For a long time, I didn’t really understand breakfast. 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 was 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, as a student, breakfast was either Sainsbury’s Basics white sliced (I didn’t yet understand 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.
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! Bread! Oh good lord, the bread. It’s hard, I think, to beat a really great bun at breakfast time, laden with butter and jam. But not all buns are created equal. So let me introduce you to the mother bun, the bun to end all buns: the morning scroll bun.
Scroll buns are made of yeasted rough puff pastry, which means they plump as they prove. They have a bready taste, but a pastry texture – rich, flaky, messy, addictive – because of the butter you layer through them. Think of them as slightly rough around the edges English croissants. I love them.
The original recipe here comes from Justin Gellatly, pastry chef célèbre, formerly of St John 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.
Since my Damascene 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 and ham. 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: glaze them with syrup, then dunk them in a bowl of cinnamon sugar. I think I could win over my worst enemy with these buns.
(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 don’t be put off. 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.)
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. Halve if, like me, you like a few of both!
- 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 this to the flour bowl. Mix together for only a couple of minutes. 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.
- 15 minutes before the 2 hours is up, take the butter out of the fridge to come up to room temperature. On a floured surface, roll the dough out until you have a neat rectangle that measures 35cm by 12cm.
- Place the dough landscape in front of you. 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.
- Turn the pastry ninety degrees. Roll it out again, to its original longer size, and fold into thirds again. Wrap the dough in clingfilm, and place in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Remove from the fridge, roll out the dough, fold as before, turn again, roll again, and fold again. Back into the fridge for another two hours!
- This is now your last fold: roll out once more, and fold the left and right edges so that they meet in the middle with no overlap: it should 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.
- Lightly oil and flour a 12 hole muffin tin. Roll the dough out so that it is a rectangle 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. (If you’re not, go straight to the next step.)
- Roll the pastry tightly. Brush the ends with beaten egg to seal them. Slice carefully into 12 discs, being careful not to squash them, and place one in each of the muffin holes, with the cut side facing upwards.
- Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave the buns for about two hours somewhere warmish until they have noticeably increased in size.
- 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.
- If you’re making sweet buns, heat the sugar and water together, bring to the boil, and keep it there for five minutes. Paint onto the buns. Be careful, because you’re using hot sugar.
- 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 cinnamon sugar will keep happily and indefinitely in a dry place).
- Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
It probably goes without saying that we ate these for breakfast. We ate them 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 are a complete breakfast and that is part of their charm. The cinnamon ones 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, with butter and jam.