A couple of days ago, my friend Betti asked me if I could share with her my favourite bread recipe. Of course I said yes.

Hello dough!

Over the years, my favourite bread recipe kind of changes according to my mood and the time I have. There was a period of time I was madly in love with this recipe. And then another recipe came along – started well but the more I made, the worse it became (don’t ask me why. I have zero clues). If I wanted something more decadent (read: arteries clogging), I would opt for a brioche. However this year, St John’s afternoon buns just stole my heart.

These afternoon buns are served at the famed St John’s Hotel, London during tea time. They have three different flavoured buns – anchovies, prune and chocolate. However I made them plain and discovered they were absolutely delicious.

St John’s afternoon bun

The plain buns also became my “multi-purpose” buns. I served them with oeuf en cocotte. I stuffed them with tuna, anchovies, olives and capers. I even used them as hamburger buns. So I think it is safe to say these babies are my favourites for the year.

St John’s Afternoon Buns
(Barely adapted from Jamie, Issue 27, March/ April 2012)

Makes 24 buns

1)      600g strong white flour or bread flour
2)      2 teaspoon salt
3)      40g caster sugar
4)      330ml water (I like to use lukewarm water, temperature around 46oC)
5)      10g dried yeast or instant yeast
6)      1 large egg
7)      50g butter, cubed and softened
8)      Egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with milk) for brushing

Chocolate Filling
1)      8 squares of 70% cocoa chocolate
2)      Cocoa Powder for dusting

Prune Filling
1)      8 prunes

Anchovy Filling
1)      3 garlic cloves
2)      25g tinned anchovies in oil, drained
3)      1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4)      1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

-        Combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and egg (excluding the egg wash’s egg) in the bowl of the stand mixer. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on a medium speed. Slowly add in the water and continue mixing for about 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is coming away from the sides. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
-        Start the mixer up again on a medium speed and slowly add in the cubed butter bit by bit to the dough. You might need to scrap the side to ensure all the butter is incorporated into the dough.
-        Once incorporated, increase the speed to high and mix for another minute. At the end, you should be able to get a smooth and shiny dough. I like to “pull and fold” my dough before I let it rest. I think it looks pretty (like a baby butt) and helps to make the rise smoother.
-        Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave the mix to relax for 10 minutes. At this stage, you can leave the dough to relax for up to an hour. There are times I do forget to check on my dough.
-        Line a baking sheet with parchment (or using a non-stick baking tray). Turn the dough out on a work surface, and divide into 24 pieces. What I would usually do is weigh the dough and divide the weight accordingly. In this way, I am guaranteed to have equal size buns.
-        You can roll the dough into balls. Or I prefer the “pull and fold” method. I pull the sides of the dough and fold it in.
-        For the chocolate and prune buns, push a piece of the chocolate/ prune into the centre of each ball, pulling the dough around it so that it is completely enclosed, and reshape the dough into a ball.
-        Move all the buns to the baking tray, leaving room for them to spread and ensuring you know which is which.
-        Using a spray bottle (or pastry brush), lightly spray a thin layer of water and leave them in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size*. What I like to is I would warm up the oven at 100oC for 15 minutes and switched it off and I will leave the tray of dough inside. And 10 minutes before baking time, I will remove them from the oven.
-        Meanwhile, you can start on the anchovy filling. Blend the garlic and a pinch of black pepper to a fine puree in a food processor or with a pestle and mortar. Add the anchovies and blend/ bash until they break down. Gradually add enough oil to make a thick paste, then stir in the vinegar. Check seasoning and set aside.
-        10 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 200oC. Because this is a bread recipe, it is very important to make sure the oven is hot enough. This is why I always stick an oven thermometer to check on the temperature.
-        Brush the egg wash over the buns. Dust the chocolate buns with cocoa powder as well. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.
-        Slice the anchovy (or plain) buns in half while warm, spread with the filling and sandwich together. Eat warm.
-        These buns will keep for 2 days in an airtight container.

*The original recipe actually suggested covering the dough with a damp tea towel. When I did that, the dough raised and stuck onto the towel. Hence I decided to use a spray bottle so that the dough will not dry out.