Chelsea Buns

These are certainly the forerunner of modern sweet rolls. Enjoyed by royalty and commoner alike, they were evidently concocted at a bakery known as the Chelsea Bun House, which was built on Pimlico Road in the Chelsea section of London.

18th Century

We’ve not found a specific 18th century cookbook with the Chelsea Bun recipe in it. The research, however, gives accounts of them over time from a number of individuals with the ingredients and descriptions always being the same. So here is our recipe for creating these wonderful buns. They take a little time to make, but we’re sure you’ll agree they are scrumptious.

21st Century

The Dough

  • 6 c. flour (unbleached all purpose)
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ c. butter, one stick (room temperature)
  • 1 ¼ c. milk
  • 2 packages of dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar

The Filling

  • 4 oz. currants (fresh or dried currants that have been plumped in warm water and drained)
  • 4 oz. brown sugar mixed with 1 ½ oz. white sugar
  • 4 oz. softened butter
  • 2 Tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
  • grated peel of 1 lemon (optional)

The Glaze

  • 1 c. Sugar
  • ½ c. Milk
  1. Put your flour in a large mixing bowl. Work the butter into the flour thoroughly with your hands so that it is absorbed by the flour. In a separate bowl whip your eggs thoroughly.
  2. To the eggs add the sugar, salt, milk (warm, not hot) and the dry yeast. Blend all of these ingredients well.
  3. Pour egg mixture into the flour/butter and mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together. Knead it with your hands until it becomes similar to bread dough. If it is a little soft, add a little flour to stiffen it some and to keep it from sticking to the bowl.
  4. Cover with a warm damp cloth and set it aside in a warm place to let it proof (rise) about an hour. In the meantime have your currants, butter and sugar put into small bowls to have ready for the filling of the dough.
  5. After the dough has risen you are ready to roll out the dough and put in the filling. Start by flouring your work surface so the dough doesn’t stick to it.
  6. Gently punch the dough down to let out the air and work it into a ball. Roll it out into a rectangle approximately 18″ to 20″ inches by 12″ to 14″ inches and around a ½ inch thick. Lightly score the dough vertically to create three equal sections.
  7. With a table knife, spread half of your softened butter on the left two sections leaving the right section uncovered. Evenly sprinkle half of the sugar over the butter and then half of the currants evenly over that. Add half of the cinnamon, if you choose to use it, over that.
  8. Gently lift the right third of the dough and fold it over the center third and gently press it down. Now take those two and gently fold it over onto the left third and press down gently. You now have a rectangle one third the size you started with but three times as thick.
  9. Lightly flour your work surface again and center your dough so that it looks like a rectangle again. Roll the dough out as you did before until it is as large as the rectangle size we started with. Now repeat the filling steps, but this time, spread the butter/sugar/currants/cinnamon and lemon peel (if you choose) over the whole surface. Once you’ve done that, start at the edge of the dough closest to you and proceed to roll the dough up into a pinwheel log, sealing the last half inch or so with a little water. The log should be around two inches in diameter.
  10. Now take a medium sharp knife and proceed to cut the buns from one end of the “log” to the other at about an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half for each one. Lay them flat side down on a baking sheet no farther than an inch apart. As they rise in a warm place for about a half hour to forty-five minutes they should touch each other.
  11. Bake them at about 375° for about 25 minutes or so (depending on the thickness of the buns). Do not bake them too long, they are to be soft not firm and should be rather square in shape. They shouldn’t be dark brown but rather light in color.
  12. For the glaze, add the milk to the sugar and gently heat it, stirring until you blend the two together. Lightly spoon the glaze over each bun. This glaze is not to be like an icing but rather a thin glaze to enhance to bun’s flavor. Cool and enjoy.

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15 Responses to “Chelsea Buns”

  1. August 10th, 2012

    John Montague says:

    WOW! They sound fantastic!

  2. August 10th, 2012

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Frank and Foodways Crew,
    You’ve done it again. You’ve blown my diet. When it comes to cinnamon rolls, THERE IS NO SELF-CONTROL. None. Don’t even go there.
    These will be made without the currants and lemon peel in our house. We like just cinnamon or cinnamon/brown sugar in our cinnamon rolls. Do I need to adjust anything because of the lack of weight or space taken up by the currants?
    Please keep of those wonderful diet busters coming. I may not go out of this world the size I was as a 20 year old 42 years ago, but I will go out happy. Hopefully in about 25/30 years from now.

    Have a good weekend,

    • August 10th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Hello Chris,

      You could certainly substitute raisins, or experiment with any type of dried fruit you like. No adjustments need to be made if you omit them altogether.

      • August 11th, 2012

        Christine Hansley says:

        Good morning Foodways Crew,
        Thanks for the reply and spelling correction.
        Have a great weekend,

  3. August 16th, 2012

    Karen G. says:

    I gain weight just reading this wonderful recipe. Thank you for 2 minutes of blissful calorie-dripping reading. Ummmm, I can almost smell them…

    Karen G.

  4. August 30th, 2012

    Yvonne Moody says:

    My family enjoys a similar recipe with the addition of chopped pecans and golden raisins instead of currants.

  5. September 30th, 2012

    Do the bricks go all the way around and over the oven or are they just at the front? Also do you use a scuffle or damp mop to clean the coals from oven?

  6. January 23rd, 2013

    Charlotte Stoner says:

    Sounds really delicious. Must give them a try …

  7. November 18th, 2013

    Erin says:

    Hi! Thanks for this tip we are having colonial day at school and now I can share this with my class

  8. January 7th, 2014

    Kyla says:

    About how many Chelsea rolls does this recipe make?

    • January 13th, 2014

      Historic Foodways says:

      As with all recipes, its depending on the size you make. So if you are wanting smaller portions, feel free to make them that way. But a rough estimate is say 16 to 18, or a large tray full.

  9. February 18th, 2017

    Dennis says:

    Made them again, and now a Must Have tradition for every historical event, and for every one that has had them!
    WAY better than the sugary, sticky sweet modern things.
    thanks guys!

  10. May 8th, 2018

    brooke pelletier says:

    this was an amazing and tasty recipe. I love the ease and my child liked it to

    • May 14th, 2018

      kcosta says:

      I’m so glad! For a modern twist you can add bits of dried fruit, like dried cherries or raisins.

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