Sweet, sticky and fluffy Chelsea buns, filled with cranberries, orange zest, pistachios and marzipan. They are soft and super fluffy, moist and slightly gooey in the middle. Buns can be easily prepared ahead of time, and will make the perfect addition to your Christmas morning breakfast or brunch.
The buns are also arranged into a Christmas tree shape, to create an eye-catching centrepiece on your festive table, and are bursting with all the fragrant and aromatic festive spices and ingredients.
This recipe really puts classic Chelsea buns into the corner, especially around Christmas. With the filling made of fresh and dried cranberries, marzipan, orange zest and pistachios, these pillowy buns are definitely not lacking the festive flavours!
If you are looking for more orange and cranberry flavoured bakes, be sure to check out my orange and cranberry loaf bake or orange and cranberry bundt cake. Or try some different flavours of buns, like my hazelnut swirl buns recipe or my twisted cinnamon buns. Both are among readers-favourite recipes, and both will make a great addition to your table during the festive season.
Let's look at some of the key ingredients for this easy Chelsea buns recipe. Here's what you will need:
Marzipan - To add stickiness, sweetness and lovely aroma to the buns. Any type of shop-bought marzipan will work. Chill the marzipan in the fridge before using it, as it will make it much easier to grate it.
Yeast - Fast-action dried yeast is best to use, but any type will work. Make sure it is in date, and if using a different type, follow the instructions on the packet.
Cranberries - We are using the mixture of dried and fresh cranberries, to add a variety of texture and flavour.
Fresh orange - Orange zest for the dough and the juice for the icing on the baked buns.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe card and the full list of the ingredients.
Once your dough has doubled in size and is ready, roll it on a lightly floured work surface into a rectangle, roughly about 30 x 40 cm big. Don't be afraid to touch and handle the dough, or to stretch it a bit, if needed.
Roll the dough into a rectangle and add the grated marzipan on top.
Add cranberries, orange zest and pistachios. Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the filling.
With the longer edge facing you, start rolling the dough into a tight sausage/ log shape.
Use the clean tread or unflavoured dental floss to cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.
Hint: To ensure the buns are equal in size, slice the log into half, then each half into a quarter. Each quarter then needs to be sliced into 3 pieces, leaving you with 12 pieces of dough/ buns in total.
Arrange the buns on a large baking sheet into a Christmas tree shape, leaving a little space between them (so they have room to expand). Cover them with a clean tea towel or some lightly greased foil and prove for 35-40 minutes, then bake.
Hint: You only need 11 buns for the tree shape. That extra 12th bun is a treat for the cook! Bake it along on a side with the rest of the buns.
- Flour - The recipe calls for strong white bread flour, but you can also use plain / all-purpose flour instead. I have not tested this recipe with the gluten-free flour, but I found this gluten free Chelsea bun recipe that you may want to check out.
- Sugar - Use white caster, golden or brown sugar in this recipe.
- Marzipan - If you are not a fan, you can swap marzipan for softened, unsalted butter. About 50 g of butter should be enough, you want to spread it in an even layer on top of the rolled dough.
- Yeast - Use any type of yeast. Fast-action dried yeast or easy bake yeast are my preferred choices as they do not require to be activated in liquid first. Fresh yeast can also be used, but it will need to be activated first.
- Cranberries - Feel free to swap them for any of your favourite fruit, see below section 'Variations' for some suggestions.
- Giant Chelsea bun - Why not bake one giant Chelsea bun instead of the batch? Roll the dough into a large rectangle, add the filling and roll into a long sausage to enclose the filling. Roll the sausage up like a snail shell and place on the baking tray. Allow it to rise about 30-40 minutes somewhere warm, then bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and cooked through.
- Try different filling - Use chopped maraschino cherries, dried apricots, sultanas (experiment with soaking them in some rum or amaretto overnight!), chopped walnuts or pecan nuts. You can also add a teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom to the filling.
- Vegan Chelsea Buns - You can make a vegan version of this recipe too! The filling is all vegan anyway, and if you want to turn the dough into a vegan version, check out this recipe for apple cardamom Chelsea buns from Top with Cinnamon blog.
- Freestanding mixer with the hook attachment - It will be much easier and quicker to use an electric, stand mixer fitted with dough hook in this recipe. Alternatively, knead the dough by hand. Be patient with it, as it may take 10- 15 minutes to knead the dough to the right stage.
- Large baking tray - Use large baking tray if you are shaping the buns into a christmas tree. Alternatively, you can bake them in a deep, rectangular or square baking tin.
- Flavourless dental floss - This may sound a bit strange, but it makes slicing these orange Chelsea buns MUCH easier, safer, and cleaner than a knife will. The final result will look much neater too if you use dental floss. Alternatively, use a piece of a clean tread instead.
Storage and freezing
Store any leftover buns in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, but they are always at their best on the day they're baked.
The dough can also be made a day ahead. Mix and knead the dough, then let it rise overnight in the fridge. Next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and continue with the recipe.
You can also prepare the dough, shape the buns and allow them to prove in the fridge overnight on the baking tray (covered). The next morning remove the buns from the fridge and bake as per the recipe instructions.
Chelsea buns can be frozen for up to a month. Wrap them (as a batch or as individual buns) in a clingfilm and double layer of kitchen foil and place in the freezer. Thaw the buns overnight, then warm through in a hot oven to serve.
Go easy on the flour. Don't be tempted to add much more flour than the recipe calls for. It is a sticky and soft dough, but it will smooth out once it's been mixed/ kneaded.
Use the largest baking tray you can find- this will apply if you want to shape your buns into a Christmas tree. The buns will puff up and expand as they prove, so they will take up a lot of space.
Chelsea buns always have dried fruit inside of them, like raisins, cranberries or currants. Cinnamon rolls are typically made without the addition of any dried fruit. Chelsea buns are also glazed on top and use mixed spice, while the cinnamon rolls are made with ground cinnamon only and icing on top.
The buns were created in 18th century in Chelsea area of London by the Chelsea Bun House, hence their name.
No, you don't. Marzipan adds sweetness and delicate fragrance, while also making the buns sticky and finger-licking-good, but if you are not a fan, you can use a softened butter instead. Spread it on top of the rolled dough and proceed with the rest of the recipe as per the instructions.
To pin this recipe and save it for later, use the button on the recipe card or on the photos above.
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Orange and cranberry Chelsea bun tree
- small saucepan
- Freestanding mixer with hook attachment
- rolling pin optional
- baking paper
- large baking tray
- large mixing bowl
- 275 ml milk any type
- 50 g butter cubed
- 450 g strong white bread flour
- 7 g fast-action dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 50 g sugar + 3 tablespoon extra
- 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
- 1 teaspoon oil for greasing
- 200 g marzipan chilled
- 1 large orange zested and juiced
- 100 g fresh cranberries
- 100 g dried cranberries
- 40 g pistachios chopped
- 3 tablespoon apricot jam sieved
- 150 g icing sugar
- 1 large egg beaten
- Using a small saucepan, warm up the milk until hot, but not boiling. Remove from the heat and add cubed butter. Swirl the saucepan a little bit, to encourage the butter to melt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl of a freestanding mixer, mix the flour, yeast, 50g sugar, cinnamon and salt.
- When the milk and melted butter are lukewarm, add it to the bowl with dry ingredients and mix in freestanding, electric mixer fitted with the hook attachment on a low speed to make a sticky dough. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for further 5-6 minutes, until your dough is smooth and stretchy and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. If making by hand, tip the dough onto your work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Transfer the dough into a clean, lightly greased large mixing bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours, until it doubled in size.
- Line large baking sheet with baking parchment. Tip the dough into floured surface and roll to rectangle about 30 x 40cm. Grate the marzipan over the surface and scatter over the orange zest, cranberries (reserve a handful of dried and fresh cranberries for later), half of pistachios and 3 tablespoon caster sugar. From one of the longest sides, tightly roll up the dough into a sausage, pinching the dough together at the other end to seal the open edge.
- Using large, sharp knife, or flavourless dental floss, divide the dough into half. Divide each half into quarters, then divide each quarter into 3 pieces. You should have 12 equal pieces of dough. Turn them all cut side up and arrange on a baking sheet in a tree shape, using one piece for a trunk and leaving space between each bun for them to expand. Make sure the pinched edge on the outside of each bun is facing towards the centre of the tree, otherwise it may unravels as it cooks. You should have one bun left over (bonus bun for your efforts!), bake it along side. Cover the sheet with cling film and leave to prove for 30- 40 minutes, or until doubled in size and just touching.
- Heat the oven to 180 C (170 C fan). Lightly brush the buns with some egg wash and bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- While the buns cook, heat the apricot jam with 2 teaspoon of water until runny, then set aside to cool a little. Mix the icing sugar with enough orange juice to make thick icing and transfer it to a small disposable piping bag or a plastic sandwich bag.
- When buns are cooked, cool them for about 5 minutes then brush over with the apricot glaze. Snip the corner of piping bag and drizzle the orange icing over the buns. Scatter over the remaining pistachios and cranberries, and leave the icing to set for about 10 minutes. Enjoy!
Please note that all my recipes are developed and tested in metric grams. I recommend that you use digital scales for a more accurate results. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
- This recipe can also be baked in a square or rectangular deep baking tin without shaping it into a Christmas tree.
This recipe was originally posted in December 2016. It has been updated with the new photos, revised recipe and tips in September 2022.