Perfect Gluten Free Chelsea Buns… Enriched dough coiled round brown-sugared and spiced fruit. An Iconic British Bake de-glutened and brought into the 21st Century. Although not the speediest of makes, they are so, SO worth it for the sheer joy of eating. Optional dairy free.
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Gluten Free Chelsea Buns – and a story from childhood
Today I share my recipe for the most delicious Gluten Free Chelsea Buns. An icon of the British bakery that was just screaming out to be de-glutened… But me and Chelsea Buns have a long history. And there is a reason for the passage of time between my childhood memories and making them gluten free.
When I was 14, we were required to make them as part of the school Home Economics curriculum. The whole year were required to make them… And in a school with six form groups, that was somewhere in the region of 180 teenagers making Chelsea Buns in one week.
‘So what?’ you ask… Well, the trouble with ‘Chelsea Bun week’ was that it came just before a residential school trip to Scotland… And every kid on that trip thought it would be a great idea to take their Chelsea Buns with them as extra sustenance for the journey. Now I’m not great at Maths, but 180 teenagers made about 12 Chelsea Buns each… So, give or take a few that would probably have been eaten by family, I reckon there were somewhere in the region of one and a half thousand Chelsea Buns on that trip.
Needless to say… It’s not a recipe that I have much cared for since. Until now…
The path to perfecting my Gluten Free Chelsea Buns
With the development of my incredible gluten free Hot Cross Bun dough and its subsequent transition to our epic Cinnamon Rolls, the possibility for bakes using enriched dough have become seriously exciting. And in testing, it seemed the right time to revisit Chelsea Buns.
And boy, was I glad I did… With a few changes to the traditional recipe (and hopefully bringing the flavour notes into the 21st century), these Gluten Free Chelsea Buns may just be one of my favourite bakes. Rich and juicy with soaked dried fruit and citrus and a hint of cinnamon spice, they are a treat to the senses. They are sweet but not too sweet… and a little sticky with a traditional brown sugar glaze.
The dough is soft and fluffy, but with the characteristic ‘chew’ of an enriched bread. The hint of sweetness in its tender crumb perfectly complementing the fruity spirals it fences in.
What are Chelsea Buns?
It’s quite possible that if you are not from the UK, Chelsea Buns are a new idea. They are indeed a very British bake. And one which dates way back to the early 1700’s, when this humble bun took London by storm.
Allegedly first baked by the Bun House of Chelsea, the Chelsea Bun was a spiralled currant bun made with a rich, yeasted bread dough, often flavoured with citrus, cinnamon or mixed spice and sweetened and glazed with brown sugar.
While there remains a question of whether they were traditionally square or round in shape, they were proofed and baked together so that they needed to be pulled apart to serve. Indeed, they were so sought after, that in the 18th Century, long queues would gather at the Bun House in the hope of bagging one. Even royalty would visit until the shop was eventually demolished in 1839.
While the Bun House may have been reduced to rubble, the Chelsea Bun survived and remains a popular choice in 21st century bakeries. Indeed… The sheer pleasure and obsession that comes from unrolling them while you devour bite by bite is undenied.
You can find a lovely account of the history of the Chelsea Bun over on The Londonist.
Traditional Chelsea Buns vs my Gluten Free Chelsea Buns Recipe
Aside from the obvious and necessary use of gluten free bread dough, my Gluten Free Chelsea Buns are almost (but not quite) fully traditional. While a traditional recipe uses currants for filling, I have opted to vary the fruit to something a little more diverse, colourful and (possibly) modern.
In place of the currants (which always seem rather ‘average’ and a little bit boring), this recipe suggests a combination of dried red cranberries, juicy fat sultanas and sunny apricots. There is a little orange zest for zing and cinnamon spice for depth and warmth. To make sure the dried fruit doesn’t take moisture from the dough and tastes super-juicy and plump, it has been soaked in orange juice ahead of time. And for caramel-sweetness, the fruit is combined with a little brown sugar.
Of course, if you prefer currants, or even want to add alternative dried fruit, that’s fine. Just substitute weight for weight to make them your way.
