When I celebrated my birthday last Saturday, I chose not to have a conventional birthday cake – which runs true to form as I haven’t had a conventional birthday cake in ages. Instead, I found myself kneading buttery brioche dough to make a half-batch of the cinnamon rolls. Half-batch because I used the rest of the dough to try my hand at baking a Sally Lunn.
This is how the loaf is described in Wikipedia:
A Sally Lunn is a type of yeast bread originating from Bath in the West Country of England, the recipe for which is said to have arrived with a French émigrée in the 17th century. It is often lightly scented with lemon, and is traditionally served sliced horizontally, spread with butter or whipped or clotted cream and reassembled. It is still produced commercially in Bath.
One side claims that Sally Lunn is just an English bastardization of the French phrase soleil et lune (sun and moon) which pretty much describes the golden, circular appearance of a baked loaf. Another side claims that it’s a bastardization of the French word solimeme which is a kind of brioche baked in a round tin. Finally, there’s a group in Bath that says Sally Lunn was how locals pronounced the name of Solange Luyon, a Huguenot (French Protestant) who moved to England in 1680 and made her living baking brioche-style loaves sandwiched with rich cream.
Well, whichever way it came to be, the Sally Lunn is a rich, decadent affair: soft, pillowy, buttery bread filled with fluffy clouds of fresh-whipped and lightly sweetened cream. It has become a popular offering for elevenses and high teas along with all the usual scones, buns, and biscuits.
Quite obviously, I’m not English so I didn’t grow up hankering for a Sally Lunn at either eleven in the morning or four in the afternoon. However, there was just something compelling about this particular bread that made me hunker down on a cloudy afternoon and whip it up for a birthday dessert.
Traditionally, a Sally Lunn is flavored with lemon zest and is made with white sugar. I chose not to go the conventional way and flavored my loaf with vanilla extract and used dark brown muscovado sugar instead of refined white. The end result was a deliciously fragrant bread that was pillowy-soft but not too sweet. The fact that it wasn’t very sweet made it a perfect canvas on which I slathered generous orangey lashings of confiture de lait before serving. What I got was a delightfully citrusy treat that had the moreishness of sweet cake and the belly-filling qualities of very good bread.
Honestly, I cannot begin to describe how gorgeous this is when eaten along with a large cup of milky coffee perked up with cinnamon and ginger.
Homespun Sally Lunn
- 500 grams all-purpose flour
- scant 1/2 cup salted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 50 grams muscovado or soft dark brown sugar
- 150mL milk
- 1 sachet fast-acting yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup confiture de lait (milk jam)
- 1/2 cup glutinous rice flour for dusting
- additional 2 tablespoons milk for brushing
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Put the milk and butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave on HIGH for a minute and a half. Whisk until well combined, then add the eggs and vanilla extract. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix until you achieve a shaggy mess of sorts. Knead for about twelve minutes, dusting the dough with rice flour from time to time to cut down the stickiness; dough will be very soft. Cover with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise for about an hour.
Grease 2 8-inch cake tins; set aside.
Punch down the risen dough and cut into half. Press each half portion of dough evenly into the prepared tins. Cover with a dishtowel and leave to prove for about 15 – 20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.
Bake the loaves for about 25 – 30 minutes. Allow to cool before turning over onto serving dishes. Slice each loaf into thirds and evenly spread the confiture de lait between the layers. Reassemble and cut into slices to serve.
Makes two loaves yielding eight servings each.