When I lived in Rome, I was lucky enough to call Monti home. A tiny neighbourhood wedged somewhat between Termini train station and the Roman Forum, it was the perfect location for exploring Rome.
My most direct walk to work took me either past the Fontana di Trevi or down the Spanish steps. Early morning runs would take me all the way down Via Cavour. A turn to the left and I would saunter past the Colosseum. A few more turns to the right and I would loop around Circo Massimo before leaving the FAO and WFP buildings to my right and running back past the Colosseum and up Via Cavour. And while Monti would often be packed in the evenings, there were plenty of cute bars and restaurants for a quick aperitivo with friends.
While Monti was certainly too small to have all of the amenities of some of the other neighbourhoods I have called home, I loved it. Especially once I had lived there long enough to have a favourite place to get my morning cappuccino or a slice of pizza al taglio at lunchtime or knew from which bakery to pick up some pizza bianca for dinner.
The Antico Forno ai Serpenti is nowhere near as famous as say Forno Roscioli and its sour cherry tarts or the Jewish bakery in the Old Ghetto. But it was our little neighbourhood bakery. And they could make sense of my initially rather mangled (and heavily accented) Italian and sold enough different seasonal treats that I don’t think I ever managed to try everything they had on offer (and I did try).
One of my favourite treats from this bakery were these small round pastries studded with raisins, sugar and anise seed and covered in thick icing. And ever since trying these for the first time, I had been meaning to try baking something similar. Similar to Honey & Co’s Fitzrovia Buns, I decided to come up with a twist on the classic Chelsea Bun but using the flavours of those pastries from the Antico Forno ai Serpenti. I also added some pine nuts, because I adore them and it wasn’t until I lived in Rome that I discovered all these different types of sweets, cakes and gelato you can make with pine nuts. I also added some chopped candied orange to the filling because it was in Rome, where you can buy candied orange halves in bright orange and that are nothing like their pale and waxy counterparts you can get in supermarkets this side of the Alps, that I learned that I don’t actually hate candied orange. In fact I adore it.
Monti Buns – a Roman twist on Chelsea Buns
Notes: These Monti Buns are really just a twist on the classic Chelsea Bun. If the dough seems a little rich, that is because it is. And you will thank me for this. After comparing lots of recipes online, I went back to some older sources, in particular Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, and realised just how spartanic modern recipes for Chelsea Buns had become. And the richer the dough I tested these with, the fluffier and more delicious the buns became. That being said, I did swap the traditional butter for vegetable oil since most Italians I know don’t care much for the flavour of butter in baked goods (Italy is possibly the only country where people will comment on something being ‘buttery’ and not mean that positively).
For the dough
7g dried active yeast
200ml warm milk
175ml vegetable oil
A generous pinch of salt
For the filling
White wine (enough to cover the raisins)
25g melted butter
50g pine nuts
50g candied orange, finely diced
2 tsp anise seeds, roughly ground
50g brown sugar
1 egg yolk, milk, for glazing the buns before baking
For the glaze
60g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp milk
Start by making the dough. Pour the milk into a small bowl and stir in the yeast. Set aside for 10-15 minutes or until frothy. Whisk in the vegetable oil and the 2 eggs.
In a large mixing bowl stir together the flour, the salt and the sugar. Add the wet ingredients and stir everything together until you have a sticky and shaggy dough.
Turn the dough out onto a surface lightly dusted with flour and knead the dough until it passes the windowpane test (ca. 10-15 minutes) – alternatively knead the dough in a stand mixer for 5-10 minutes on medium speed.
Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover and place somewhere warm to proof until doubled in size (this should take ca. 1.5h).
While the dough is proofing, pour enough white wine over the raisins to cover them. Set aside.
Grease a springform with butter.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 20-30cm in size. Brush with melted butter. Squeeze any excess wine from the raisins and scatter the raisins over the rectangle of dough. In a small bowl mix together the pine nuts, candied orange, brown sugar and anise seed. Scatter evenly over the dough.
Starting with one of the longer sides of the rectangle, carefully roll up the dough into a tight coil. Using thread or a sharp knife, cut off the ends, then cut the dough into 8 buns ca. 3.5cm in width. Place the buns into the prepared springform. Cover and set aside to proof until doubled: You can either do this overnight or at warm room temperature. In either case, make sure you start-pre-heating the oven ca. 30 minutes before you want to bake the buns.
Whisk the egg yolk with a bit of milk and brush over the buns.
Bake the buns for ca. 25-30 minutes in an oven that has been pre-heated to 200 degrees Celsius.
Whisk together the icing sugar with just enough milk until you have thick but pourable glaze. Brush over the still hot buns and set aside to cool completely. The Monti Buns are best eaten on the day they are made but will keep a day or two.