Pan d’oro – using fresh and sourdough yeast

pandoro, Pan d'Oro sourdough recipe by ink sugar spiceThis is my worked-out recipe for pan d’oro, or gold bread. It’s an Italian sweet yeasted bread but it’s unlike the more commonly known Pannettone, but nonetheless delicious. I have added saffron to mine to make it even more golden and to enhance the vanilla taste.

Pan d’oro (or as some have concatenated it, ‘pandoro’) is a laminated bake, occupying a unique spot between a bread, a croissant and a cake. It’s a festive Italian speciality and is a mammoth baking endurance test, yet the results are worth it. It will take the best part of two days to complete, though thankfully you won’t be not hands on for all that time!

I have added a couple of links at the end to wine pairing websites that list pan d’oro – as this creation deserves the right Christmas tipple to serve it with.

There are recipes for ‘quick’ pan d’oro out there and yet others still that are more of a cake. These, I’m sure, are all delicious recipes but are not the traditional, multi-stage lamination bake.

I have tried to time my bake and recipe around my working day, so that you can get on with normal life as I have had to!

Now that I’ve conquered a recipe for it I do feel like I’ve got over a major hurdle or ticked something off a life list! It has been one of my “must bake” items for several years now. I eventually baked it five times, tweaking here and there and ensuring you don’t have to stay in the house for two days to make it (that’s a lot of my life devoted to pan d’oro). And it meant a lot of pan d’oro eating – though much has gone into the freezer and some made a nice chocolate bread and butter pudding.

I used a number of references for the recipe – several very old baking books I own (pre-70s) that I have wrested from second hand shops on holiday and some archives I found. In all the recipes the instructions for the latter stages are identical processes – well, it’s the physical method that makes this bake what it is; ie proving, laminating, resting, more proving and finally a slow bake. So it makes sense they would be unlikely to differ – but ingredient quantities do alter considerably between the recipes I looked at, even if you account for different sizes. I came to my recipe by examining the ratios of ingredients across a number of old recipes and took a sort of ‘mean average’ (that’s sort of the best way to describe it). I can imagine that because of the long development and proving processes that as long as you’ve got roughly those sorts of ingredients (and providing the ratios between them are all sound) the results would be good whatever. Anyway, with a few tweaks after bake one, the second and third bake both came out marvellously.

This recipe uses both fresh yeast and some sourdough starter. I tried to do it this way because I often use this halfway house method for my breads. Being a busy working mum I can’t always afford the time to make sourdough and I am not sniffy or stuck up about the use of quick dried yeast. Boo to those who are snobs about this. For those people who have the luxury of enough time to bake solely sourdough then I tip my hat to you as that’s simply awesome. However, there are some bread makers out there that come across as looking down their noses at those who don’t only do sour. Besides, sometimes I like a good springy normal white loaf – especially as my bacon sammich.

I do often like making my ‘mid week’ bread with about 75% of the stated dried yeast and then adding a small ladleful of my starter. I get the convenience and I get some of that wonderful taste. Plus, this tactic also uses up my starter and forces me to refresh and feed it, when otherwise I may not use it from one weekend to the next. Because this technique affords a lovely taste and crumb structure I wanted to use this for the pan d’oro.


  • 500g pan d’oro tin (I bought mine online from Bakery Bits)
  • Two bowls – one very large
  • Saucepan
  • Spatula/flexible dough scraper
  • Wooden spoon
  • Pastry brush (for greasing the tin)
  • Cling film and/or tea towel
  • Wire rack
  • Small sieve for icing sugar dusting
  • Sharp bread knife

Ingredients – stage 1

  • Fresh yeast – 10g
  • Saffron – about 10-15 strands
  • Milk (full fat), warmed – 70 ml
  • Sourdough starter – 20g
  • Plain flour (I used 00 type) – 70g
  • Egg yolk, from a large egg – 1 (please try and use free range, not only are they higher welfare anyway, this better environment for the hens affords the eggs a more yellow hue, great for ensuring the goldeness of pan d’oro)
  • Caster sugar – 20g

Ingredients – stage 2

  • Caster sugar – 100g
  • Eggs, whole – 2
  • Flour (as before) – 200g
  • Unsalted butter, softened – 30 g
  • Vanilla seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
  • Milk, warmed  – 60 ml

Ingredients – stage 3

  • Flour (as before) – 200g
  • Egg, whole – 1
  • Salt – 1 tsp

Ingredients – stage 4

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature but not too soft – 140g

Additional –

  • Light oil for greasing the bowls etc
  • Melted butter for greasing the final dough/mould
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  • Extra plain flour for dusting

Stage 1 method

Stage 1,2 and 3 can be started late afternoon/early evening – you will need about 4 hours of time (though not all of it is hands on) for all three stages

