There was a nice man selling delicious-looking and unusual loaves whose name I cannot remember, but I bought from him a loaf that I was attracted to partly because of what it looked like and partly because of the name. It looked like a giant Bath Bun (see my older post entitled Chefs, Bath Buns and Markets), but was named a More Tea, Vicar?. Brilliant name. I had a nice thick slice of that for my 'dessert' tonight, toasted and buttered. Mmmmm.
So what is a Bath Bun? Well, it's a rich, sweet, round yeast bun that has a lump of sugar baked in the bottom and more crushed sugar sprinkled on top after baking. Sometimes the ingredients can include candied fruit peel, currants or larger raisins or sultanas.
The Bath bun is possibly descended from the 18th century 'Bath cake'. References to Bath buns date from 1763, and they are still produced in the Bath area of England. The original 18th century recipe used a brioche or rich egg and butter dough which was then covered with caraway seeds coated in several layers of sugar similar to the French dragée. Apparently it was devised by Dr. William Oliver, a doctor who treated visitors to Bath who came for the spa waters. He later invented the Bath Oliver biscuit, when Bath buns proved to be too fattening for his patients with rheumatism. Well, duh.
Occasionally folks confuse it with the Sally Lunn bun which also comes from Bath. Here is where I attempt to illustrate the difference.
(below) Sally Lunns.
Sally Lunn buns are a similar texture, a brioche-type dough with a hint of sweetness and aromatics (lemon is most popular). There are two popular stories as to how the bread got its name.
Version 1: Some historians maintain that Sally Lunn buns were originally made by Protestant refugees from France, who called them "soleil et lune." Translated into English this means sun and moon, with “sun" referring to the warmly colored top, and "moon" to the white and airy interior. In the mouths of English vendors crying their wares on the streets of Bath, "soleil et lune" could become Sally Lunn. In 1685, Louis XIV (1636-1715) revoked the Edict of Nantes (slaughter of Huguenots), which gave little protection to French Protestants. He banned practice of any religion except Roman Catholicism in France. More than half a million Protestants fled the country to England, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Version 2: The recipe for this bun is said to have originated in Bath with the arrival in 1680 of a Huguenot immigrant called Solange (Solie) Luyon who brought her native skill and worked at a Bath bakery - this bakery is now known as Sally Lunn's House and can be visited today with the original recipe buns available for sale or consumption in the dining rooms. Sally Lunn is a corruption of her name and the bun became a very popular delicacy in Georgian England as its taste and lightness allowed it to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments.
Well, whatever the story, and whatever the bread, Bath Bun or Sally Lunn, they're delicious, and moreover, the giant Bath-Bun-Lookalike MoreTea Vicar is delicious, too. So now you know. As soon as i find out who the guy that bakes them is, you shall know, as I'm sure you'll all want a taste.
À votre santé!