For a long time, I didn’t really understand breakfast. As alien as ‘eat to live not live to eat’ is as a mantra to me, breakfast always struck me as something of a chore, a waste of a good meal. As a child, it was a non-negotiable sit-down affair, and the food as boring and repetitive to a child as the routine; porridge or weetabix, maybe toast if we were lucky.
As soon as I got my freedom and was let loose on an extended period of student living, breakfast was either Sainsburys Basics white sliced (I hadn’t yet understood the term ‘false economy’) or, as I attempted to become chic and aloof and really just became pretentious and asthmatic, a coffee and a cigarette.
Whilst never being averse to a full English (or Scottish, or Irish…) breakfast, I remember, during a mercifully short-lived affair at law school, gazing in a combination of respect and amazement at a man who would nonchalantly put away a full caff breakfast every day without fail.
Once I started traveling to different Courts in various farflung parts of the country, breakfast became either a necessity or its absence a bitter regret, as I sat in an empty waiting room in Aldershot, tummy rumbling, as another client failed to show up.
But in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to successfully produce a full English, or adequately replicate a McMuffin or a Pret cheese and ham croissant, I would revert back to the old faithfuls: cereal, toast, resentment etc.
It’s only since I’ve really begun cooking in earnest that breakfast has been revealed to me as brimming with possibility. Eggs, every which way! Pastries! Cheese! (Why didn’t I know cheese was not only an acceptable breakfast stuff, but makes you look continental, and thus chic! Much more satisfying than cigarettes). Bread! Oh good lord, the bread.
I’ve written about my love affair with eggs (and, along the way, Sam), and endorsed just about every cake recipe I’ve written as a breakfast stuff, but this recipe is a little bit different.
This is a long recipe, both in the sense that it’s a lot of words, and also that it requires quite a long time from start to finish. But please, please don’t be put off. There are lots of photos, more than normal, partly because I think these buns are delightful to look at, and partly to try and give an idea of the actual method for anyone who hasn’t made this kind of pastry before. And I’ve slowly come to embrace recipes that require resting time, because I take it as a direct instruction to put the kettle on and my feet up.
These scroll buns took over my life for several weeks, for a very good reason. I made the first batch on a whim, which was silly, because they’re quite time-consuming. That’s not to say that I was sweating over a lump of pastry, but they require intermittent attention throughout a day. But then I was hooked. They were so very satisfying to make and, if possible, infinitely better to eat.
So what actually are they? Well, it’s a yeasted rough puff pastry, which means that it will plump up as it proves, and have an almost bready taste to it but, because butter has been rolled into it again and again, it is flaky, rich, messy and utterly addictive (and, bonus: it doesn’t have any of the faff or mess of proper puff pastry or laminated dough).
Think of it as a slightly rough around the edges English croissant. I love them.
The original recipe for these comes from Justin Gellatly, pastry chef celebre, formerly of St John’s in Spitalfields, where his madeleines and Chelsea buns and doughnuts earned him a revered status. I understand that, I do, they’re magical, but I can only assume that those conferring that status forgot to try one of his scroll buns, because had they done so, this would be the lauded pastry.
That is not to say that having realised the wonders of the bun, I didn’t then faff about with it. Gellatly’s buns are, in their simplest form, unadorned. He gives a recipe for a simple stock syrup which you paint on as a glaze (I’ve set this out below), but I’ve also given a couple of variations.
Since my Damascean breakfast moment, I’ve always been more of a savoury sort of girl: golden eggs and sticky tomatoes and garlicky mushrooms, and if there’s some cut of pig going, count me in. So once I’d discovered the joy of this recipe, my first thought, as is often the case, was to introduce cheese. If you want it stringy and gooey try gruyere, but I stuck to a sharp cheddar and some smoked ham.
But I kept thinking longingly of the sweeter variety, so there’s a little twist on those as well: whilst the syrup is still wet on the buns, they’re dunked into a bowl of cinnamon sugar. I think I could win over my worst enemy with these buns.
It goes like this:
Morning Scroll Buns
[adapted from a recipe in Justin Gellatly’s Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding]
Makes: 12 buns
Takes: 8 hours 30 minutes (including a lot of resting time, for you and the dough)
Bakes: 15-20 minutes
250g strong white bread flour
5g fine sea salt
4g easy action dried yeast
175ml full fat milk
125g unsalted butter
1 egg, to glaze
For the syrup
For the cinnamon sugar
40g caster sugar
For the Ham and cheese
Six slices very thinly sliced ham, smoked optional
100g strong cheddar or gruyere
Note: the amounts given for the ham, cheese, syrup, and cinnamon sugar are assuming a whole batch being made in the same way. Half if, like me, you like a few of both!
1. Take a large mixing bowl and weigh out the flour and salt into it. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk the yeast into the milk, and add to the flour bowl. Mix together for only a couple of minutes: I use a dough scraper for this, or a spatula. Scrape onto a floured surface and bring together into a ball: it will be a scraggy mess, don’t worry. Wrap it up in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for 2 hours.
2. 15 minutes before the 2 hours is up, take the butter out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.
3. On a floured surface, roll the dough out until you have a rectangle that measures 35 cm by 12 cm. Try and make the sides and corners of the triangle as even and straight as possible: it will be pretty elastic.
4. Place the dough lengthways, so that the longest side of the dough is horizontal. Tear the butter into small knobs about the size of your little finger tip and scatter all over the righthand 2/3 of the dough. Fold the unbuttered lefthand third over onto the middle third, then flip the righthand third onto the folded dough.
5. Turn the dough so that the seam you’ve created from folding is on your RIGHT hand side (the seam should always be on your right). Roll out the dough to it’s original longer size, and fold in the same way as before.
6. Wrap the dough in clingfilm, and place in the fridge for 2 hours.
7. Remove from the fridge, roll out the dough, fold as before, roll again, and fold again. Back into the fridge for another two hours!
8. This is now your last fold: roll out to the long, slim, original size, and fold the top and bottom of the dough so that they meet in the middle with no overlap, so that it looks like an open book. Now fold the whole thing in half again, as if you were closing the book. Back into the fridge for two hours or overnight.
9. Lightly oil and flour a 12 hole muffin tin. Roll the dough out so that it is about 30cm by 20 cm. If you’re making cheese and ham buns, place the slices of ham all over the dough, right up to the edges, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Roll up tightly. Brush the ends with beaten egg to seal them. Slice carefully so an not to squash the buns into 12, and place one in each of the muffin holes, with the cut side facing upwards.
10. Cover loosely with clinfilm and leave the buns for about two hours somewhere warm-ish until they have noticeably increased in size.
11. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and eggwash the top of the buns. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Allow to cool for ten minutes before easing out of the tin and cooling on a rack for half an hour. I like to reheat them just before eating.
12. If you’re glazing with syrup, heat the sugar and water together whilst waiting for the buns to cool, bring to the boil, and keep it there for five minutes. Paint onto the buns after their initial cooling period, and be careful, because you’re using hot sugar.
13. If you’re making the cinnamon variety, mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl, and dunk the newly glazed buns into them (any excess mix will keep happily and indefinitely covered and stored in a dry place).
14. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
It probably goes without saying that we ate these for breakfast. We ate these for breakfast just about every day for three weeks. Every time I eat these I change my mind on which is my favourite. The ham and cheese need nothing added to them and this is part of their charm. The cinnamon sugar buns are effectively doughnuts for breakfast made if not respectable, at least acceptable. But at the moment, I’m eating the simple glazed variety, hot from the oven. You should treat these like a croissant and smear with butter and jam. They are particularly good with rhubarb and custard jam.