Sunday, 29 July 2012

Butter Buns

After having been inspired to bake a treat from my childhood, I started to wonder if I could recreate the doughy confection well beloved of many Cirencester Residents.  When I first met Mr S he often mentioned these buns to me, trying to describe them to me. 

A year into working at a Company in Cirencester, it was a colleague's birthday, and we were invited to partake in the customary cake fest...instead on the usual bags of doughnuts etc, there were two large baker's trays, arranged with a variety of cakes...nestled to one side were half a dozen of very plain looking rolls heavily dusted with icing sugar.  They looked like nothing I had seen before so I eschewed the usual vanilla slices, chocolate eclairs, cream puffs, etc., and  placed one of these buns on my plate and walked calmly back to the office, stopping off to collect a cup of coffee.

I shut the door, and sat looking at my bun.    The dough was only just sweet, not tasting of anything spicy,  with a fold of dough with something to keep the dough separate with the walls of the fold soft and sweet, and below a sticky sweet bottom.  With sufficient icing sugar on top that you need to develop a special eating technique: breathing in before you take your first bite, then putting the cake down slowly.   One bite in and I knew that this must be the butter bun of Cirencester, now made only by Whiddetts. I savoured it slowly with eyes closed. 

When I got home that evening, I had words with Mr S...why oh why had he waited so long to introduce me to the Butter Bun.  Its a bun that in my opinion does not travel well...the icing gets knocked off, the buttery sticky bottom leaks away, and it is at its best bought straight from the shop, that is if there are any left when you get to the front of the queue, and eaten within minutes of buying it!  Five years ago they cost about 80p each, but the good people of Cirecencester thought they were worth every penny, and if you see them in the window, still on their baking paper, and you think you will do a spot of shopping or sightseeing before you buy your buns, think again, they sell out very quickly!!

I have looked high and low for a recipe but no luck.  Yesterday I made my first butter buns, and Mr S who would have me believe that he was almost been weaned on them, pronounced them perfect!!

Sweet Dough:

500g strong white flour
50g butter
50g sugar
1 large egg
250ml milk
15g fresh yeast or 7g fast acting dried yeast
1.5tsp fine sea salt

75g melted butter but cooled, soft enough to brush on thinkly to the dough
about 75g caster sugar for sprinkling
I also sprinkle on a little powdered mace these days, probably this is not authentic.

I used goats milk, and butter, but it would work equally well with cows milk and butter.

Warm the milk and dissolve the sugar, when lukewarm, add the yeast.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, rub in the butter, then add the milk mixture, the beaten egg, and the salt.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes, then put it in a large oiled bowl to rise for around 1.5 hrs.

Knock back in the bowl, place on an oiled surface, allow to rest for about five minutes then roll into an oblong, about 20cm wide.  I used only half of the dough for the butter buns, with the other half I made some chelsea buns.

Spread  with room temperature butter leaving a 2 cm edge on each of the long sides.   You don't want the butter so thick that too much will just ooze out in the oven.  You want the flavour, and the butter will make a lamination and give bed for the sugar to sit on.    

There is a little oozing of butter and sugar which sets on the bottom of the buns as they cool on the baking parchment.  You can either spread very soft butter just as you would with on a piece of bread, or melt the butter, allow it to cool to a soft consistency, then bush on with a pastry brush.  Then bush some more on, then sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.  

Cut along the middle, then cut each half into slices, which are rolled up from the centre to the clear edge.  You will need some more butter to brush on the buns as soon as they come out of the oven, so keep any left overs for this.

Transfer them gently well spaced to rise on the parchment lined baking sheet, with the seam underneath, such that they will just touch when they have risen.  It will take between 45 minutes and maybe over a hour before they are ready to go in the oven. Pre heat the oven to Gas Mark 5 -6, about ten minutes before they are due to be baked.

After they are baked for about 15 minutes at Gas Mark 5-6 and are golden, remove from the oven and brush with melted butter immediately.  Allow to cool on the tray placed on a cooling rack.  Normally bakes are not cooled on the tray, but cooling on the baking tray allows the butter and sugar which has run out to set on the bottom of the bun.  It will be quite pale underneath, but the buns should be cooked on top, this are the quintessential characteristics of butter buns from Cirencester.

After about 15 minutes, sift to cover with a generous coat of icing sugar.  They are ready to eat when slightly warm, and any other time the same day. These are buns to make and share the same day.  MC received some.

I thought Mr S would be sad but he knows that they must be savoured the same day....You can freeze them, but omit the icing sugar, thaw then warm gently, brush with melted butter, then sift over the icing sugar again.

With my sweet dough, this is what I made....chelsea buns are in the freezer for another day.

I've just been asked how much butter and sugar to sprinkle before rolling up.  It depends how many buns you are making, ie what proportion of the dough you are using, but I've adjusted my notes above, and hope you enjoy making these  


  1. I can't tell you how much I miss these, the only thing I miss about Cirencester. My mum used to take us there after school to stock up on them. I'm so pleased to find a recipe thank you!

    You should also try their Russian salad rolls if you haven't already. I daydream about those. The bread is amazing and all that cheese and mayonnaise. If you have a recipe for that too I'd love to know!

    Great blog by the way, making me very hungry.

  2. Next time I'm in Cirencester, I'll try their Russian Salad Rolls. Let me know how your butter buns turn out.

  3. Did you ever measure the butter and sugar that you used? I'd love to try these. When you say "spread the butter thickly", how thick are we talking? Many thanks in advance.

  4. Katie, I hope you make these soon, and let me know how you get on. I've amended the description, and hope this helps.

  5. Thank you so much! I'm from/grew up in Cirencester but moved away when I was 17. i've never forgotten the butter bun and it's always top of my list when I go back and visit. Many, many thanks. Will let you know how I get on. Katie