Once in a while, rather than bake bread I bake some buns instead and until recently I couldn’t get them to be as soft as buns made by a professional and I would find that any lasting longer than a day would, by the next day become a bit stale. I picked up from one of Dan Lepard’s books that glycerine might be the answer but did not have much idea why this would be, so I asked Vanessa to have a look at glycerine to see why it makes bakes both softer and longer-lasting.

Nobody wants dry buns, but often home baked ones can dry out before you’ve had chance to enjoy them. Of course the way in which you store your baked goods matters, so a cotton bag is great to preserve freshness.

I often hear people complaining that their home baked goods don’t keep as fresh for as long as shop bought ones, but the mass manufacturers keep their baked goods fresh by adding a cocktail of preserving agents. Pick up a packet of shop bought hot cross buns for example and you will see that most of them contain mono- and diglycerides, manufactured from oil, such as soybean, sunflower, or palm oil. These are emulsifiers which provide a consistent texture, prevent separation and they are used in most baked products to stop them from getting stale. They also give body and improve consistency, but just like partially hydrogenated oils, they still contain dangerous trans fats. These trans fats do not have to be reported on our food labels, but they are still thought to be dangerous to your health as trans fats can contribute significantly to arterial plaque formation.

So how do we home bakers keep our baked goods moist for longer? Can we can add our own ingredient that adds moisture and extends shelf life? Yes - the answer as a home baker is to use a small amount of glycerine.

Glycerine as it is a clear, odourless, sweet liquid that is often used in fondant making. It is also one of the components of making nitro-glycerine for dynamite … but don’t worry, I promise no exploding buns! Vegetable glycerine is actually produced using an extraction process called hydrolysis, when the oils are put under a combined force of pressure, temperature, and water. The ester bond breaks and causes the glycerine to split away from fatty acids, and the purified vegetable glycerine has a texture similar to oil due to its organic molecular makeup.

You don’t need much; just a tablespoon does the trick of moistening your baked goods and prolonging their shelf life.

So I’ve used glycerine in these chocolate buns. Huge chocolate buns, gently spiced with vanilla and nutmeg, they are deeply flavoured, but not too sweet, and I have to admit that I enjoyed making these buns almost as much as I enjoyed eating them! My last tip for keeping buns soft is to put them into your bread bag while still warm.

For a printable version of the recipe, or to leave a comment, follow the link.

Vanilla, Nutmeg and Chocolate Buns

Makes: 12 large or 18 medium buns


• 800g strong white flour
• 16g dried yeast (osmotolerant is best for enriched dough)
• 125g Muscovado sugar
• 425g whole milk or a mixture of milk and water, at 28C
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• 2 tsp cinnamon
• 2 tsp nutmeg
• 2 tsp Ndali vanilla powder
• 120g unsalted butter, melted
• 1 tbsp glycerine
• 2 eggs
• 100g Fairtrade dark chocolate, chopped
For the swirls (my addition)
• 180g plain or strong white organic flour
• 6 tbsp olive oil
• 150g water

To finish

75g golden syrup mixed with 1 tablespoon of pure orange and 1/2 teaspoon of orange essence to glaze


• Sieve 225g flour into a bowl. Mix the yeast with 2 teaspoons of the sugar and stir in the tepid liquid. Pour this liquid into the 22g of sieved flour and mix well, cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to sponge, this will take about 20-30 minutes.

• Meanwhile sieve the remaining flour with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla powder, and stir. Mix the melted butter with the glycerine, then beat in the eggs.

• Take your sponged mixture and stir in all the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter mixture and knead thoroughly with your hand to form smooth dough.

• Cover the basin with a cloth and put it aside in a warm place to rise until the dough has doubled its size. Remove the dough from the bowl and fold in the chopped chocolate.

• Flour your hands and divide the dough into 12 or 18 pieces, depending on how large you would prefer your buns. Shape and place on lined baking sheets, spacing well.

• Place in a warm place to prove until risen by double again. Preheat your oven to 180C.

• Mix the ingredients for the swirls and leave to sit for 5 minutes before placing in a piping bag and piping a swirl on the top of each bun.

• Place the buns in the oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and they sound hollow when tapped on the base.

• Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Glaze the buns with the orange syrup.

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Ndali Vanilla 6 Powder

Vegetable glycerine is a sweet-tasting liquid that makes the crumb of your cakes, cookies and yeast baking extra soft and moist.

Six Ugandan Fairtrade organic vanilla pods with notes of smokey dates, honey, musk and butterscotch ground to a fine powder, bursting with vanilla seeds. Nothing else.