JANE AUSTEN’S FIFTH GREAT NIECE, CAROLINE JANE KNIGHT, SHARES HER FAMILY’S RECIPE FOR BATH BUNS AND THE SECRET OF MAKING CARAWAY COMFITS.
Bath Buns are much like bread rolls with crunchy sugared caraway seeds – delicious! I have recently been creating dishes for a Regency dinner I am hosting with my family at Chawton House on Friday 21st June to raise money for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation and Chawton House – click HERE for more information and tickets.
All the dishes use recipes and flavours from my family’s 18th century cookbook and are inspired by food mentioned in Jane’s novels and letters – including Bath Buns.
"Your going I consider as indispensably necessary, & I shall not like being left behind; there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at—& tho’ to be sure the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my Stomach with Bath bunns; & as to the trouble of accommodating us, whether there are one or two, it is much the same:" Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra on January 3rd, 1801.
For a disappointing moment I thought there was no recipe for Bath Buns in the Knight Family Cookbook. This cookbook was inherited by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (my fourth great grandfather) when he inherited the Knight estates of Chawton, Steventon and Godmersham Park from the family’s rich cousin, Thomas Knight II. Jane dined many times at Godmersham and later moved to the cottage on the Chawton estate.
Thankfully, the recipe was indeed in the book and under a slightly different name – listed as Bath Caraway Cakes on page 188.
Like all the recipes in the Knight Family Cookbook, the recipe is written in brief as a reminder for the professional cooks of the house –
“Take 2 quarts of flour, dry it before the fire, rub in a pound & half of butter, put 6 eggs, leaving out two of their whites, 6 spoonfuls of yeast & 6 spoonfuls of cream: mix them all well together & set it to rise for an hour, then work in a pound of Caraway Comfits, & then set them into the oven.”
Today, we are used to recipe books with detailed instructions designed to be followed by amateur cooks and many of the Knight family recipes are difficult to recreate over 200 years later without a bit of trial and error! I tried a few variations and this is my favourite.
First make the caraway comfits:
2 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons of sugar (I used raw granulated)
3 tablespoons of caraway seeds
Put water and sugar into a saucepan and stir over a medium heat until dissolved and boiling. Add caraway seeds and stir over the heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir until the mixture is dry. Pour onto a plate and cool.
When cool, I like to repeat the process to double coat the caraway seeds (put another 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water into a pan, dissolve and boil before stirring in the caraway seeds until dry). Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Next, make the bun dough:
1 lb/475g flour
4 oz./15g butter
1/4 tsp./7g sachet of instant yeast
1 pinch salt
1 cup/225ml lukewarm milk
2 large eggs
Rub butter into flour until it resembles a crumble mixture. Lightly whisk the eggs and add to the bowl, with the yeast, milk and salt (keep the salt and yeast separate in the bowl). Mix well to create a sticky dough. Knead on a floured surface for at least 5 minutes. Mix in 2/3 of the caraway comfits and knead for another minute or two. Put into a large bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours until doubled in size.
Put dough on floured surface and lightly flatten. Cut into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Place on lightly floured baking sheet, cover and leave to rise for an hour. Preheat oven to 175C and bake for 20 – 25 mins. The buns are done when they are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
For the glaze:
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons white caster sugar
Place buns on a rack, mix glaze and paint on the warm buns. Sprinkle the remaining caraway comfits over the glaze and gently press in.
Bath Buns are yummy warm or cold with salted butter.
© Caroline Jane Knight - Jane Austen’s fifth great niece. Founder & Chair of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation
For more information and to buy tickets to the Jane Austen Heritage Dinner at Chawton House, please follow the link below.
Image credits: Caroline Jane Knight