  1. Warm the 70ml milk (do NOT boil!) in a saucepan with the saffron. Leave to infuse for 5 minutes
  2. After this time, strain the milk to remove the saffron strands. If the milk is now cold, warm it again slightly (although it may well be warm enough to use now)
  3. Add in the egg yolk, 20g  of caster, 20 grams of starter and the 70g of plain flour – mix gently but thoroughly and cover with a clean tea towel or some cling film.
  4. Leave to bubble away and double in size. This should be about a couple of hours

Stage 2 method

  1. Crumble the 10g of fresh yeast in the additional 60ml of milk and stir until the yeast has dispersed
  2. Add this to the bowl of ingredients from stage 1
  3. Also add in 100g caster sugar, two whole eggs, 200g plain flour, 30g of softened unsalted butter and the vanilla seeds
  4. Mix this all together with a wooden or metal spoon, and then cover as before
  5. Again, leave to double in size – this should be about an hour

Stage 3 method

  1. Add the final ‘body’ ingredients to the bowl – this is the last 200g of flour, 1 more egg and a teaspoon (5g) of salt
  2. Mix
  3. Grease a clean large bowl and transfer the dough to it
  4. Cover and leave to rest overnight somewhere cool but not freezing

Stage 4 method

Stage 4 and the first prep stage can be started early morning on day two (for example, before going to work) – you will need about an hour, so you may have to get up earlier than normal, but it can be done.

  1. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a square and dot the 140g butter on to it, as if there were a diamond shape in the middle of the dough square
  2. Fold in each of the corner of the dough to meet in the middle, like a simple envelope
  3. Pinch all the edges together to seal the dough up and encase the butter (so it doesn’t leak out)
  4. Dust the top of the dough with flour and then, using a heavy rolling pin, roll our the dough so that it is a long rectangle (only roll it so it stretches away and towards you, not side to side)
  5. ‘Brochure’ fold the dough – that is, fold the top third over the middle third and then the bottom third over them both, similar to making puff or croissant pastry
  6. Cover the dough with cling film or place in a large food bag and stick in the freezer for 5 minutes
  7. Take the dough out and with an edge of pastry towards you where you can see the folds, roll our to another rectangle and then make another book fold
  8. Chill again for another 5 minutes in the freezer

Final prep stage

  1. Warm some butter and lightly grease the pan d’oro tin – don’t use too much or it will pool in the bottom
  2. Bring the dough out of the freezer and squash the corners up and in to make a ball shape
  3. With the smooth centre at the bottom and the raggy ends upwards, drop the ball into the pan d’oro tin
  4. Leave to rest somewhere cool but not too cold (ie not in the fridge unless it is a very hot day) while you go to work – or about 7 – 8 hours

Baking stage

Baking and finishing can be done in the evening of day two

  1. The pan d’oro is ready when it has risen just above the top of the tin. Like bread, it will spring back when press lightly with a finger
  2. Put your oven on to 150C fan / 170C conventional
  3. Bake on a low shelf for about 1 hour 10 minutes
  4. The top should be golden


  1. Leave to cool a little in the tin
  2. Turn out on to a wire rack
  3. Before serving, dust liberally with icing sugar and cut the cake horizontally into several slices – turn the slices so that the star points resemble a Christmas tree



After all that, go put your feet up, have a nice slice of what you’ve just created with a glass of Asti or Moscato spumante. Or you just may want to know the right wine pairing to serve to your Christmas guests.

Wine pairing websites that mention matches for pan d’oro:

Sourdough for starters (or grow your own pet yeast)


I recently began a new wild yeast starter as I lost my long-lived one. I have been making sourdough bread since my children started weaning onto solid food, right back in 2001. This post details how to ‘grow’ and look after a wild yeast starter yourself with some tips to keeping it going.

My last batch of wild yeast had been cultivated for several years and my children have helped me to nurture various starters, including that batch. They had learnt about micro organisms, baking and some food science in the process of looking after the yeast, even from a very young age (kitchen science is a great thing to get your kids involved in).

They had also decided to name that last batch ‘Colin’ for some reason, though starters are often labelled as ‘mothers’ and thought of as female (despite not really needing to be assigned a gender!). However, about two months ago I knocked over the lovely glass Kilner jar that Colin had been residing in. It teetered and toppled and then tessellated into little pieces all across the floor.


I couldn’t resuscitate Colin – he was covered in shards of glass. He was good too – what lovely bread Colin had helped me create over the past few years. I shed a tear over his passing. I even contemplated making a little chalk line all around where he’d lain to mark where I’d accidentally finished him off.

But life goes on – and so to the rebirth of Colin mark two. Or is that Colin 2.0?

This time I’ve taken precautions. Colin 2.0 is housed in a modern apartment: a nice tall plastic, bounce-able tub. I did stash a bit of him in the freezer before the catastrophe but I made a new batch nonetheless and kept what was left of Colin on ice just in case. Yeast will sit nicely in stasis in a freezer almost indefinitely.

