So when I was younger – OK, over 40 years ago – I went to an English Public School. The thing you have to know straight away about English Public Schools is that they’re not Public, they’re Private. Not just anyone can go there, OH no. You have to pass an exam – commonly called the Common Entrance Exam – and pay for the privilege. Pay handsomely, in fact.
At the time, since my parents were poor and I was outstandingly clever, I got a County Scholarship to go to the school, and a great time I had there too.
This is the school, or at least the bit of it that goes back the furthest – all the way to 1616, in fact, when it was founded by William Jones and the Haberdashers’ Guild in London, making it 400 years old this year.
Anyway, one of the features of the school of my youth was the school Tuck Shop, a small room in the cloisters where we could queue up at 10.45 every morning to buy sticky currant buns. And very delicious they were too.
I’ve had these buns in the back of my mind for the past 40 years, and have now succeeded in reproducing them pretty well, using a recipe for French brioche dough.
Well, recipe; I exaggerate – I follow the instructions on the packet, mix it up in my bread machine (my old hands are too stiff to pound dough, what with the carpal tunnel problems and my innate laziness), form the dough into buns and pop them into the oven.
So I buy ‘Farine T45 de force’, strong gluten-rich flour specially made for brioches with added gluten and powdered egg yolk; there’s a regular T45 for doing other patisserie which works, but this works even better. You don’t have to read the small print or delve into details – you just buy the one marked ‘Brioche’ on the front. It’s the powdered egg yolk plus the egg you add later that makes it yellow.
The recipe is quite simple: 175ml cold milk, 40g sugar, 8g salt, 75g cold diced butter, a whole medium egg (50g) and 350g of the special flour plus a sachet of dried active yeast (you can get a special brioche yeast here, regular works fine too).
I add these ingredients, in this order, to the bread machine and set it going on its 90 minute mixing and raising program (the small curious child above is optional). After about 20 minutes I add the raisins I love (and which the small child above hates) and they get mixed in appropriately. Sometimes I do have a tendency to add a few too many and it looks, as my good friend Caroline’s granny always said, as if they’ve been ‘Thrown in from the top of the stairs’.
After an hour and a half the dough has risen; I take it out and divide it into eight (roughly) equal balls and leave them to rise again for half an hour while the oven warms up to 180°C.
They rise quite nicely, and when they’re ready to go into the oven I give them a quick egg wash (roughly beat one egg in a bowl or mug, paint it on with your pastry brush).
After 12 minutes in the oven I turn the baking tray around 180° and give them another five minutes, to ensure even cooking. Then when they come out and have cooled I give them a sugar syrup coating to make them really shine, nice and glossy.
Miam. Serve with some nice salted butter and good strawberry jam. And, if you can get it, clotted cream.