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Pigs and Penny Buns: Retro Recipe Challenge #10

December 11, 2007


The Pigs and Balloons Puzzle (Lewis Carrol, Symbolic Logic)   

    (1) All, who neither dance on tight ropes nor eat penny-buns, are old.
   (2) Pigs, that are liable to giddiness, are treated with respect.
   (3) A wise balloonist takes an umbrella with him.
   (4) No one ought to lunch in public who looks ridiculous and eats penny-buns.
   (5) Young creatures, who go up in balloons, are liable to giddiness.
   (6) Fat creatures, who look ridiculous, may lunch in public, provided that they do not dance on tight ropes.
   (7) No wise creatures dance on tight ropes, if liable to giddiness.
   (8) A pig looks ridiculous, carrying an umbrella.
   (9) All, who do not dance on tight ropes, and who are treated with
       respect are fat.
Show that no wise young pigs go up in balloons.

Quite aside from this fabulous sorites, penny buns are part of nearly all my favorite childhood books.  E. Nesbit’s children, constant companions of my youth, all eat penny buns at a moment’s notice–and just as frequently lament that they can’t afford to buy them.  Sara Crewe shares penny buns with a beggar girl in A Little PrincessAngela Brazil’s schoolgirls gorge themselves on buns after a rousing afternoon at games.  Even Charlotte M. Yonge’s well-bred Anglo-Catholic girls arrange for buns at high church Sunday School feasts.

But what is a penny bun?  According to the estimable Elizabeth David, in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, a bun is “a small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented cake.”  There are Bath buns, London buns, spice buns, Chelsea buns, hot cross buns . . . but it’s hard to track down a penny or halfpenny bun.  The porcini mushroom is sometimes called the penny bun mushroom, and it does look like a little brown bun.

My buns are adapted from Mrs. Beeton’s recipe for Plain Buns (1861).

1729. INGREDIENTS – To every 2 lbs. of flour allow 6 oz. of moist sugar, 1/2 gill of yeast, 1/2 pint of milk, 1/2 lb. of butter, warm milk.

Mode.—Put the flour into a basin, mix the sugar well with it, make a hole in the centre, and stir in the yeast and milk (which should be lukewarm), with enough of the flour to make it the thickness of cream. Cover the basin over with a cloth, and let the sponge rise in a warm place, which will be accomplished in about 1–1/2 hour. Melt the butter, but do not allow it to oil; stir it into the other ingredients, with enough warm milk to make the whole into a soft dough; then mould it into buns about the size of an egg; lay them in rows quite 3 inches apart; set them again in a warm place, until they have risen to double their size; then put them into a good brisk oven, and just before they are done, wash them over with a little milk. From 15 to 20 minutes will be required to bake them nicely. These buns may be varied by adding a few currants, candied peel, or caraway seeds to the other ingredients; and the above mixture answers for hot cross buns, by putting in a little ground allspice; and by pressing a tin mould in the form of a cross in the centre of the bun.
Time.—15 to 20 minutes. Average cost, 1d. each.
Sufficient to make 18 buns.

Melynda’s version:

I halved the recipe:  there are about 3 cups of flour to a pound, and I know from experience that 6 cups of flour makes a very generous two tin loaves.  I didn’t want a whole bunch of buns, since they go stale so quickly, and no-one at my house but me likes bread and butter pudding (with ginger preserves, mmmm, and Demerara sugar on the top).


3 cups of flour
1/3 cup sugar (light brown sugar would be the closest approximation)
1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) very soft butter

Mix the flour and sugar together.  Warm the milk gently and dissolve the yeast in it.  When it is bubbling up nicely, stir it into the flour, and add the butter.  Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.  (I didn’t make a sponge–based on my time constraints and a suspicion that it wouldn’t contribute much to the taste of the final product.)

Grease a baking pan and drop the dough in egg-sized lumps, well apart. It’s incredibly soft and sticky, so be warned.   I got nine large buns from this amount of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled.

Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes.  The buns will be gorgeously brown and plump.  Once they are out of the oven, but while they are still hot, brush them with a glaze made by boiling 2 teaspoons of milk with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.  (I boiled mine in a small Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave.)

Voila, plain penny buns.  Delicious, soft, not too sweet, and quite filling.  Little Sunshine got out of bed to snag one as a midnight snack, and pronounced it “the best ever”  Tuxedo Boy will eat them happily for breakfast tomorrow.  I will take a bun for my lunch tomorrow; I’m travelling overnight for work, and it will seem quite suitable to lunch on a plain bun and a cup, not of tea, but coffee, just as if I were taking the train to Kent with the Five Children. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. toadyjoe permalink
    December 16, 2007 9:34 pm

    Hi! Just found you on Ravelry. Fellow Idahoan here, and I just wanted to message you and say HI but you’re not taking messages over there, so… here I am, lol. Hi!

  2. melyndahuskey permalink*
    December 17, 2007 11:59 pm

    Hey! Nice of you to stop by! I LOVE Ravelry–and I’m glad to know a fellow Idahoan. Hope you’ll stop by again.

  3. January 4, 2008 7:30 pm

    Those buns look tasty! (Yikes that sounds so wrong!!) How in the world did you figure out what a gill of yeast was?

  4. melyndahuskey permalink*
    January 4, 2008 11:06 pm

    I wish I could take credit for my fabulous conversion skills, but in fact the U.S. editor of my edition of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery did all the conversions for me. The buns are really, really good. And if you can get a copy, be sure to try the Scottish floury baps, which are quick, easy, and unbelievably delicious.

  5. January 20, 2008 12:26 am

    Thank you for the recipe! I plan to try making these tomorrow (but I may be thwarted – teenagers will do that, as you know).

  6. melyndahuskey permalink*
    January 22, 2008 11:41 pm


    Pardon my fan-girl shriek, but that modest little mk hides the superbly talented MK Carroll, designer of my new favorite hat of all time, Matilda/Tillie. Check her out at

    MK Carroll was at my blog, y’all.

  7. November 24, 2009 1:29 am

    OMG loved reading your blogpost. I added your rss to my blogreader.

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