How To Make: Sally Lunn Buns

Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! It’s been a bit since I last posted a historical recipe, but I figured I’d showcase one that I’ve been wanting to try for a few months now – Sally Lunn Buns.

This is a recipe that was extremely popular in England and its colonies from the late 1600s to well into the 1800s. It was such a popular recipe that variations of the ‘original’ recipe can be found in many 18th and 19th century cookbooks. Back in October, I made one of these variations called ‘Breakfast Sally Lunn. That recipe made a biscuit/roll that was much denser than how the original product was described, but still something that would have been good to eat for those going out to the fields or off to the factory. While it was published in a cookbook from only a few years prior to today’s recipe, it harkened back to a 19th-century recipe and style of cooking.

This particular recipe, on the other hand, comes to us from the early 20th century, with all the new ingredients and technologies that would not have existed for most of the previous century. Written up during the midst of World War One and when home economics classes/ recipe standardization were becoming en vogue, it is a very different biscuit, but just as delicious.  Fluffy, buttery, and just a bit crumbly, it was the kind of recipe recommended for serving with supper – or if you added sugar – teatime.

Title: The Community Cookbook
Author: Class of Willing Workers of the Winter St. Baptist Church Haverhill Massachusetts
Year: 1916

Original Recipe

Ingredients:

1 pint flour
2 teaspoonfuls baking powder
1/2 teaspoonful salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter melted
2 tablespoonfuls sugar (if for tea)

Instructions:

Mix one pint of flour, two teaspoonfuls baking powder, one half teaspoonful salt, yolks of two eggs well beaten, one-half cup milk, one-half cup butter melted, whites of two eggs beaten stiff.
Bake in muffin pans or drop loaf, fifteen to twenty minutes. If for tea, add two tablespoonfuls sugar to flour.

My translation of the recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter melted
2 tablespoons sugar (if for tea)

Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Divide eggs into just yolks and just egg whites.
  3. Beat egg whites until stiff and egg yolks until well-beaten.
  4. Mix all of the ingredients together. If making buns to go with tea, add two tablespoons of sugar to flour.
  5. Bake in greased muffin pans or small loaf pan for 15-20 minutes.

Before I go into how I made this recipe, let me just say, this is one I will be repeating and making for other folks. If you are familiar with traditional Southern, crumbly, buttery biscuits – this is very close to that in taste and texture. It doesn’t have the layers and you don’t cut out the biscuits like in other recipes, but otherwise, it is very similar to the traditional buttermilk biscuits served in the South.

So first – the ingredients:

Your basic biscuit making ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, butter, milk and eggs. (Sugar if you want sweet biscuits)

The big difference that I’ve found between this recipe and the Breakfast Sally Lunn recipe is the fact that this recipe calls beating the egg whites until they are stiff, whereas the other recipe calls for a) less eggs and b) just mixing the egg in with all the other ingredients. Another difference I noticed between to the two ‘Sally Lunn’ recipes (that I believe also adds to the different texture) is the flour to egg and butter ratio. Simply said, this rendition of the recipe calls for half as much flour and twice as many eggs and twice as much butter. So the end result isn’t nearly as dry as the ‘Breakfast Sally Lunn’ recipe.

This recipe calls for separating the eggs into whites and yolks – then whipping the egg whites until they are stiff (which took me a few minutes with an electric hand mixer) and also whipping the yolks, which added more air to each ingredient. This is pivotal to the lighter, fluffier texture that both the dough and the finished product both had.

The dough before I put it in the greased muffin tins. Not too difficult to mix, but sticky. I ended up having to use a butter knife to get the dough out of the whisk. If you wanted to, you could also use food handling gloves (or washed hands) and manually remove the dough as well.

The original recipe doesn’t give any indication as to what type of muffin pan to use or how much dough to put in each tin. For the sake of experimenting, I used my regular dozen muffin tin and as you can see, the recipe only made enough for 9 muffins. Since the dough is fairly sticky, you could roll it into smaller balls and make 12 muffins — or — if you wanted to make mini Sally Lunn Buns, take a 24 tin mini muffin pan and make smaller muffins. Either way, but sure to liberally grease your pan to make removal of the final product easier.

Last but not least… the finished product! The recipe calls for baking these for 15-20 minutes. If you are using a muffin pan, 15 minutes is perfect. If you are using a small loaf pan – 20 minutes might be just fine.

These also smelled delicious as they were cooking. A bit eggy at first, but after they came out of the oven and cooled off, they smelled like you would expect delicious biscuits to smell.

For future attempts at this recipe, I would probably double it. It makes a small batch, but if I were to take them to a family gathering or make them for more than 3 or 4 people, I would definitely double it (and in that case, use my KitchenAid mixer).

Lastly, (and on a more genealogical note) these are the kind of biscuits I could easily see my ancestors making – especially around the turn of the century. Fairly quick and inexpensive to make, delicious and easily adaptable to a variety of situations, if a homemaker was slaving away over another part of supper or needed something quick to go with whatever was on the menu – they could just slap some of these biscuits together and no one would complain.

Comments? Questions?

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