Cultivating your own wild yeast is easy peasy. All it takes is some decent flour, a bit of water, a tall lidded container and a couple of days of patience. Then it just needs a bit of attention every few days and it’ll be happy. I’ve seen “recipes” for starters that include live yoghurt or milk and any number of other additions. You do not need anything other than strong flour, water and something with a lid to keep it in to begin with.

What also puzzles me is that I’ve seen pre-packed starter for sale at alarming prices: if you can’t be arsed to take a couple of days to wait for a starter to begin to ferment, then you’re not going to look after one you’ve paid for. What a chronic waste of money – I worry many people who pay £14 or so for the starter will only make one or two loaves, possibly binning them if they haven’t worked. Another reason to cultivate your own starter, as it’s virtually free – if you go on to love making sourdough bread, fantastic, and if you don’t, you’ve wasted far less money.

I’ve written a previous blog post about the science of yeast, which is of course not written with any scientific expertise, but from what I’ve learnt through breadmaking for years and quite a lot of library researching (to improve my understanding of breadmaking and therefore my bread; the write-up was a happy additional extra). You can take a gander at my science of yeast post: it covers what is yeast exactly, how yeast ‘does what it does’ and looks at what affects yeast during the baking process.

Make your own starter – the ingredient list

You need a tall jar with a lid –  at least 1 1/2 litres. A Kilner jar does the job nicely, but as you’ve just read, this will smash if you’re as clumsy as me. I now use a tall plastic pot with a screw top lid I found in a pound store (result!)

A large ladle full of decent flour. Many sources will tell you to use rye or good wholemeal, but actually a good quality stoneground (organic if possible) strong white bread flour will start you off nicely. Cheaper and easier to get hold of too. This is because it is choc full of complex carbohydrates which yeast loves to eat. Those specialist flours contain less, although they do impart a much nicer flavour. My advice when starting your starter is to begin with good white flour, then as the yeast matures and becomes more vigorous then continue to feed it with rye, emmer, spelt, whatever you prefer to build up that nutty rich flavour.

Water, use the same amount of water as flour every time you ‘feed’ your starter and you can’t go much wrong. There are a lot or arguments about the quality of water – I’d say in the UK as long as you’re using fresh drawn water from the tap (transferred or measured out in a clean container) you should be OK. Elsewhere where tap water is not drinkable or unreliable, then bottled spring water is your best bet.

What to do

In a large bowl, put a ladle (or a half cup full) of flour and the same of tepid water. Whisk it up with a massive balloon whisk or a hand mixer. Don’t worry – it loves it! As yeast is present all around us, in the flour, in the air, you’re practically beating more yeast in.

After a few minutes of vigorous whisking, tip it all into the container and pop on the lid.

The container needs to go somewhere a bit warm (but not hot) and that has a fairly constant temperature. For the last few times I’ve begun a new starter I’ve stuck mine in the airing cupboard.

You now need to wait for the yeast to start its anaerobic activity and begin kicking out bubbles of gas. This will take anything from a day to three or four days. Keep checking your starter every twelve hours.

Sourdough loaf: made with sponge method. Wholemeal flour at 55% hydration
Once it’s started to bubble, now is the time for your pet’s first feed!

Your first few feeds will be pretty much the same as all subsequent feeds, although you may want to vary the type of flour you use later and once established the starter needs feeding much less frequently.

Tip in a ladle full of each of flour and tepid water. Mix it vigorously with either a fork or a slim whisk. Put the lid back on and stick back in its warm spot.

You should feed it in the same way for another two days – a ladle full of flour and one of water and a good mix.

After three to four of these feeds your jar will be getting quite full and hopefully very bubbly (like the photo of Colin 2.0 above). Now you can use your starter to make bread!

I’m not going to give you a recipe in this post. I’d actually suggest you try a normal bread recipe first and just add a ladle full of your starter to it, to test the yeast’s vigorousness and flavour. However, you can just dive straight in and make a sourdough loaf with your new pet if you prefer.

Tips on keeping your pet alive

Please note, I look after my starter(s) as someone who only makes a sourdough loaf about once a week (twice at most). This means I am feeding my starter and keeping it’s size in check as I don’t use it that often. For other home and professional bakers who make sourdough very regularly – even daily – they don’t need to temper it’s size or withdraw and discard any starter, as they will be using it up as quickly as they can cultivate it. They’re also unlikely to leave a starter for any length of time (ie when going on holiday) or need to find a way of storing it for future revival. There are plenty of online resources which give fuller instructions for more frequent wild yeast use.

Don’t forget, when making bread with your starter NEVER use it all up or you’ll have to begin from the beginning all over again. Keep a bit in the bottom of the jar and carrying on feeding it.