Tips to make the BEST Gluten Free Chelsea Buns
I’ll be honest… Making Gluten Free Chelsea Buns isn’t something you can do in a spare half an hour. Because the dough has to be proofed twice, this will add an extra 1½ to 2 hours to the process. But good buns take time for perfection. Trust me… It’s worth it. And as the buns can be frozen after rolling, but before the second proof, at least there is the option of making a big batch and freezing some to bake fresh another day.
The low-down on ingredients for enriched dough
- The Flour Blend matters… While you can try making the buns with a commercial gluten free flour blend from the supermarket, I wouldn’t recommend it. The result is likely to be dry and not at all as intended. So, you’ll need a combination of four gluten free flours for the base blend. There are oat and oat-free recipes. But with the possibility of some additional substitution to account for other intolerances (see recipe). All the recipes are corn free.
- The ground Psyllium Husk is essential to the texture and longevity of the bake and cannot be substituted. If you are unable to tolerate Xanthan Gum however, this can be omitted (although the buns may go stale a little faster).
- Gluten Free Chelsea Buns use UK large Eggs. And size is important to success. Depending on where you are in the world however, sizing differs… If unsure about egg size, please check my International Guide to Egg Size and Weight (with comparison chart).
- The recipe (importantly) uses Dried Active Yeast. This is the type of yeast that needs to be activated before adding to the dough mix. It is NOT instant yeast.
- Use Full Fat Milk (or a richer dairy free alternative)as specified in the recipe. The additional fat it adds will help to retain moisture, so the buns stay a little fresher for longer…
Tips on process – Preparation of ingredients
- Be sure to soak the dried fruit (preferably in juice for extra flavour) before you begin. This will not only make the fruit extra juicy and plump, but will prevent it from sucking the moisture from the dough.
- Activate the Yeast with care. The water must be no hotter than hand warm. If in doubt, use a cooking thermometer. The optimum temperature is 38 C/100 F. Water which is too hot will kill the yeast and the buns won’t rise. If the activated yeast doesn’t bubble and froth, throw it away and start again. The water was too hot or the yeast is too old.
- Hydrate the Psyllium Husk for a full 10 minutes. This is essential to achieving a good gluten free Chelsea Bun texture.
Tips on Process – From dough to bun
- Don’t panic if the bun dough seems very thick. It is meant to be that way. This is not your average gluten free bread dough and should be thick enough to knead and roll easily.
- The dough MUST be proofed twice. This ensures a perfect texture and great rise.
- When kneading and rolling the dough, be sure to oil your hands and the rolling pin to prevent sticking. Roll onto good quality baking parchment. Additionally, wearing Vinyl Food Gloves really helps here. Sainsbury’s usually have them (the only UK supermarket I’ve found that does). And failing that, they can be found at Amazon. Do NOT add extra flour.
- To cut the rolled dough into buns, be sure to use a super-sharp knife and smear it with oil it for the smoothest slice.
- Add steam to the oven when baking, either using a heat-safe dish of boiling water or the oven steam setting (if your oven allows this).
- Glaze the buns while still warm to seal in the moisture and get the most authentic Chelsea Bun sugar-stickiness.
How to store and eat Gluten Free Chelsea Buns
Like any Chelsea Buns, this gluten free version is best eaten on the day they are made. They are divine served warm. However, they should stay a little soft for a couple of days, providing they are stored at room temperature in an airtight container or bag (with the air pushed out before sealing).
If you are worried they are no longer soft enough or you want them warm after they have cooled, they can be popped into the microwave for a few seconds and they’ll be as good as fresh.
Chelsea Buns are usually eaten without extra frostings or butter.
Can I freeze Gluten Free Chelsea Buns?
Yes. Gluten Free Chelsea Buns can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container or bag. They are best frozen on the day of baking.
Equally, the buns can be frozen in dough form, just after they have been rolled and before the second proof. Freeze on a tray so that they are separate and then store in an airtight container. When ready to bake, bring back to room temperature and allow to rise as normal, before baking.
Can I make this enriched dough dairy free?
Yes. Gluten Free Chelsea Buns can also be made dairy free. Just make the usual subs for butter and milk, but try to use alternatives with a higher fat content. Full-fat coconut milk (from the tin) is probably a good alternative as is the block butter-alternatives such as Stork or Flora baking blocks.
