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Sourdough Treacle Buns recipe from Lady Wynwood's Spies

If you read my Christian Regency Romantic Suspense novel, Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker, you will have noticed that Miss Tolberton brings humble treacle buns to eat with tea at the church. Not only that, but the treacle bun appears in a surprising way in Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 3: Aggressor.

I got the idea for treacle buns from looking through old cookbooks from the 1800s. Commercial dry yeast cakes for making breads were not available until 1825, which is 15 years after the date of my book, so most breads during the Regency period were made with sourdough starters.

“Black treacle” is the same thing as molasses, and was mentioned in cookbooks published during the Regency period, but in those books, I couldn’t find a recipe for treacle bread or treacle buns or brown bread. This seemed a bit strange to me since brown bread (made with whole wheat and black treacle) has been around since before the Regency period, but I am guessing that it was such a common food, most cooks probably already knew how to make it or would simply buy it from a local bakery.

So I did a Dr. Google search for how to make sourdough brown molasses bread. There are lots of recipes to choose from, but I wanted a super soft molasses bread that could be made into the slightly sweet buns featured in my book, which the heroine eats with tea.

I’ve been doing a lot of sourdough baking since last year, since I couldn’t buy yeast for several months after the pandemic started, and I had come across a really neat recipe for sourdough milk bread rolls by The Perfect Loaf. The recipe uses an Asian bread roux technique referred to as tangzhong, which is often used in Japanese Hokkaido milk bread and Taiwanese milk bread recipes.

I really wanted to try making a molasses bun with tangzhong, so I took a bunch of molasses bread recipes and mashed them with the sourdough milk bread roll recipe above to come up with my own Molasses Sourdough Milk Bread Rolls! (Say that five times fast)

I doubt Regency London would have used the tangzhong roux technique, and you don’t have to use it in the recipe below if you want to make just regular treacle buns. But the tangzhong is not difficult, and it makes the buns super soft as well as making them stay soft and fresh for a few days longer than normal sourdough bread.

The buns turned out really great and UBER soft! You can do an optional sugar glaze to make it sweet to eat with tea (see at the very end of the recipe below), or you can eat them (unglazed) like my husband does, as sliders. They tasted fantastic with pulled pork!

I hope you enjoy this recipe and enjoy some treacle buns from my book!

Camy’s Molasses Sourdough Milk Bread Rolls

Adjusted from: Super Soft Sourdough rolls by The Perfect Loaf
Makes 16 rolls

For the roux (tangzhong):
* 41 grams all-purpose flour
* 166 grams whole milk

For the sourdough levain:
* 74g all-purpose flour (can also use bread flour if desired)
* 74g water
* 15g sugar
* 30g ripe sourdough starter

For the main dough:
* Either 496g all-purpose flour, or a mix of 328g all-purpose flour and 148g bread flour (using some bread flour makes the rolls more firm and makes the rolls rise more, while using all all-purpose flour makes the rolls softer)
* 95g butter
* 126g molasses (if you like your bread sweeter, you can add more sugar in addition to molasses. Some molasses bread recipes add about 35g sugar)
* 181g water
* 11g salt (about 1 tablespoon)

(Optional) Make ripe sourdough starter:
I keep my sourdough starter in the fridge, and I only keep a small amount (like 20-40 grams), so in the morning, I’ll feed my starter and let it rise before making my levain.

Mix about 25g each flour and warm water to about 1/4-1/2 cup cold starter and leave at 77°F (25°C) until doubled. You will only use 30g of the doubled starter, NOT the entire volume.

Camy: Since my kitchen can be cold, I actually put my starter jar in my Instant Pot on a steamer trivet, with 1 cup of hot water on the bottom, and the Instant Pot on Yogurt, using the low yogurt setting (not the normal yogurt setting).

Prepare levain:
Mix the following ingredients in a glass container (I used a quart mason jar with plastic lid) and leave at 77°F (25°C) (Again, I used Instant Pot on low Yogurt setting) for 5 hours. Alternately, you can leave covered at room temperature for 12 hours overnight.

* 74g medium-protein bread flour or all-purpose flour
* 74g water
* 15g sugar
* 30g ripe sourdough starter

Make the roux:
* 41g medium-protein bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
* 166g milk

In a saucepan, add the flour and milk. Turn the heat to medium and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mashed potatoes, about 5-8 minutes. (It will not seem to be doing anything but then it will suddenly start to thicken and it will continue to thicken very quickly so be careful.) Cool the roux before mixing with the levain or the heat might kill the yeast.

Note: If you don’t want to make the roux, just leave it out of the recipe. Instead, when making the dough below, don’t add the entire amount of water and instead add water (or milk, or a combination of both) slowly just until the dough forms. How much water will depend on your flour and the humidity of your kitchen. The resulting dough will not be as sticky as the dough would be with the roux.

Make the dough:
To the bowl of a Kitchenaid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add:

* all of the pre-cooked flour (roux)
* 95 g butter (cut into 1/2” pats) (In the original recipe, he added the butter after the dough had formed, but I am lazy and added it here instead)
* Either 496g all-purpose flour, or a mix of 328g all-purpose flour and 148g bread flour (using some bread flour makes the rolls more firm and makes the rolls rise more, while using all all-purpose flour makes the rolls softer)
* 181g water (about 3/4 cup)
* 126g molasses (if you like your bread sweeter, you can add more sugar in addition to molasses. Some recipes add about 35g sugar)
* 11g salt (about 1 tablespoon, although add less salt if you desire)
* all of the levain

Mix the dough at speed 1 for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides, until the dough comes together. Then, mix at speed 4 (yes, speed 4) for 5 minutes. The dough will slightly clump around the dough hook but it will mostly be extremely sticky. Avoid the temptation to add more flour—trust me, it will be fine once the gluten develops (see below).

Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

After resting, mix the dough again for 10-15 min at speed 4 to develop the gluten, scraping down the sides a couple times. The dough will still be EXTREMELY sticky, but it will seem more firm than before, and it’ll clump together like a ball of dough better than before (see picture below).

Bulk fermentation:
Transfer to a non-reactive bowl. Wet your hands and do one set of stretch and folds.

Let the dough rise (bulk fermentation) at 77°F (25°C) for 3-5 hours. (The duration I let it rise usually depends on how late in the evening it is by this time.)

Camy: I actually put the bowl on top of my Instant Pot, with a cup of hot water in the Instant Pot, and put it on the normal Yogurt setting (not the low yogurt setting) and covered it with a towel.

(Optional) Do 3 sets of stretch and folds every 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation. (Sometimes I forget to do more than the first stretch and fold, and the dough still comes out okay.)

Chill dough overnight:
After 3-5 hours, place the dough container in the refrigerator overnight for retarded rise.

Shape the rolls:
Butter your pan.
Camy: I used a large deep-dish pizza pan, but you can use any large pan for your dough. It’ll rise a lot and squish together (see photo below), so if you want your buns to be more round and separated, use a couple cookie sheets instead.

Divide the dough into sixteen pieces and shape each as a very tight ball (I weighed the dough and divided it into 16 by weight). The dough will still be sticky (although easier to manage since it will be cold), so dust your workspace with flour. However, try to avoid the temptation to knead more flour into the dough if you can help it—if the dough is just way too sticky to handle, then add more flour, but the roux allows the dough to absorb more water than a regular dough, so it will be a bit more sticky than traditional sourdough bread.

Place the balls in the buttered pan to proof.

Proof the buns:
Cover the buns with a towel and let the buns proof for 2.5 to 3 hours at 77°F (25°C) (I found it rose better on top of my Instant Pot on normal Yogurt setting for 5 hours, but you can also put it in your oven with the light on or with a pan of hot water underneath.)

Bake your rolls:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes, rotate pan, then bake another 10-15 minutes more until the internal temperature is at least 201°F.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the baking pan for 10 minutes. Then knock the rolls out to cool on a wire rack. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Optional: I’m from Hawaii, so I love Hawaiian sweet rolls, and for my book, I envisioned these buns with a light sugar glaze. So if you like slightly sweet rolls to eat with tea, try this: in a saucepan, heat sugar and water together, about 35 grams of sugar per tablespoon of water. When the sugar has completely dissolved, glaze the rolls with the sugar and let it cool. It’ll form a sticky glaze that perfectly compliments the molasses flavor.


My Lady Wynwood’s Spies series starts with Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 1: Archer.


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