Feeding your starter should now be about three times a fortnight (when you have it in the fridge – see below) – that is more than once a week, sometimes twice. Use equal amounts of flour and water, about a ladle full of each and whisk it in lightly with a fork.

When you have the wild yeast established and get into a routine of feeding it, you may need to scoop out a little of the starter before a feed if you have not depleted it by making a lot of bread (you don’t have to do this at every feed, just when your jar is getting towards being full). The reasons are twofold: firstly you’ll quickly get much more starter than you need and it’ll fill up your jar if you’re not a very regular sourdough baker. Secondly, it seems to invigorate the yeast a little more if there is a more even ratio between the amount of existing starter and the water and flour you’re putting in – this is just my own cursory observation (I’ve no hard proof) but it seems to me to be more active if it has to work harder.

Slow your wild yeast’s activity down by keeping it in the fridge once it’s got past its first few days, unless you intend to make sourdough every couple of days. The cold inhibits yeast (though doesn’t kill it) so will slow it’s biological process down. It’s now best to not have the lid completely tight on the jar too.

When you want to make a loaf, you need a little prior planning. Bring your pet wild yeast out of the fridge to let it warm, give it a small feed (about half what you would normally – just enough to encourage a bit of vigour) and leave it to get a bit of a wriggle on before you bake with it. Ideally get the starter out and feed it the night before you want to bake, but at least 4 hours before.

If you’re going on holiday you can help your pet survive by feeding it a bit more flour than usual and a bit less water – this drier environment slows the yeast as there is more carbohydrate to eat through but it’s a bit more difficult. This, combined with sticking in a fridge will allow it to last much longer between feeds.

Don’t panic if you’ve not fed it for a few days and it’s all ‘gone a bit watery’. That’s the yeast excreting alcohol as it respires, because it’s run out of carbohydrate (flour) to eat. Just pour this liquid (called hooch) off and then immediately feed the yeast – all should be well. I have (ahem) done this many times to my yeast and it’s always come back well.

I’ve read that if your yeast forms a crust (from lack of feeding) that this can be prised off and the yeast revived easily – I have never seen this so I can’t comment.

Also dozens of sources on sourdough say that if your starter starts to really smell, then all is lost and you should start again as unwanted bacteria has got in. This hasn’t happened to me either, but I would say approach this with caution as if you are new to this sourdough does always smell – however it is pungent but NOT acrid. When your starter has got going and is bubbling take a good long sniff and get used to the smell – you will get this smell often as you bake bread with your starter and get used to it. This familiarity will enable you to detect when it is past all redemption and needs to go down the sink. If it does smell bad then it will be irretrievable and you will have to cultivarte a new starter (and if this is the case I’d suggest a very thorough clean of the jar afterwards, even sterilisation).

Survival techniques

You can save some of your wild yeast as a back up, reviving it in case you lose your starter. To do this your starter should be in a fairly lively stage (ie don’t use it just at the point it needs feeding as it is most weak then). Freezing is my preferred method. It’s also useful to prepare a back up of a starter that is a particularly great batch.

  • Freezing
  • Put a piece of baking paper on a baking tray that is small enough to go in your freezer drawer or compartment. Drop tablespoon-sized amounts of your starter on the baking sheet and flatten them out a little. It doesn’t matter how many you do. Pop in the freezer and once frozen (leave about 4-6 hours or overnight) you can peel these disks of frozen starter off and pop in a freezer bag or container. You can keep this almost indefinitely, but I’d replace with a new batch after 6 months.
  • To revive, place three or four of the disks in a clean, lidded jar and allow it to thaw. Then, once thawed, start to feed it as from the instructions for the ‘first feed’ above. It will only take a couple of days to get your starter back up and bubbly.
  • Drying
  • You can also dry out your starter in a low oven or dehydrator. Again, use a piece of baking baking on a baking tray. This time, spread out a layer of starter across the baking paper. Either pop in a dehydrator (you may need to cut up the baking paper and place smaller pieces in) and follow your equipment’s instructions. If you’re using an oven, put it on its lowest setting, place the baking tray in the bottom of the oven (the coolest part) and leave for an hour. If the yeast isn’t fully dry, turn off the oven and close the door back up. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight. Once dried, crunch up the yeast into pieces and store in a clean jar or container. This again lasts pretty indefinitely but do replace after six months to be sure.
  • To revive, place half a cupful or so of the dried yeast in a clean, lidded jar and add in roughly half the amount of tepid water. Leave to dissolve a little and then go on to the first feeding stage.
  • One benefit of drying yeast, is you can grind it up and use it as an umami powder within some recipes, and it’s a great way with a little water, to create crackle coating for bread.

Enjoy your new pet!

August 2019 – I’ve created a new carb lovers’ area on my Facebook site, if you have any questions you can leave them here in the comments or in this Facebook group area:

Inksugarspice on Facebook – Carb lovers’ group

Focaccia with caramelised shallots


A basic focaccia with the addition of shallots, slowly caramelised in sugar and fig and date balsamic vinegar with rock salt and rosemary.

