A gorgeous tea-time fusion of traditional British Chelsea buns and swirly spicy babka.
Do you enjoy eating your traditions, however diverse and varied they are? Me too. I especially love to cook things that fuse the different parts of my background, combining my Jewish heritage with my British heritage. For instance, previously I’ve made Chanukah mince pies (with kiddush wine mincemeat!) and hot magen david buns.
Famous Chelsea Buns
Anyway, I was walking through Cambridge (where we live) and passed by Fitzbillies bakery and cafe, which is a real local institution and particularly famous for its luscious Chelsea Buns which have been made to the same recipe since 1921.
They make trays and trays of them every day (over 100,000 buns a year!), and display them proudly in the window, dotted with currants and glistening in pools of sticky spiced syrup. Head baker Gill, custodian of the secret recipe, has apparently been making the buns for the last 46 years. That’s a lot of buns.
Fitzbillies even make Chelsea Bun wedding cakes for real aficionados!
Spot the difference
But as I contemplated the quintessentially British Chelsea Bun – a swirled yeasted cake, drenched in syrup – I found myself thinking of that classic Jewish bake, the Babka – a swirled yeasted cake, drenched in syrup!
Surely it would be the work of a moment to hybridise the two and create a spicy, fruity, sticky, Chelsea Bun Babka!
Well, OK, maybe not a moment. Yeasted doughs take time to rise after all. But the end result was everything I’d hoped for. Golden brown and glistening under its syrupy glaze, with a moist, fruited, lightly spiced interior.
Chelsea Bun Babka – terrific at any time
I thought the Chelsea bun babka was exactly the thing to go with a cup of tea for elevenses, and my daughter Kipper took a slice to school in her lunchbox, announcing when I collected her later that it had been, “Amazing! Really yummy!”
If you’re nervous of yeasted cakes, don’t be. If you have a stand mixer and a few hours to let it rise, then you’re good to go. Just follow the instructions and you’ll be rewarded with a pair of luscious British-Jewish Chelsea Bun Babka loaves, just like the ones in the photos.
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Chelsea Bun Babka
For the dough
- 1.5 tsp dry active yeast (5g)
- 1.5 tsp sugar
- 100 ml hand-hot water (1/2 cup)
- 85 g butter or margarine
- 60 ml milk or plant-based alternative e.g. oat, almond etc.
- 400 g plain flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg
For the filling
- 40 g soft butter or margarine
- 50 g light brown sugar
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 50 g currants
- 25 g raisins, sultanas or mixed dried fruit
For the syrup
- 100 g light brown sugar
- 3 tbsp honey or golden syrup
- 75 ml water
Make the dough
Put the yeast, the 1.5 tsp of sugar and the hand-hot water into a jug and mix well. Set aside for about 5 minutes.
Put the butter (or margarine) and the milk (or milk alternative) into a small saucepan and heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is quite warm.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour and 2 tbsp sugar. Add the yeast mixture, the warm milk/butter and the egg. Mix gently till combined then turn up the motor slightly and continue mixing for another 8-10 minutes until the dough is shiny and smooth. It will be quite soft and sticky - don't worry.
Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and gently form into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl and leave to rise, covered, in a warm place, for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
Make the filling
Mix the softened butter/margarine, the brown sugar, and the mixed spice. Cover and set aside.
Assemble the babkas
Line two loaf pans with greaseproof paper.
Turn out the risen dough onto a well-floured surface to prevent it sticking. Working with floured hands, gently pat the dough out to form a rectangle approximately 45 x 30 cm.
Spread the butter/sugar/spice mixture over the dough - I found this easiest with my hands, rather than a utensil. Sprinkle the currants and dried fruits over the top.
Starting from a long edge, roll up the dough into a long sausage. Using a very sharp knife, slice the roll lengthwise to give two long pieces, each a semi-circle in cross-section. Keeping the cut edges uppermost, twist the two long pieces together.
Cut the long twist of dough in half and put one half into each lined loaf pan. Cover, and put in a warm place for about half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Bake, and finish
After the second rise, the dough should have expanded to about half-fill the loaf pans. Place into the hot oven and bake at 180C for 30 minutes until thoroughly risen and brown.
Meanwhile, make the syrup. Place all the syrup ingredients into a small pan and heat gently until everything is dissolved and well amalgamated. Set aside.
After 30 minutes, remove the babkas from the oven and immediately brush each one liberally with some of the warm syrup, using a pastry brush. Once they are evenly glazed and shiny, pour the remaining syrup over and allow to soak in.
Leave in the tins to cool.
Serve in slices, with a cup of tea!
Do you make any British-Jewish hybrid foods? Let me know in the comments!