The Bath bun is a sweet roll made from a milk-based yeast dough with crushed sugar sprinkled on top after baking. Variations in ingredients include enclosing a lump of sugar in the bun or adding candied fruit peel, currants, raisins or sultanas.
The change from a light, shaped bun to a heavier, often fruited or highly sugared irregular one may date from the Great Exhibition of 1851 when almost a million were produced and consumed in five and a half months (the ‘London Bath bun’).
References to Bath buns date from 1763, and Jane Austen wrote in a letter of ‘disordering my stomach with Bath Bunns’ in 1801. The original 18th-century recipe used a brioche or rich egg and butter dough which was then covered with caraway seeds coated in several layers of sugar similar to French dragée.
The bun’s creation is attributed to William Oliver in the 18th century. Oliver also created the Bath Oliver dry biscuit after the bun proved too fattening for his rheumatic patients. The bun may also have descended from the 18th century ‘Bath cake’. The buns are still produced in the Bath area of England.
Although this is disputed, the 18th century ‘Bath cake’ may also have been the forerunner of the Sally Lunn bun, which also originates from Bath.
- 4½ cups bread flour
- 3 x 7g sachets active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup caster sugar <em>, superfine sugar</em>
- ¾ cup butter, at room temperature
- 3 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
- crushed sugar cubes, for the topping
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, place 1 cup flour, the yeast and 1 teaspoon white sugar. Stir to combine well.
- Combine the milk with water and heat it until it is lukewarm <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>(not hot)</em></span>. Pour the liquid over the flour/yeast/sugar mixture. Mix well, cover with a tea-towel and allow to stand in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Beat the eggs until they are light and creamy and add to the flour mixture, along with the soft butter, the remaining 3½ cups flour and caster sugar.
- Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic <em>(about 4-8 minutes)</em>.
- Place dough into a separate bowl which has been coated with butter or oil, turning the dough to coat the surface well so that it won't dry out <sup><em>(see note 1)</em></sup>. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp clean cloth and set the bowl in a warm place free from draft to rise until doubled in size.
- After the dough has risen <em>(about 90 minutes or so - depending on the room temperature)</em> knead the dough <em>(by hand)</em> on a clean work surface for 2-3 minutes, then divide into 16 balls. Place them on lightly greased <em>(with butter)</em> baking trays <em>(you may need to use 2 trays)</em>. Cover loosely and allow to rise a final time for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Brush the buns with a little beaten egg. Sprinkle the tops with crushed sugar.<sup><em> (see note 2)</em></sup>
- Bake at 210°C for 15-20 minutes or until tops are light golden brown.