Focaccia is a quintessential Italian bread and is reputedly thousands of years old, earlier than the Romans. It is traditionally round, although now you’ll see oval and square focaccia and would originally have been a flat bread. The true traditional focaccia is supposed to be thinner than most of us would expect it to be, and what we know as focaccia is more like a pavé bread (similar just more risen). The name is derived from the Latin panis focacius or hearth bread as it would have cooked on the floor of the fireplace. Focaccia led to the French fougasse and fogassa breads. It’s a simple and delicious bread to make and should be a regular feature of any baker’s repertoire.


  • Large bowl
  • Large plastic bag, cling film or tea towel to cover
  • Mixer with dough hook, if you are not making by hand
  • Round tray or stoneware dish (I use a 32cm/14″ stoneware flan dish for focaccia)
  • Saucepan


  • Strong white flour, 500g
  • Dried powered fast acting yeast, 5g
  • Salt, fine table, 10g
  • Olive oil, 10ml / 1 tablespoon plus a bit more for drizzling
  • Water, tepid, 325ml
  • Shallots, 5 small or 2 large
  • Sugar, 15g / 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • Balsamic vinegar, a drizzle (I actually use a gig and date balsamic vinegar*, but a traditional plain one will be fine). If you don’t have balsamic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce can work too
  • Rosemary, 2 sprigs each about 5 cm/ 2″ long – snip the leaves off the sprigs
  • Rock salt, large pinch

* I got mine from the Gourmet Spice Co at – they visit lots of UK food fairs too


  1. Put the flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl and stir until a sticky mess, leave for a few minutes
  2. Add the oil and then either mix with a dough hook in your mixer or knead by hand for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny
  3. Shape into a round and put back into the bowl and cover it
  4. Leave to rise until twice the size – this will depend on your room temperature and could be an hour or more
  5. Generously oil the bottom of the dish or tin you are using
  6. Tip out and press into the round dish or pan
  7. Cover and leave again to rise – it won’t be quite doubled – for about another hour
  8. While the bread is rising make the caramelised shallots:
    1. Finely slice the shallots length-ways
    2. Put a glug of olive oil in a sauce pan and put over a low to medium heat
    3. Gently fry the shallots until they turn clear – you do not want them to brown yet, this will be about 5 minutes
    4. Turn up the heat to medium and sprinkle over the sugar, stir the shallots until they turn light brown and start to crisp up
    5. Put a large dash of the balsamic vinegar in and fry for a further couple of minutes
    6. Remove from the heat and allow to cool
  9. Turn your oven on to 200 ºC fan / 220 ºC conventional
  10. When the dough has risen again (it should look puffy and spring back when touched lightly) push your fingertips into the dough all over to make indentations
  11. Drizzle some extra oil over the dough – it should pool in the dips you’ve created, plus the shallots
  12. Arrange the rosemary leaves into the dips
  13. Bake for about 20 minutes until slightly golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped
  14. Serve as is, or strew with fresh herbs and dip in some good quality olive oil and balasamic vinegar mix
  15. I’ve been given a discount code that anyone can use for 20% off Puro Mediterraneo olive oils [UK] online prices – visit the Puro Mediterraneo products page and quote inksugarspice18 when you order.

Apricot, apple and almond Chelsea Buns


I was just thinking I hadn’t made an enriched dough recipe for a while…

Background/history of the recipe

Chelsea Buns are a specific version of a traditional, rolled enriched and sweetened bread. Unusually for a bread, their origins are actually known, as they were invented at the Chelsea Bun House in London, probably in the early 1700s, as contemporary literature and reports from as early as 1711 cite the bakery.

The Chelsea Bun House would have been located just off the Pimlico Road (and technically in Pimlico not confusingly in Chelsea – perhaps it relocated premises at one point). There is a Bunhouse Place, but it appears it’s unlikely that this was the location and was named after, with Grosvenor Row or Jew’s Row more likely candidates listed in the food/London history books (Wikipedia says Jew’s Row but you know never to fully believe wikipedia, right?) If you want to find where Bunhouse Place is, this is it on Streetmaps.

Anyway, the original Chelsea Bun House is no more as it closed down in 1939. At the height of it’s popularity (and it was very popular) even Royalty succumbed to its treats as it’s reported both King George II and King George III actually visited. Although the Chelsea Bun bore it’s name, the bakery actually was most famous for it’s hot cross buns

Chelsea Buns are usually made with extra butter, dried fruit (currants, sultanas or raisins) and coated in a honey glaze. The sweet dough is pressed into a rectangle, covered with butter, sugar and fruit and rolled, like a roulade. This is then cut into slices and arranged, with a cut side showing, grouped together in a tin so they rise and cook touching together.

Though currants are the real traditional ingredients, Chelsea buns are often altered but the main thing is to keep their coiled shape and glaze.

My new flavourings for Chelsea Buns – apricot, almond and apple

I’ve chosen to try a new recipe, and it worked out even better than I’d hoped. The combination of apple, apricot jam and crunchy almonds was lovely. I think I definitely prefer them with a bit of a crunch (other nice alternatives are chopped pistachios; chocolate drops and orange; dried fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg – a Christmassy taste and red berries).


Chelsea buns are big and hearty! If you want something more delicate you can roll the dough up from either long edge into the middle of the rectangle of dough at stage 13. So you would have two mini rolls, and then cut down the middle between the two rolls to separate them before cutting into about 10 slices each and arranging them in a tin. Proving and cooking time shouldn’t be affected.


  • a tin to place the buns in. I used a 23 cm round springform tin, but a square or oblong one would be just fine
  • large bowl
  • pastry brush

Ingredients – for the enriched dough

  • strong white flour – 450 g
  • easy-blend yeast – 15 g
  • caster sugar – 50 g
  • milk – 125 ml (doesn’t have to be warmed but it’s better if it’s not fridge-cold)
  • water – 75 ml (tepid rather than warm)
  • medium egg (beaten) – 1
  • unsalted melted butter – 25 g

Ingredients for the filling

  • butter, softened – 20 g
  • small dessert apple – 1
  • flaked almonds (toasted or non-toasted – either will do) – 90 g
  • apricot jam – about half a standard jar (I like it with the lumpy bits of fruit but if you don’t you could warm it, sieve it and let it re-cool or buy a smooth jam)

Ingredients for the glaze/topping

  • apricot jam – 3 tbsps
  • water – 1 tbsp
  • a few extra flaked almonds


Preparing the dough

  1. Add all the dry ingredients into your bowl (that’s the flour, sugar, yeast and salt) and mix them up a bit.
  2. Make a well in the middle and tip in the milk and water, beaten egg and melted butter and start to mix. This is a little wetter than bread and is messy (half the fun) so you may want to use a wooden spoon first to bring it together before you start to knead).
  3. Tip it out onto a clean surface. Try to resist adding a dusting of flour to the surface if you can (or if it’s not too ingrained a habit). Yes, some of it will stick to the surface but as you continue kneading it will lift off and combine, and then you haven’t changed the chemical constitution of the dough too much by increasing the ratio of flour. Alternatively, I expect you can use a machine with a bread hook, but I’ve not tried that myself with sweet dough, I always do it by hand.
  4. If the dough is a little hard work add a touch more milk – as mentioned, it should be just slightly wetter than bread (more like how wet a sourdough or brioche would be).
  5. The kneading will take about 8 – 10 mins depending on how vigorous you are! Just like other breads, the dough will be smooth and a bit bouncy when it’s ready. This is one of those things that you just get used to seeing after you’ve baked for a while.
  6. Clean out your original bowl and lightly grease it (or use another) and pop in the dough. I usually chuck a large linen teatowel over my rising bread, and sprinkle over a little bit of water onto the towel, but cling film will do nearly as well (this shouldn’t need dampening as it creates an airtight seal and the bread is already moist).
  7. Leave it to double in size somewhere warm but not hot – this will typically take an hour or so but it depends on the warmth. Like other sweet doughs you could make this one evening and leave in the fridge or somewhere cool to rise overnight.

Shaping, filling and rolling the buns

  1. Grease the cake/bread tin.
  2. Gently roll the dough out of the bowl on to a floured surface and start to press it down gently (no heavy pummeling!) into a rectangle. You’re aiming for something about 30cm by 20 cm.
Chelsea buns - prepraing the filling ingredients
The rectangle of dough with the ingredients spread and scattered on
  1. Now you’re ready to add the filling ingredients. Spread the butter all over the rectangle of dough – you may not need all 20g – but leave a 1 cm gap down one long edge (this is to help the dough stick into a roulade shape later). Now spread over the half jar of apricot jam.
  2. Peel, core and dice the apple finely now (if you do this earlier it will discolour – one way to stop that would be to cover it in lemon juice but that will make the apple too acidic for this recipe).
  3. Scatter over the diced apple and the almonds.
  4. Now you need to roll up the dough like a roulade/Swiss roll, starting from the long edge which you haven’t left with a 1 cm gap. Brush a little bit of water or milk onto that edge you left so it sticks to the outside of the dough once you’ve roll it all up. It should look just like a doughy Swiss roll.
  5. Cut the roll into about eight slices.
Chelsea buns - cutting the filled dough into coils
The roll of sweet dough with the ingredients inside, sliced into coils
  1. Pop the slices end-on into the tin, so that you can see the Swiss roll shape and all the lovely fillings from the top. You may need to push the back into more of a round shape, as slicing them may have flattened them a little. Space the slices between 1 – 2 cm apart so that when they rise they bump into each other.
Chelsea buns arranged in tin prior to baking
  1. Cover with a that clean, damp tea towel or cling film from earlier and leave it to rise and prove a second time. You want them to puff up to about double what they were but this shouldn’t take as long as the first rise – about 30 mins.
  2. Pop on your oven to 180C fan/200C conventional.

