I think of all the recipes I’ve ever published, this one has been the most popular. I made them this morning and was thinking that it’s still one of my most favourite recipes – the buns are just so soft and pillowy, and the topping so delightfully sticky… there’s just nothing better – the ultimate comfort food!
I’ve updated this recipe ever so slightly (doesn’t take much to improve on perfection – I was trying to make the method a bit less waffly, but actually succeeded in putting more waffle in) but hey, the more info you’ve got, the easier it is to do it right? Right?
You will need:
450g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp liquid glucose
Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.
In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat. The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature ( you know, so it doesn’t feel particularly hot or cold when you pop your finger in, I don’t need you to actually bleed or anything…) when it’s added to the dry ingredients. You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.
Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough. Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft. You can always add a bit of flour.
Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again. As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun. Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour. As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.
When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (I have to add this bit for my friend Snaffles Mummy – its her favourite bit), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size. Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls. Either place them on a floured baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6. Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing.
As soon as they’re out of the oven (they’ll be pale golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom) drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides.
Of course, this basic recipe can be jazzed up really easily – I’ve done it with pink, hibiscus icing, I’ve done birthday buns with blue icing and candles… I did black for halloween one year too.
Add a hint of spice, some orange zest and a handful of sultanas and you’re well on the way to hot cross buns, or if you fancy Chelsea buns, after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake as before. Just be sure to ram as many into your mouth as you can before anyone else smells them and comes to investigate.