Some months ago, I received an email from a reader asking I could track down the original recipe for coffee buns from a certain Glasgow institution.
The institution in question - City Bakeries, in Springburn - used to produce these cookie-like biscuits which were the snack of choice for our reader in his boyhood.
I have to confess, I've not had much luck with finding anything from City Bakeries, which has since shut down. But where my nose for sniffing out a story has failed me on that front, the good old faithful Glasgow Cookery Book has come up trumps as it actually has its very own recipe for coffee buns.
From our reader's email, I understand that the coffee buns from yesteryear were large flat biscuits, "bone-dry" and similar to an oatmeal cookie. Now call me old-fashioned (actually, new-fashioned?) but chowing down on a dry biscuit doesn't particularly instil me with confidence. And at the very least, it just makes me want to reach for a big cup of tea to wet my whistle.
But the recipe for coffee buns itself did pique my interest. The combination of mixed spices, currants and coffee seems to me a dream medley of flavours and ingredients, yet I wanted to execute the buns in a way that would bring the best of all these component parts out. Maybe deviating from the classic cookie shape was sacrilege, but without illustrations and only a limited description about the shape of each bun, the book left it up to me to forge my own brave new path. Basically I'm the Christopher Columbus of the cookery world.
I began by sieving flour, baking powder, a pinch of salt, mixed spice, and ground rice into a bowl. I mix large amounts of my own garam masala (from a secret recipe an Indian friend gave me) and store it in a tub on my spice shelf for when I need it, and I'd recommend doing the same for mixed spice. All the component parts of the mix will be in your store cupboard anyway so it's cheaper than buying a new pot.
My mixed spice rub is made up of loads of things I add in until it smells right to me - which, I believe, is the measure of cooking and baking. If it smells good to you it'll taste about right to your palette too. So, as a general rule of thumb for mixed spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, a little coriander, ginger, star anise and a good sprinkling of all spice if the volume of the mix is a bit lacking.
I can't think of a recipe for sweet things where I've ever had to add salt in before, but with 3oz of sugar in the recipe, I thought it would probably be masked pretty well. I then rubbed in butter, added dark sugar and my currents and mixed well.
An egg, tablespoonful of milk and coffee essence were then put into the bowl and mixed again until it formed a stiff dough. The recipe then instructed me to place in 'heaps' on a greased tin.
Now, heaps to me wouldn't necessarily be cookie shapes. Yet the readers stated his coffee buns were biscuits - who was I to argue? So I settled on a dollop - technical term there for something between a mini muffin and a tall biscuit.
Fifteen minutes in the oven on 180c (don't you just love a recipe that's super-quick in the oven?) and my coffee buns were done.
In terms of taste they were dry, certainly, but retained a slightly softer, squidgy core. But the salt, which I thought would be masked by the sweet elements, was definitely detectable, which was a real shame because other than that a coffee bun is a neat little biscuit - fragrant and chewy.
Next time I'm going salt-less - because I'd definitely try making these again.
Do you have a recipe for the original City Bakeries' coffee buns? Leave a comment and let me know.
8oz flour and
2 level teaspoonfuls baking powder OR
8 oz self-raising flour
2 level teaspoonfuls mixed spice
1 oz ground rice
4 oz butter
3 oz brown sugar
3 oz currants
1 tablespoonful coffee essence
1 tablespoonful milk
1. Sieve dry ingredients, rub in butter, add sugar and washed currants
2. Mix to a stiff dough with egg, coffee essence and milk
3. Place in heaps on a greased tin
4. Brush with egg and bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes