To set the mood for our upcoming U.K. trip (and because it’s a cold, rainy night … and because I LOVE lemon anything …) I decided to make Whitby Lemon Buns. Lemons are so-o-o popular in British foods. From lemonade to candied lemon peel, every part of the lemon is used or preserved. In baking, lemon curd is made by the gallon and is used in pies, tarts, buns and to spread on everything from toast to scones.
Lemons and their cousin, limes, originated in southeast Asia and were brought back to the U.K. along with all the other exotic and interesting spices now so very popular, including, of course, “tea“. These citrus fruits were life saving for sailors and miners because they were known to prevent “scurvy”, a deadly disease which results from a deficiency in Vitamin C.
In the 1600’s, the East India Company published a handbook for use on its ships describing “scurvy” as a dietary deficiency and recommended a “cure” of “fresh food or, if not available, oranges, lemons, limes and tamarinds”. Scurvy was such a problem for the English Navy, it actually killed more sailors than the enemies did. By the 1700’s, the Navy decreed “a fixed amount of lemon juice should be issued daily to all sailors after their fifth or sixth week afloat“. Are you familiar with the term “limey“, well I think you now know where that nickname originated.
So now that we’ve learned why these small citrus fruits are so popular, I think it’s time to do some baking.
These “buns” or sweet rolls are believed to have originated in Whitby, a small seaside town on the east coast of England. To be authentic, these buns should have a lemon curd filling. I, on the other hand, decided to make my own candied lemon peel and added that instead. I must say these are absolutely perfect … not too sweet, a hint of lemony goodness and the added touch of candied peel gives it just a bit of lemony crunch. Let me know what you think.
WHITBY LEMON BUNS
- 3 cups unbleached flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 tsp salt
- zest and juice of 1 lemon (1/2 for dough – 1/2 for glaze)
- 1/4 cup dried fruit or candied lemon peel … OR
- 1/2 cup lemon curd*
- confectioner’s sugar
- lemon juice
In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, sugar and lemon zest. In a small bowl warm the milk slightly (microwave is fine) and add the butter. Stir until melted.
Mix the yeast with the warm water and one tablespoon sugar, then let it stand until it gets all frothy. When this has happened, add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Then add the milk mixture, the beaten egg and juice of one lemon. Mix well. This should be a soft dough. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead in the dried fruits or candied lemon peel.
Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turn the dough over and over to make sure the dough is oiled as well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.
When the dough has doubled in size and is ready (it will hold a depressed fingerprint) tip it out onto your pastry board.
Roll the dough into a long roll and cut into 12 to 16 evenly sized pieces.
*If you are filling the rolls with lemon curd, roll each ball out flat with a rolling pin, place a small spoonful of lemon curd in the middle and then shape into a ball. Pull tightly and make sure the bottom is sealed.
If not using lemon curd, just roll each ball tightly and then place all the dough balls in a parchment lined baking tray. They should just touch each other.
Cover again and let rise in a warm place for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Brush the tops of the buns with beaten egg white and then bake for 12-15 mins or until the buns are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Make a simple glaze by mixing 1 cup confectioners sugar with the rest of the lemon juice. Let the buns cool for a few minutes and then drizzle the glaze over.
Put the kettle on and Enjoy!
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CANDIED LEMON PEEL
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup or cane sugar syrup
Remove the peel from the lemon(s). Then with a spoon, remove as much of the pith as possible. Slice the peel into long, thin julienne strips. Place the lemon strips into a small saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil.
Dump the boiling water out and replace with more water. Bring to a boil again. Repeat at least four times. This is the only way to remove the bitterness from the peel. Drain the peel on a paper towel.
In the small saucepan add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup or cane syrup. Bring to a boil, add the lemon peel and let it slowly boil until the peel is translucent. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the pan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
With a slotted spoon, take the peel out and put onto a sheet of waxed paper to cool. This is extremely hot and shouldn’t be touched until it is completely cool. When cool, put the candied peel into your recipe, or put into a tightly covered jar. Should keep very well.
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References: Food in 18th Century England, Wikipedia,