Thursday, September 25, 2008

Buns in Bath.

I have given up on the search for Bath Chaps. Perhaps they are hiding in Bristol?

Instead I went to the ‘authentic’ and ‘original’ Sally Lunn shop. Oh Dear. So much mystery and myth masquerading as historic fact. The ‘Sally Lunn’ is a sort of large soft brioche ‘bun’. I have briefly considered them before, but it is time to take the investigation further. The local absolute truth is that French Huguenot called Solange Luyen arrived in Bath in 1680, and made her living making her soft rich French bread which wowed the locals, who Anglicised her name to Sally Lunn, the buns themselves eventually also being given the name. The bakery where local truth is hat she made her buns is in a little lane near where I am staying – and the ‘museum’ staff tell that her original recipe was amazingly discovered in the 1930’s – hidden away somewhere (I forget where). The only problem with this story (well the first problem that I can think of) is that there does not appear to be any evidence at all of a person by that name – and surely there would be evidence of someone who was a well known baker in the town? Secondly, there does not seem to be any recipe called Sally Lunn until the mid-nineteenth century – what happened to it for two hundred years? So far, the first recipe I have found for them is in the 1864 edition of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Families. Interestingly she calls them Solimemnes – this is another clue I am sure. I am away from my 1845 edition, but I don’t believe it is in there, but Ms. Acton surely would not have omitted it. I will update you when I am home and can check it out.

An intriguing variation of the story has Sally Lunn being a Scottish cook employed by a Mme. Narbonne (also a French émigré – this time from the Revolution) and the location is her pastry shop in St. James’ in London. She was then ‘discovered’ and moved to Bath.

A final story is that the name derives from ‘Soleil et Lune’ – a bun that was dark on the bottom from contact with the oven floor and cooked to golden perfection on top. Mispronunciation of this name made it sound like it might be a girl’s name – and Sally was born. Now, this story sounds plausible. We did make croissant into crescent roll, didn’t we?

The story is a bit like that of Pavlova. Meringues have been around for a several hundred years, so the argument is really about who named it, not who invented it. Rich bread doughs have been around for a long time too, and one variety was called a Bath Bun. Is this a clue?

This project needs more time, but I offer you a Bath Bun that sounds like the Sally Lunn tastes.

Bath Buns.
Take half a pound of flour, seven eggs, seven eggs, seven spoonfuls of new yeast, two ditto of sherry, two of rose-water; stir all well together, and set to rise before the fire; then work up a pound of butter, with a pound of flour, and stir all well together, and bake them in a hot oven, this quantity makes two dozen.
Marshall, Elizabeth. The young ladies’ guide in the art of cookery: being a collection of useful receipts. 1777


Liz + Louka said...

The soleil et lune theory is the one I've heard, and it does sound plausible. Other adaptations of French phrases are explained at

Anonymous said...

There are a few earlier recipes from the beginning of the 19th century (Meg Dods, Kitchiner) and Rundell mentions them as early as 1807 (in part of the description of French Bread). So I guess they are at least 18th century in date.

Liz + Louka said...

I just found another theory - that it's based on the French Solilemme, a rich brioche loaf traditionally cut in two and served with melted butter.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello LizLouka - the more theories the better. I am quite annoyed about the "Genuine Sally Lunn" house and story in Bath. It is ridiculous. And the buns were awful - dry and tasteless, not buttery eggy briochy at all.

Andrew Webb said...

Hi Janet.

I've been researching this very subject for my book. I've found a mention in Gye’s 1819 directory of Bath but they're made by a baker called W Needes.



PS. I've not forgotten to mail you, I'm just trying to think of the right questions to ask!