Fitzbillies…gone but not forgotten

This post is a tribute to the legend that is Fitzbillies, a Cambridge institution that had, up until a couple of weeks ago been producing the most amazing trademark chelsea buns for 90 years! Sadly they were forced to close as ‘a result of the very difficult economic times’. I was born and bred in Cambridge and am absolutely gutted to see the demise of such an iconic, independent business!

I’ve never made my own chelsea buns, but inspired by sentimentality I decided to give them a go. They most definitely weren’t up to the sticky, gooey, standard of the Fitzbillies original but…they were darn tasty!…

They’re actually pretty simple to make but you do need to have a bit of time on your hands as there’s quite a lot of setting aside for resting and rising involved…the perfect occupation for a chilled out Sunday afternoon.

To make about 15 chelsea buns you will need…

540g strong white flour (plus a little bit extra for dusting)

1tsp salt

1 packet of easy-blend-yeast

1/2 pint milk

60g unsalted butter (plus a bit extra for greasing the baking tray)

1 egg, lightly beaten

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. This makes the finished buns lighter.

Make a well in the flour and add the packet of yeast.

Slowly warm the milk and butter in a pan until all of the butter has melted. Then add it to the flour mixture. Partially mix together and then add the beaten egg before continuing to mix until it forms a soft dough.

Get stuck in and knead it for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm, or put it in a plastic bag and place it somewhere warm like an airing cupboard, until the dough has doubled in size. I don’t have an airing cupbard so I used a trick that I learned from watching Lorraine Pascale on Baking Made Easy. She turned the oven on to preheat and sat the bowl on a tall stall right next to it, which provided enough warmth to encourage the dough to rise. Be warned it might take about an hour.

But as if by magic, mine turned from this…

into this…

Whilst you’re waiting for your dough to rise you can grease a 13 by 9inch (ish) baking tray with a little bit of butter and prepare your filling by mixing 270g dried fruit (I used a mixture of sultanas and raisins but you can also use currants and/or mixed peel if you like) with 120g dark brown soft sugar in a bowl.

Remove the risen dough from the bowl and knock it back with your fist to expel the air until it’s back to its original size.

Sprinkle your kitchen surface or a board with flour and roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 15 by 20 inches.

Brush the surface with 120g melted butter and sprinkle the dried fruit and sugar combo evenly over the entire surface.

Now, comes the slightly tricky bit if you’re baking solo…you need to roll the dough up from the long side, in the style of a swiss roll. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look too neat to start off with, I managed to get mine back on track after a pretty rocky start!

Once you’ve rolled it into a giant sausage, cut it into about 15 pieces and arrange them evenly in the greased baking tray. Leave a little bit of space between each bun…

Cover the tray with more clingfilm and put it back in a warm place for about half an hour, by which time, they should double in size again…

While they are rising, heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Now bake them for 25 minutes or until they’re golden on top.

While they’re baking, you need to prepare the piece de resistance, the bit that makes a chelsea bun, a proper chelsea bun…the glaze!

Dissolve 2tbsp caster sugar in 1tbsp milk, over a low heat. Then bring it to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Don’t do this bit too early, like I did, as you’ll get left with a congealed mess. It only takes a few minutes to prepare so wait until the buns are on the verge of being ready.

Remove the glorious buns from the oven and brush them with the glaze. Carefully take them out of the tin and transfer them onto a wire rack to cool. This is no mean feat but apparently it’s very important so that they don’t become soggy on the bottom.

As soon as they’re cool enough, break them apart…and tuck in!

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