Baking and glazing

  1. When risen, take off the covering and pop the tin in the middle of the oven and set the timer for 10 mins. After 10 mins don’t take them out – turn the oven down to 160C fan/140C conventional and cook for between 10 – 15 mins more. You want a nice golden top (not light but not too dark). You may need to turn the tin after the first 10 mins if your oven is not cooking very evenly (as you want the buns to all have the same depth of colour).
  2. Fetch the buns out when ready and leave to cool in the tin a bit.
  3. Now make the glaze by melting the jam and water together until just bubbling. Brush (or pour) it all over the tops of the buns (while they are still in the tin) and then scatter the extra few flaked almonds over the top.
  4. You can either enjoy them slightly warm or leave until fully cool.
Chelsea buns

Science of bread making – how yeast works

So, being nosey as usual, after making a batch of spelt walnut loaf I thought I ought to learn a bit more about yeast and the bread fermentation process. I remembered some stuff about yeast from A-Level biology (yeast is one of the most researched and written about organisms going) and I’ve had a batch of sourdough starter yeast on the go for some while, which is fascinating to look at and use. This post is an amalgam of some of the descriptions of yeast and fermentation I’d found both in books, e-publications and websites. I’d urge you to go and look up any specific aspects of this you find interesting for more in-depth information than I’ve given. There’s tons of detail out there (in fact I got rather overwhelmed by the amount of specific information) and it’s really interesting! Oh, and go give your own ‘pet yeast’ project a try by growing a starter dough.

What is yeast?

Yeasts are single cell fungi and there are apparently around 1,500 species of yeast. They are prevalent everywhere, even in the air, which is why anyone can make a sourdough starter.

Only one of those 1,500 species is used for baking and beer making though, and this is Saccharomyces cerevisiae (pronounced sak-ka-roh-my-sees serra-viss-ee-i). The name comes from combined Greek and Latin origins of saccharo for sugar, myces for mould and cerevisiae for ‘pertaining to beer’. Its name represents the way that it thrives off sugar and can be used in the fermentation process for beer.

Although it’s the same species as Baker’s Yeast, Brewer’s Yeast is a slightly different strain. In the past (and you could still do this, if you had access to a brewery!) bakers used to skim off the yeast from the brewing process and use that for their bread.

How yeasts do what they do

Yeasts normally ‘breathe’ (respire) oxygen and reproduce by budding. If they come into contact with sugars (carbohydrates) and are starved of oxygen they start to behave very differently – fermentation.

We can start off fermentation in bread when we mix and knead the dough, as the yeast becomes trapped within the gluten structures and is deprived of air. The dough also provides the carbohydrates the yeast needs. The lack of oxygen and presence of sugars is the perfect environment for yeast fermentation and making bread.

During the fermentation process the yeast’s two enzymes (amylase and invertase) break down the complex carbohydrate molecules in the flour into simpler sugar molecules. The yeast then consumes the sugar and carbon dioxide and alcohol (ethanol) are produced as ‘waste’. If there are more sugars than the yeast needs the result is a sweeter bread – this is controlled by the type of grain used (some grains have more carbohydrate than others) and with the additional of extra sugars in sweet dough, for example, a Kugelhopf or Chelsea buns.

The ‘waste’ carbon dioxide of course isn’t really waste to us at all. This is what causes the rise in leavened bread. The carbon dioxide is caught as bubbles within the gluten strands and puffs up the dough. The alcohol that is given off at the same time gives the dough flavour – a slow rising process (in a cooler environment) will result in more flavour.

So should we be worried that bread has living organisms, carbon dioxide and alcohol? For a start, you’ll be ingesting and breathing in yeast almost constantly, as we explored earlier yeast is everywhere, not just in your bread. Don’t be worried – not only would you not get leavened bread without them, but during the baking process bread the heat will kill off the yeast and evaporate the alcohol and carbon dioxide. All that will be left is the holes where the gas and alcohol had been – which gives you the lovely spongy, holey texture of a well-risen loaf.

Do we need to really knead and knock-back anymore?

A growing movement in baking, spearheaded by a number of bakers including Dan Lepard, Richard Berninet, Mark Bittman etc, is to treat bread with less intervention but more reverently – although this makes it appear that it is a modern technique. This not strictly true, as part of this new philosphy, the autolyse process, was developed and named by Raymond Calvel, a French chemist who, amongst other things, instructed Julia Child on bread as she wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking [1961] with Simone Beck. However, I don’t think this dimishes the contribution our modern famous-name bakers play, as it took them to perfect and promote such techniques and attitudes that they are now understood and adopted.

For autolyse to occur, flour and water is given the most minimal kneading and/or a folding technique to ensure the incorporation of all the flour and then left to rest to start the fermentation process. This eliminates the ‘hard work’ part of the first few minutes of normal (non autolyse process) knead, and making it easier, however, the autolyse process does need around 20-30 minutes (some say much more). So while it’s less physical work, the bread making will take longer

I went to a session on bread making by a famous baker where he asked why would you knock back all the air that you’ve so lovingly tried to incorporate? I’ve not been able to find out about as yet is how this affects the original explanation of reducing the increased amount of carbon dioxide via the knock-back. As explained below, knocking-back is supposed to get rid of any very large holes – but it seems that without knocking back you don’t necessarily get giant holes anyway. Maybe less kneading means the yeast works slightly less vigorously producing more even (and therefore desirable) holes in the first place? And if you get very large holes, does it matter? Perhaps the carbon dioxide releases during baking or that cutting the loaf and exposing the pockets of gas to air simply eliminates this problem or, simply, it wasn’t such an issue as people thought in the first place?

I’m unclear on all this – I’ve tried many loaves with no knock-back, some or lots of dough-based violence: I can’t conclude anything concrete. I think a choice on how vigorous to knock back actually affects my bread way less than other things like atmospheric conditions, ingredients or especially the type of recipe. I can’t tell you for certain, but I believe a gentle knock back seems to work most consistently and that’s what I tend to stick with.

Why was knocking-back bread used if we want the yeast to make the dough rise?

The thoughts behind using knocking-back are mainly based around the pockets of carbon dioxide gas that fermenting yeast can create during the initial proving process. Huge holes aren’t seen as desirable in a loaf – not great for toast or sandwiches, but lots of mall and medium-sized holes are very de-rigueur now (during the second world war in the UK getting a holey slice of bread felt to people like they were getting cheated out of their bread allowance, so it became imprinted on the UK psyche that holes = bad). Knocking back bursts these larger pockets of aire and helps distribute the carbon dioxide, the alcohol, the yeast and any sugar molecules left through the dough. The process is also supposed to re-activate the yeast, giving it a ‘second wind’ to go on and ferment the remaining sugars, but this is becoming seen as less important now the trend is to left the dough rise sufficiently (but not over rise) in the first place. Typically, the second proving stage after knocking back is shorter because the yeast is exhausted and less vigorous so there is little chance of large holes developing at this stage – but equally less chance of a decent rise if you’ve bashed the hell out of your loaf. Still, done correctly and with a big less vigour the traditional way of making bread still produces wonderful loaves – the trick is to pick the technique to match the recipe and give the no-kneading approach a go to see how it works for you.

What affects yeast

Overwhelming the yeast with salt

Adding salt directly onto the yeast can inhibit or even kill it in extreme cases. So, best to add salt into the bowl after the flour and/or water has already been put in. You can easily reduce the amount of salt in a bread recipe if you are trying to cut down, as salt isn’t part of the fermentation process – it’s only there so you can taste salt in your bread!

High temperatures

A warm room and the yeast will become nice and active. However, too hot and the yeast can’t cope. If you’ve had a loaf that won’t rise chances are you used milk or water (dependant on your recipe) that was overly hot. You can use cold liquids (rather than the warm usually specified) – the kneading process will create friction, and therefore heat, to activate the yeast anyway. Yeast will die at anything around or above 50C (122F). An ideal temperature for yeast is around 30-35C (86-95F).

Cold temperatures

Actually, cold doesn’t kill yeast (well, aparently it does eventually ‘mostly’ die off at about -40C – see Temperature and Life by Herbert Precht). However, less severe cold will slow fermentation right down so keep your sourdough starter in the fridge to stop it being lively, if you’re not making bread that often.

Fresh yeast can actually be frozen in a domestic freezer as the extreme low temperatures put the yeast into dormancy and, after raising to the right temperature, it’ll spring back into life. (There is a caveat on this in that apparently some of the yeast will die off but there will be enough in dormancy to survice to restart the culture). I keep frozen blobs of my starter culture in the freezer, so if I lose my live culture (such as when I go on holiday) I can restart very, very easily. See Sourdough for starters (or grow your own pet yeast) for more on this.

You can safely let a bread rise somewhere fairly cool but it’ll just take longer (probably overnight). Some recipes call for the dough to be placed in a fridge/cool place anyway to slow the fermentation process down and create a more mellow yet deeper flavour.

If you’ve got a cold environment but can’t afford to wait overnight, there are some excellent tips on Epicurious’s Bread Recipes and Tips page – see section 4.Proofing about getting round the cold and speeding up fermentation.