Best Dunked

I only had friends because of my Mum’s coffee buns. That’s quite a big statement, I know. Let me elaborate.

When I was a teenager, still at school but desperate to be grown up, me and my peer group would all hang out where no adults we knew could see us smoking.

There would eventually come a point where we would  get bored, cold or wet and decide to go to someone’s house. When deciding which house to go to there were the usual criteria to be satisfied…

Whose parents were out?

Whose attractive big sister was in?

Who had the best music?

Who had any dirty magazines?

Teenage boys are an unpleasant bunch….

But there was another criteria:

Had Woody’s Mum (that was my Mum) made coffee buns recently?

My mother wasn’t the best cook (she could burn water) but she was a bit of a baker and she made a biscuit she called a coffee bun which she absolutely nailed. They were so good almost everybody who tried one was instantly addicted.

If there was a fresh supply of coffee buns there would soon be a stampede of teenagers into our kitchen, the kettle would go on (A coffee bun was always best eaten after being dunked) and then the coffee buns would quickly disappear.

In later years, when I had actually grown up, sort of, it would be a valid reason to go visit my parents. The chance to stock up on CBs. I wasn’t even subtle.

“Hi Mum, how are you made any coffee buns?”

I would leave with a bag full of coffee buns and my flat would then become popular (till the buns ran out).

More years went by. Life went on it’s crazy roller-coaster ride. Only the coffee buns remained the same.

Until my Mum stopped making them.

At first I accepted her reasons for doing so. She would say she had run out of an ingredient and the supermarket was out of some of it; then she didn’t have time; then the excuses became mumbled and the subject was changed. I put it down to the upset and stress in her life. My dad had recently died after a long and horrendous illness . She was looking to move to a retirement flat.  Her life had been tumultuous and distressing. Now it was getting a bit lonely and scary.

It was then that she forgot how to make a cup of tea. Then she started to forget names. Then she started to have panic attacks.

It was not long after she had moved into her little flat that what had become increasingly obvious was confirmed by her doctor to be dementia and coffee buns along with almost everything else were forgotten as my Mum went into a rapid mental decline. Within a year of diagnosis she had deteriorated so much  it was necessary for her to move into a care home. After another year she couldn’t recognise me and soon after that she was in an almost vegetative state. Then, for a heartbreakingly long time, she lay like that until she finally died.

Coffee buns became an increasingly sad reminder of better times…

I inherited her notebook with her recipes in it. I left in in a box of her stuff for a few years. The box was kept out of sight and mind. It was almost a period of mourning. Probably more like avoiding acknowledging something, it was the family way. We always avoid confronting emotional issues, it’s easier that way. Not necessarily better, just easier  Eventually, a few years later I opened the box.

On the top of a well worn page within, written in my Mother’s tiny neat handwriting, was the title “Coffee Buns.” I had never baked before but since my family are keen on The Great British Bake Off and the children and Rosie enjoy baking all sorts of stuff I was encouraged to get the recipe out and gave it a go. I would be advised and supervised.

The minute I started I became very emotional. I was connecting with a recently lost mother and a long lost past. I only see one of the little gang of teenage friends now. Handily he is now the husband of Rosie’s best friend. The rest of us have drifted apart or fallen out or whatever else happens to childhood friends when you all grow up. While I was mixing the ingredients I thought of past times while fretting about what I would do if the buns came out wrong. Would that tarnish my memories? What if they buns turned out right? Would I turn into a blubbering wreck? Well, they turned out just right and I was a blubbering wreck.

They didn’t look like my Mum’s coffee buns but they tasted just right. I hadn’t been confident in shaping them by hand so I had used a cutter.

Huge waves of conflicting emotions swamped me. I missed my Mum, I missed my Dad, I missed our dog who always got the last bit of the bun. I missed the friends I had then. I remembered the petty jealousies and peer pressure that make your teenage years such a dramatic (to us) series of spectacular crashes and resounding highs with little in between. The sudden changes in allegiances, who is cool who is not, who is “in” who is “out.”  The desperate struggle to stay in and the bewildered bafflement of being out. This and equally clueless discussions about girls took place with friends over a cup of tea and coffee buns.

It took a while to be able to dunk one in my tea or coffee without bursting into tears. Isn’t it amazing how a biscuit can stir such emotion? That cup of tea  which had my first me-made coffee bun dunked in it was the best I had tasted in 8 years. It had the ginger and cinnamon edge to it that tea always used to have and was overflowing with memories and emotion. I was sitting at my desk looking over the top of my screen at Rosie while holding a half eaten biscuit with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad… I do know that the next morning I made more. I even has the confidence to hand shape them. The little shiver of excitement when I remembered the ones on my Mum’s baking tray looking just the same as mine before they went in the oven. The sense of achievement when they came out looking just as they had years ago was overwhelming. They turned out exactly as my mother had made them.

Best Dunked

                        Fresh out of the oven and exactly as I remember them!

What was even better was that our son had friends over and they all wanted to try one, then another and another. I now know how my Mum felt. She would make herself some lovely biscuits and the bloody kids would eat them all.


 Coffee Buns – The Recipe

1 teaspoon baking soda

200g  Self Raising Flour

1 Teaspoon Mixed Spice

1 Teaspoon Ginger

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon Cocoa or Chocolate

1 Tablespoon Syrup

85g Margarine

85g Sugar

Beat margarine & sugar till soft

Add syrup

Add flour & spices

Roll mix into a ball slightly smaller than a squash ball then flatten till about a centimetre thick

Bake in oven pre-heated to 180c for 12 to 15 mins till golden brown.