And here it is… The ultimate Gluten Free Chelsea Bun Recipe
I hope that covers all the important bits. If I’ve missed anything or you have any questions, just contact me by comment or email. And of course, don’t forget to follow me on Social Media and tag me with your delicious photos…
For lots of other amazing gluten free recipes, you can also visit our Gluten Free Recipe Book Index.
Gluten Free Chelsea Buns
- spoon and fork
- Small saucepan
- cling film
- tight-fitting vinyl gloves (optional)
- sharp clean-edged knife or bakers string
- oven-proof bowl
Dry Flour Mix
- 175 g tapioca starch
- 145 g potato starch
- 85 g oat flour For a no oat version substitute with sorghum flour
- 70 g sorghum flour or buckwheat flour For the no oat version (as above) substitute this measure Sorghum with brown rice flour or buckwheat flour
- 5 g fine sea salt = 1 level teaspoon
- 3 g xanthan gum = 1 level teaspoon
- 20 g Dried ACTIVE YEAST The type that needs activating (I use Allinson's) – NOT instant yeast
- 2 to 3 tsp honey (for preference) – or golden caster sugar
- 60 g hand warm water
Psyllium Husk Hydration
- 3 large eggs UK large (Canadian ‘Extra Large’; Australian ‘Jumbo’; and US ‘Extra or Very Large’)
- 28 g ground psyllium husk
- 100 g full fat milk if dairy free, use a rich plant-based milk alternative (eg. full fat coconut milk)
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- 100 g golden caster sugar or ordinary caster sugar
- 50 g unsalted butter Or a good DF alternative
- 200 g full fat milk if dairy free, use a rich plant-based milk alternative (eg. full fat coconut milk)
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
Chelsea Bun Fruit Filling
- 100 g dried cranberries
- 100 g sultanas
- 100 g dried apricots
- 70 g orange juice to soak the fruit
- 1 orange – zest only finely grated
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75 g soft light brown sugar
- 25 g unsalted butter melted
- 2 to 3 tbsp full fat milk
- 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp water
Hydrating the fruit for the filling
- Ahead of time, hydrate the fruit for the filling.
- Weigh the dried fruit (cranberries, sultanas and apricots) into a medium bowl and add the orange juice.
- Stir well.
- leave to hydrate for 2 to 3 hours (or overnight) stirring intermittently, before thoroughly draining the juice from the fruit using a sieve.
- Discard the drained juice.
Dry Flour Mix
- Mix together the 4 flours, salt and xanthan gum until thoroughly blended. Set aside. TIP: Weigh into an airtight container and shake vigorously.
- Weigh the yeast, honey (or sugar) and hand warm water into a small bowl. Make sure the water is tepid only, as if it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.
- Beat together with a fork or whisk briefly to mix thoroughly and enable the yeast granules to dissolve.
- Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes while the yeast activates. Yeast that has activated will appear frothy and may even bubble slightly.
Psyllium Husk Hydration
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl with an electric whisk until they are just starting to thicken.
- Add the psyllium husk to the eggs and beat again. The mixture should become thick enough to start holding shape.
- Scrape down the bowl and re-whisk to ensure the psylium husk and eggs are well blended. Keep beating until the psyllium and egg become a thick, airy batter consistency.
- Next add the 100g measure of milk and the vanilla extract and beat again to combine.
- Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the psyllium husk to fully hydrate.
- While the psyllium husk is hydrating, weigh the caster sugar, butter, 200g measure of milk and sunflower oil into a small saucepan.
- Gently heat on the hob over a medium setting, stirring frequently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. To cool more quickly, either transfer from the hot pan to a cool jug, or keep stirring in the pan to help the steam to escape.
Mixing the ingredients together to make a dough
- When the hot milk has cooled a little (you should be able to touch it and it not feel too hot), add it little by little to the hydrated psyllium mixture in the bowl, whisking thoroughly between each addition.
- Next add the activated yeast mixture and beat again to blend evenly.
- Once fully blended, add the flour mix to the bowl.
- Beat the flour into the wet ingredients with either a wooden spoon or electric beaters with a dough hook. Start slowly (to avoid the flour spraying out of the bowl).
