Improvisation, in cookery as in music, may be necessitated by a mistake – from it can emerge something new and lovely.
When I am singing, especially baroque arias, if I ever make a rhythmical error or misjudge an interval I immediately do a similar thing a bar or so later so that the audience think that it was done on purpose. If I enjoy what I have done, I call it an ornament or improvisation, and integrate it as part of the interpretation. A similar thing happened with my Chelsea Buns on Saturday and I shall definitely keep the resulting pudding in the repertoire.
Make an enriched dough by mixing 250g plain white flour with a teaspoon of dried, easy blend yeast, an egg, 3 fluid ounces of warm milk, 50g softened butter and 50g golden caster sugar and kneading it for ten minutes by hand or between three and five in a machine. Leave it for about half an hour in a warm place then knead once more and roll it out to as large an oblong as you can without it tearing.
Meanwhile, for the filling, warm 50g butter, 50g soft brown sugar, 125g dried fruit (I especially like sultanas and raisins, but any will do, including peel, and even a proportion of nuts) and half a teaspoon of Tyrannell freshly milled spice; one teaspoon if you are not fortunate enough to have some of our fresh product.
You should aim for soft rather than melted butter. Mix the filling and spread it across the dough then begin to roll it up quite tightly until you have a long cylinder. This quantity makes nine buns and it doesn’t matter if they are smaller or larger so decide if you have a more square tin, perhaps 30cm sq, or an oblong one 25 by 35. Line the tin with baking parchment. Then, cut the correct number of slices from the roll, placing them in the tin so that they do not touch with the spiral of filling facing upward.
I now cover the tin with a damp cloth. I have a favourite old cotton rag, made from a torn sheet, which holds water well and keeps the dough moist. You could use a plastic bag or oiled film but I am mean and prefer materials which can be washed and used again. It will take at least an hour in a warm place to rise as the richness of the dough inhibits the yeast.
When the buns have doubled in size they are ready to cook. Give them 20-25 minutes in a hot oven, Gas 6 , 200c, middle of the roasting Aga oven. After this lower the heat to Gas 4 , 180c, or move to the baking oven for about fifteen to twenty minutes more. You can test with a skewer, which will come out clean when the buns are cooked.
If they are browning too much, cover with some brown paper. Cool on a rack and carefully tear apart when cool enough. Soft, fruity Chelsea Buns are so lovely…
What happened on Saturday was that Mid Wales was warm and sunny – such a pleasure after the long wet winter – and the Aga running good and hot. To compound matters, I forgot to move the buns to the lower oven. When I remembered them they had singed over the top and were dry and hard – more tough biscuit than bun.
When I recovered my temper I decided that something must be done to use the sorry products. This is what I came up with:
Second Life Pudding
Take a batch of dry Chelsea Buns – I fancy that this would work as well with stale as overcooked buns and any would do, like Hot Cross Buns, for example.
Cut off any scorched bits and cut 1cm slices across the grain. Layer into a deep oven-proof tin, perhaps 30cm sq. Size is not particularly important, but aim for three layers, filling in any gaps with smaller pieces.
Now make a custard by beating together a pint of milk and four eggs. Pour the custard over the sliced buns, pushing them under the liquid so that they are all soaked. Sprinkle over a little golden caster sugar. Cook for about 50 minutes at Gas 4, 180 c or lower baking Aga oven. When you think that it might be cooked, push a broad bladed knife into the middle and pull to one side. If the cavity fills quickly with runny custard, give it ten more minutes, but a little squidgyness is fine. A luscious moist finish is what you want.
This went down very well indeed at Tyrannell; do try it. A waft of spice added a slightly festive feel and the caramelised sweetness dissolving through the milky custard was absolutely wonderful.