Riding the Baking Edge #5: Maude’s Riot Grrrl Chelsea Buns
by Susanna Crossman
This is the fifth in a weekly baking series dedicated to Leonora Carrington, the beasts of the forest, sumptuous feasts and all sorts of cake.
Maude’s Riot Grrrl Chelsea Buns
When I was a teenager, my friend Maude would bake Chelsea buns: swirls of sweet dough, studded with jet-back currants, dressed up in melted butter, sugar, a warm scattering of cinnamon and a sticky glaze.
Maud had grown up in a commune, and learnt to bake bread and had read Marilyn French’s feminist novel The Women’s Room by the age of ten. As adolescents, we skipped school together, and sprawled on the old pink chaise longue in her living room. The yeast bubbled, Maude kneaded dough. Carolyn King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”, spun on the record player. While the buns rose, we drank instant coffee laced with Maude’s mother’s vodka, read her copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, giggled and made revolutionary plans. Like the buns, we wanted things to turn around.
Maude had cool tattooed all the way through her like a pink stick of Blackpool rock: pretty, painted Betty Boop eyes, a blue Mohican and a collection of fifties cocktail dresses that made me weep with jealousy. Later in life, Maude became a poet, moved to New York City and baked out of the back of a van, selling Chelsea Buns in Madison Square Park.
Maude’s childhood had been troubled, and she said these buns were sweetness, a joyful offering to those painful days when she’d been a little girl amongst random hippies and adults seeking their own fulfilment. She called them Riot Grrrl Chelsea Buns, inspired by female punk bands and Martin Luther King who wrote that a riot is the language of the unheard.
The regular Chelsea bun have their own history—the cronut of 18th century London—people queued up to them buy on the first day they were sold. Maude told customers: “the Riot Grrrl Chelsea Buns contain a whole universe we are yet to know.” On waking each day, Maude read a poem. She said, quoting Jeanette Winterson:
Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home–they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.
1 sachet (7g) dried yeast
100ml tepid milk
225g plain white flour
20g diced butter
1 egg, beaten
100g mixed fruit (Maude preferred Corinthian raisins, and said, “they’re like ebony bits of meteorites, survivors of a passage through the atmosphere.”)
40g brown sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
For the glaze:
1 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp white sugar
These buns take time. They involve yeast. A streamlined expression of life, built like a human cell, yeast is an author of the modern world. The time to make these buns must be stolen, fermented minutes robbed, rising from the everyday. Once baked, these crystalline swirls of sugar and flour will linger in your home like kite tails. You will reach for them. As Roxane Gay wrote: “There is, I must admit, something very satisfying about making things from scratch.”
Place the flour and yeast in a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Place your hands palm to palm, move them back and forth. You may also swing your hips in time. Laurie Lee called this “Happy-go-lucky baking.” Maude would listen to the punk band The Stiff Little Fingers, you may choose French rapper NekFeu, or “Dido’s Lament” performed by Jeff Buckley. Feel free. Gertrude Stein believed the “difference is spreading.”
Make a well in the centre of the mixture. Pour in the tepid milk and beaten egg. Mix together until the mixture forms a dough. The word dough comes from the root “dheigh” meaning “to form, build.” You are constructing a new being.
Turn onto a floured surface and knead for ten minutes. Think about your feet as you knead. Connect with the ground, with the matter, with the sky, as Pina Bausch said, “Dance, dance, otherwise, we are lost.” Kneading is dancing, twist and turn your dough.
Put dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm, or a damp tea towel. Place in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface. Roll out into a rectangle, approximately 30 x 23cm. Mix the dried fruit and sugar together. Melt the butter, then brush over the dough. Scatter with the fruit and sugar mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with stars.
Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll, starting at the long edge. Press the edges together to seal.
Then cut into 12 slices. Place the rolls, cut side uppermost in a greased dish (17.5 cm square). Cover with oiled clingfilm and wait for 30 minutes or until things have risen again.
At this point, your spirals will be close together. Louise Bourgeois claimed spirals were an attempt at controlling chaos moving in two directions. The question was: “Where do you place yourself, at the periphery, or at the vortex?”
Bake the buns in a preheated oven at 190° C for 30 minutes until golden brown. While the buns are still hot, mix the hot water and white sugar. Paint the buns with the glaze until they shine. When they have cooled, take a bite, uncoil the soft spirals. Weep for the joy of yeast. Fathom the bun. Taste the currant asters. Patti Smith wrote, “in art and dream may you proceed with abandon.”
About the Author:
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist, winner of the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Lonely Crowd and more. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. Co-author of the French roman, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. She lives in France. @crossmansusanna.