun was an infernal trouble to make, taking from sunrise to sunset to raise, was made gold on top with the beaten yolks of eggs, and split hot and embosomed in clouds of cream”. But actually they are not that difficult to make, and are delicious to eat, the only tricky bit is baking them perfectly round and having them remain pale in colour. 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.
Sally Lunns have an interesting history. The accepted version is this, “Sally Lunn, a Huguenot refugee (perhaps better known as Solange Luyon) came to Bath in 1680 via Bristol after escaping persecution in France. In Lilliput Alley she found work with the baker and introduced her now famous light and delicate ‘bun’ to pre Georgian Bath”.
However, in the 1800s, it was thought differently, (but this is not considered an accurate history). “The bun so fashionable, called the Sally Lunn, originated with a young woman of that name at Bath, about thirty years ago. She first cried them in a basket, with a white cloth over it, morning and evening. Dalmer, a respectable baker and musician, noticed her, bought her business, and made a song and set it to music on behalf of Sally Lunn. This composition became the street favourite, barrows were made to distribute the nice cakes, Dalmer profited thereby and retired, and to this day the Sally Lunn Cake claims pre-eminence in all the cities of England.”
Sally Lunns Recipe
Sally Lunns are made in a two step process, first the ferment is made, then the dough. In a commercial bakery small baking rings or ‘hoops’ are used to help the Sally Lunns retain their round shape perfectly as they bake, they are removed directly after baking, then the buns are glazed. If you do not have some small hoops then bake them free standing on a baking sheet, but make sure the buns are as round as they can be before baking.
For the ferment (first stage)
- 300ml milk (warm)
- 15g sugar
- 20g yeast
- 70g plain white flour
For the dough (second stage)
- 600g plain white bread flour (strong)
- 75g butter (softened)
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- 75g sugar
- zest of a lemon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- two egg yolks, a very little milk, a very little caster sugar
- whipped cream (cut the buns in half and fill with cream)
- can also be eaten with butter and either jam, marmalade or honey.
Making the ferment: In a large jug 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 a large mixing bowl sift in the flour then rub in the softened butter until the flour resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, lemon zest and nutmeg. Mix in the beaten eggs and bring everything into a stiff dough. The dough should be silky, smooth and elastic.
Leave the dough covered in the bowl, in a warm place, and ‘knock it back’ after forty minutes (40 minutes). Knocking it back just means to gently punch the air out of the dough and bring it back down in size. Then after half an hour (30 minutes) break off pieces of the dough which should each weigh 220g. Shape each piece into a perfectly round ball, and place them spaced apart on a well greased baking sheet. Allow to prove (rise) for another thirty minutes (30 minutes) in a warm area.
If you have baking rings (10 to 12cm hoops) grease them and place each Sally Lunn in one. As they prove and expand to reach the edges of the hoop bake them.
Preheat the oven to 230C
Bake the Sally Lunns in the oven at 230C until just baked, making sure they remain pale in colour. Remove the buns from the oven, (and from the baking rings or hoops if used) and brush over the tops with the bun wash. Allow to cook on a wire wrack. When you want to serve cut them in half and fill with either whipped cream, or spread over some butter with either jam, marmalade or honey.
‘THE GODEY’S LADY’S BOOK’, SARAH ANNIE FROST, 1870
Three pints of flour, three teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar, three ounces of butter, one cup of sugar, and a small spoonful of salt . Mix all together dry, add four well beaten eggs and a dessert spoonful of soda, dissolved in a pint and a half of milk. Bake in a quick oven. Light Sally Lunn.—One pound of flour, one pint of milk, three well beaten eggs, salt, three ounces of butter, half a cup of baker’s yeast . Set in pans to rise the usual time.
‘PRACTICAL AND SCIENTIFIC COOKERY’, A. HOUSEKEEPER, 1851
Two eggs; two small cups of cream, or milk; two cups of loaf sugar; one pint of flour; half a pound of butter; one tea-spoonful of mace. The cream and butter to be warmed together, and when melted, poured upon the sugar. Beat the eggs and stir them in. Stir into the flour a tea-spoonful of cream of tartar, and then add it to the eggs and sugar. Dissolve a full half tea-spoon of soda in a little warm water, and mix in well. Bake immediately.
‘THE ENGLISH BREAD-BOOK’, ELIZA ACTON, 1857
To make a Sally Lunn, dissolve three ounces of good butter, cut small, in less than half of the milk with which the sponge is to be set; cool it down with the remainder; and, if a sweetened preparation be liked, stir three ounces of pounded sugar to the flour before it is moistened; pour gradually the milk and butter to the yeast, of which there must be a full ounce, and proceed in all else as above. Three hours will sometimes be required to bring this sponge to its height. When it is ready add the second pound of flour to it, put it into a round buttered tin or tins, which it should not more than half fill, and when it has risen nearly to the edge let it be put without delay into the oven, and baked a nice brown. An egg or two, when they are considered requisite, can be mixed with the milk and butter either for the Sally Lunn, or to convert the dough into buns; but, to allow for the addition, a few spoonfuls of the milk should be omitted. Carraway seeds, currants, or candied citron or orange-rind, can be kneaded in with the other ingredients when the second pound of flour is mixed with the sponge, or immediately after it is worked in. Two or three ounces more of sugar may, for many tastes, be thought needful for the buns.