Inquiring reader: Jean at The Delightful Repast is a freelance writer who writes mostly about food, weddings, etiquette and entertaining for numerous publications. Her blog reflects her culinary heritage–an English grandmother, a Southern grandmother and a mother who could do it all. Jean’s love of reading and cooking (often done simultaneously) is definitely in her genes. She has (delightfully) offered to share her thoughts about tea in Jane Austen’s day and her recipe for Sally Lunn buns!
It came as quite a disappointment to me that day long ago when I, an avid afternoon tea aficionado, realized that afternoon tea was not part of Jane Austen’s life. (I am still taken aback by the thought as I write those words!) Tea drinking, popular at Court since the 1660’s, had by the Regency Period long since trickled down through all strata of society. Jane and her family no doubt enjoyed a nice cup of tea at least twice a day, at breakfast and in the evening after dinner.
Tea, being the magical all-purpose beverage that it is, was surely drunk at other times as well. I drink tea a minimum of four times a day. My grandmother Elizabeth (from the Lake District) drank tea several times a day, including once in the middle of the night. Her mother Mary Ann was constantly putting the kettle on. And it was Mary Ann’s grandmother Mary who was a contemporary of Jane Austen’s, though at the other end of the country.
There are a number of things Jane might have had with her tea, including hot, buttered Sally Lunn buns, good with both sweet and savory toppings. Those made today in Bath are very large, perhaps six inches across and four inches high. My own version, which I’m sure Sally Lunn’s in Bath would scorn as an inadequate imitation, is much smaller. I’ve made them as large as a hamburger bun but, preferring them smaller yet, usually make them in a muffin tin.
Sally Lunn Buns
(Makes 18 )
4 packed cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
In medium bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure), whisk together flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In small saucepan, melt butter.
With electric mixer, beat the eggs until fluffy and pale lemon yellow, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. By hand with a dough whisk or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to three days.
About 2 1/4 hours before serving time, remove dough from refrigerator. Stir down the dough, just a few strokes, with a wooden spoon. With a 1/4-cup measure or scoop sprayed with cooking spray, scoop dough into well-greased or cooking-sprayed standard muffin tins. Lightly butter a sheet of plastic wrap and place, buttered side down, over the buns. Let rise until puffy but likely not doubled in volume, about 1 3/4 hours. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Uncover buns. Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer tins to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes. Turn the buns out of the tins onto the racks and serve warm or continue to cool before storing.