- Keep beating for several minutes to ensure the mixture becomes a very thick, even (but sticky) dough-batter.
Proof the Dough
- Scoop the dough into a single heap and rest a sheet of clingfilm over the bowl (not touching the dough).
- Set the bowl in a warm place to proof (rise) for about an hour. I set my bowl over another bowl with a little steaming water in the bottom (changing the water to refresh the warmth regularly).
Knocking back the dough
- Once the dough has risen to about double the size, 'knock it back' by stirring and turning with a solid wooden/silicone spoon.
Rolling and filling the dough
- Base line two x 9 inch round non-stick baking tins with baking parchment.
- Place a large sheet of good quality non-stick baking parchment on the work surface and get ready a rolling pin by rubbing a light covering of oil (I use olive) onto the surface.
- With lightly oiled hands (It really helps to wear tight-fitting vinyl food gloves) rubbed with a dribble of oil, divide the dough into two equal pieces.
- Pick up one half and work in the hands, kneading until it comes together as a smooth workable dough. Do NOT add extra flour.
- Place on the baking parchment, flatten slightly into a rectangle shape and using the oiled rolling pin, roll into a rectangle about 35 cm long x 25 cm wide. If the dough starts to stick to the pin, lightly re-oil.
- In a bowl, mix the hydrated and thoroughly-drained fruit with the finely-grated orange zest, cinnamon and brown sugar.
- Brush HALF of the melted butter across the whole surface of the rolled dough.
- Next, scatter HALF of the fruit-sugar mixture across the top, leaving a 2 cm clean edge along one long side (to seal the final roll).
Rolling the dough into a long swirl
- Turn the dough so that the long clean edge is closest to you.
- Start the roll on the opposite, long fruited side by carefully turning in on itself by a couple of centimetres all the way along.
- To continue to roll the dough up into a swirl, use the baking paper on the far side to help pull the dough to roll over itself, keeping the roll as tight as possible.
- At the closest edge, gently push the clean edge into the roll to seal (if necessary dampen with milk to seal).
Cutting the dough into buns
- Once the dough has been rolled into a long sausage shape, cut into 8 even sized rolls (trim the ends first if preferred for neatness and bake them separately as an extra treat). To cut, use either a very sharp, clean-bladed knife (lightly oiled is best), or if you feel confident, a piece of baker's string (gently lifting the end of the roll to position the string and then pulling tight across the top to cut through).
- Arrange the dough balls into the base-lined baking tin (one in the centre, and the rest evenly spaced around it, swirl side up, with a small gap between each).
Preparing the second half of the dough
- Once the first half of the dough has been filled, rolled and cut, repeat the process for the second half of the dough, starting with working/kneading the dough in the hands until smooth.
Proofing the buns for baking
- Gently rest a piece of clingfilm over the top of the rolled dough-buns (they mustn't be restricted) and set aside in a warm place to rise for about an hour (depending on the warmth of the room). The buns should more or less double in size.
- While the buns are rising, place a heat-proof dish or pan at the bottom of the oven and (when the buns look like they are almost ready to bake) pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
- Boil a kettle of water ready to pour into the heat-proof dish in the oven.
Baking the buns
- When the dough-buns are risen – very gently brush the tops all over with milk.
- Half-fill the tray/dish placed in the base of the oven with boiled steaming water.
- Bake the buns for 20 to 25 minutes (dependent on size) until the golden and firm on the tops.
- While the buns are baking, prepare the sugar-glaze by heating and dissolving the brown sugar with the water either in a tiny dish in a microwave for a few seconds, or in a small pan on the stove.
- When baked, remove the buns from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes on the tray, before transferring to a wire rack to continue cooling.
- While still warm, brush the tops of the buns with brown-sugar glaze.
Eating and Storing
- Chelsea Buns are delicious fresh and warm, but should still be quite soft for 24+ hours. To re-warm, pop in the microwave on high for about 15 seconds.
- To store after they have cooled, make sure the buns are placed in an airtight container for maximum freshness.
- To Freeze: Freeze on the day of making and as soon as possible after cooling in an airtight container. SEE NOTES re freezing the dough.
© 2019-2023 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist