The boarders of the Chalet School always declared that Sunday was quite one of the best days of the week. To begin with, they could stay in bed until nine o'clock if they were so minded. Then, after their breakfast of coffee, rolls, and honey, they all assembled in the meadow which ran from the lake edge to the pine wood, and Madge read aloud to them for an hour.
The School at the Chalet, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Perhaps, like me, you need a bit of escapist fiction this week. A warm, comforting, charming story. Maybe one featuring a group of teenage girls attending a tiny, fledgling school in Austria, eating rolls and coffee for breakfast, and hiking through the Alps. My dear friend Liv gave me a copy of this, the first in the extensive Chalet School series, when she discovered I'd never read them as a girl. It's exactly the sort of series I would have committed myself to collecting during childhood. If you've never read them before, I heartily recommend doing so.
Twenty years ago, it is the cohort of schoolgirls who would have held my focus; their politics and friendships and the challenges they come up against. Reading it as an adult, twenty-something Madge is the one I am fascinated by. Faced with a limited budget, a brother in India, and a little sister to take care of, she decides to move to Europe, and start a small school. It is an extraordinary plan, one that has filled me with a desire to copy it to the letter.
I have always loved teaching. I studied drama and education at university, and moved to London hoping to find a career in theatre. But I also had to pay rent, so spent my early months here in a school, teaching science. Though I have long moved on from working in formal education settings, teaching remained a part of my career: from projects with young people in theatres, to my current role as a nanny.
I discovered early on that it's informal education I really relish playing a part in - the kind that happens incidentally, almost by accident. Using fractions to measure out ingredients when making a batch of pancakes. The language we pick up through new stories, read aloud before bed. Questions about the natural world asked, investigated, and answered on cold morning walks to school. Though Madge takes her planning and curriculum seriously, it's this sort of learning they have time for at the Chalet School.
Like in all good boarding school novels, the girls also do eat particularly well. In trying to recreate these buns, I have gone for the sweetest, softest, most delicious version I could imagine. They are filled with plum jam, which the girls at the Chalet School always seem to have a pot of. They're perfect dipped into strong, milky coffee, on slow Sunday mornings. Though I encourage you to eat them straight out of the oven, they will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box.
Buchteln and Coffee
150ml whole milk
100g unsalted butter
50g golden caster sugar
15g fresh yeast (or 5g easy action yeast)
1 egg yolk
175g plain flour
150g strong white bread flour
60g plum jam
1tbsp icing sugar
Ovenproof dish (like a pie dish or roasting dish)
1. Put the milk and 75g of the butter into the saucepan, and warm over a low heat until the butter melts. Take off the heat, and leave to cool until it is lukewarm. Whisk in the sugar, then the yeast. Add the egg and egg yolk.
2. Put the flours and salt in the mixing bowl. Tip the liquid ingredients in, and bring together into a dough using the wooden spoon. Knead it for ten minutes until it is smooth, elastic, and bounces back when you prod it. The dough will be sticky, but do add a small amount of flour to help your kneading if required.
3. Wash out the mixing bowl, grease it with butter, and place the dough in it. Cover and leave to proof for an hour, until doubled in size.
4. Weigh the dough, and cut it into eight even pieces. Flatten each (not too thinly in the centre, or the dough might split), place a teaspoon of plum jam into the centre, and pull the edges up. Pinch them together, then flip the ball and roll it on the work surface. Place each in the greased oven dish, not quite touching the others. Allow to proof for around 40 minutes, enough to let the rolls join up, and until they bounce back when prodded.
5. Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the rest of the butter, brush it over the rolls, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden. Dust with icing sugar, and serve with honey, and sweet, milky coffee.