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Chelsea Buns

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by Karys McEwen (subscribe)
Freelance writer and wanderer always on the lookout for quirky activities that take you off the beaten track.
Published April 19th 2011

Buttery, sticky and honey sweet… what more could you ask for in an afternoon treat? The Chelsea bun is to London what croissants are to France, what lamingtons are to Australia and what Krispy Kreme's are to America; the quintessential bakery indulgence. First created in the 18th century at The Bun House of Chelsea, an establishment favoured by Hanoverian royalty, the bun is made of a rich yeast flavoured dough with sweet spices, cinnamon or lemon peel and spread with currants, brown sugar, butter and a sweet glaze. Is your mouth watering yet?

Similar to hot cross buns, and yet more abundantly available year-round, Chelsea buns are best eaten on the day they are made so avoid supermarket or chain varieties. Some of the lower quality versions tend to have soggy bottoms and I speculate many of the 'currants' are in fact dead flies, or at least taste that way. The Bun House of Chelsea that made them famous has long shut its doors but to be sure that you get the best Chelsea bun possible, try one of these places, all of which have wonderful Chelsea bun reputations:

The Chelsea bun baked and consumed on the premises of the Bun House is said to be renowned for its lightness, but the Chelsea bun of today is rather a substantial and filling thing. For the daintiest version in London try Dunn's Bakery in Crouch End. They make such a highly rated bun that one may not be quite enough.

Dunn's Bakery

For a Chelsea bun on the go try the Flour Station at Borough Market. This bakery has won a bunch of awards and was even named one of Time Out's London's Ten Best Bakeries. So you can rest assured that you are in good, sticky, flour-covered hands.

Fitzbillies of Cambridge will mail them to you. Claiming to have THE stickiest Chelsea bun in London which is also their most popular product for the last 80 years, they can generously mail a box of either four, or twelve, right to your doorstep. And if that is not quite enough, they even offer a Chelsea bun year-long subscription. This is also a neat and unusual gift idea.

Fitzbillies of Cambridge

If all else fails, why not discover home-made Chelsea Buns? As convenient and tasty as shop-bought versions are (especially ones posted to you), homemade is always best. Try this recipe if you're game. You can always cheat and use a bread maker for the dough and even if they turn out to be a sugary disaster, you can pat yourself on the back for giving it a go. Just don't fight over who gets to lick the spoon.
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Why? Just a bit squidgy, just a bit gooey and just a bit sweet. I couldn’t think of a better London sweet to enjoy with a pot of tea on a Sunday afternoon.
When: All year round
Where: Dunn's Bakery in Crouch End, The Flour Station at Borough Market, Fitzbillies of Cambridge
Cost: Usually from £2 to 3 each, £95 for a year long Chelsea bun subscription from Fitzbillies
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