Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

If you asked me to pick one food that symbolised Sweden, it would have to be the kanelbulle (pl. kanelbullar) – not herring, or meatballs, or akvavit, but the humble cinnamon bun.

When I ended up in Stockholm, these very quickly became an intrinsic part of every day life. Everyone else seemed to eat them with morning coffee, so I started as well. I also quickly learned that this was less a case of enjoying coffee, and more a case of it being something of national institution with its own name – fika. I’ve never consumed as much coffee as during that year…

The Swedish daily rhythm became a little confusing to me – for I noticed that many Swedes seem to start work very early (and so 8am classes were, sadly, not uncommon), so they would cram a fika in around 10am, and then go for a “late” lunch around 12. I swear that there were people having lunch from about 10:30…aright, in fairness, I never did any empirical research about whether the people that were enjoying coffee were the same ones that pitched up less than half an hour later in the cafeteria, but I was an innocent abroad, and you cannot help but notice the different pace of life.

So…what about the kanelbullar? These are the typical sweet accompaniment to fika, and are made from enriched dough, flavoured with cardamom, that is filled with sugar and cinnamon, the topped with pärlsocker (pearl sugar). My own preference is for the ones that have been left to prove for as long as possible, to make them very light and fluffy. And if you get them while still warm, they are amazing with a cup of coffee on a chilly day. As you can imagine, our days were less about sightseeing, and more about eating given the limited daylight!

As I mentioned in my post of making semlor, I don’t know if I ever managed to track down the place that made the best kanelbullar in the whole of Stockholm.

However, I can share one travel tip if you do happen to be visiting the city (and if someone else has tips – do share!). I did a Nordic odyssey a few years ago – three of us navigated our way through three of the Nordic capitals, taking in Helsinki, then taking the boat to Stockholm, then travelling by train through Sweden and across the Öresund Bridge to Copenhagen.

And in Stockholm, after looking at lots of mid-century modern furniture and someone buying a lot of impractical glassware in the Orrrefors store, we did a little sightseeing in the scenic Old Town. And…it was freezing. We had whipped out a book to look at what was nearby, and the Wallpaper guide had a tragically hilarious write-up of Chokladkoppen. It made much use of the word “divine”, which ended up become the adjective of choice for the rest of the holiday. How were the bathrooms? Diviiiiine. How is the soup? Diviiiiine. Is the train on time? Diviiiiine.

Wallpaper’s views aside, Chokladkoppen is a lovely little café on the picture-perfect square in the middle of Stockholm’s old town, and we had some truly delicious – and humongous – cinnamon buns. Great with mulled wine when it was dark at 3.00pm.

You’ll notice that these buns are made on individual little bun cases. This is (apparently) a traditional way to make them, and you can just use small cupcake or muffin cases to the same effect. During baking, the butter in the filling melts and makes sure that they don’t stick.

To finish them off, it is traditional to use pärlsocker on top of the buns for some extra sweetness and a bit of crunch. This is something that I don’t think I’ve seen in London (yet), and have sourced mine via friends when they visited from Sweden. They had asked what I wanted them to bring, and I think they were slightly surprised that the ask was nothing more elaborate than a box of mini-sugar lumps. Indeed, I lucked out – they brought two!

I’m definitely going to be making these a lot more often – they are great for breakfast, and are very welcome during the day with a cup of coffee. If you’ve got a bread machine to do all the grunt work, then it really makes them a breeze. Which makes me wonder why you would open a Swedish café without cinnamon buns? But if you’re after some buns and don’t have the patience to make them, I also recommend the Finnish version from the Nordic Bakery, which are topped with a sticky cinnamon-caramel. Now…it is time for a fika?

To make kanelbullar (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 210°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 6 minutes until golden.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? Do you have to ask? These buns are delicious, and have so far been an absolute hit with everyone I’ve served them too. They are also delicious while still warm, so good for Sunday brunch.



Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

48 responses to “Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

  1. They look so delicious!! Love the images!

  2. Those little pastries are swedish supermodels. This looks totally worth the work.

  3. Great post and great photos!

  4. I’ve made cinnamon rolls, and they’re too elaborate to make very often (because of the topping I used) – this seems like a great alternative. I’ll definitely make these soon!

  5. I was thinking to make this tomorrow! wow! Thanks for this recipe! nice pictures as well!

  6. Want some now! I’m going to try the cinnamon buns at Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh (http://www.petersyard.com/home/coffee-house-bakery/our-favourites/) when I go back home in the northern Spring. In the meantime, I might have to give these a try.

  7. Your kanelbullar looks just perfect!! I make cinnamon rolls maybe every other month. But my gosh, yours looks just like the ones from IKEA. Ahh! Perfect!
    I’m so glad you shared the recipe 🙂 I have to try it!

    • Hi Alexandra – I’m glad that you like them. I was so happy with how they turned out. I made another batch yesterday, and I’ve developed a bit of an addiction I think. Great snack in the cold weather.

  8. Oh, this looks delish!! I would like to try out the recipe. Lovely!

  9. Beautiful swirls, I love that they are on their own paper, will do this next time I make sweet buns

    • Hi Alli – it’s quite a good trick for making buns – they don’t stick to the tray so if they rise a lot before baking, you can move them apart a little bit so they stay separate. Clever, eh?

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  12. Robin

    Pärlsocker (pearlsugar) is also called nib sugar or hail sugar, just so you know what to look for. They should have it in larger, well stocked, supermarts

    • Thanks Robin – I’ll keen an eye out for it next time I’m in a place with a good baking section. But in the meantime, I’ve still got about a pound of it in the cupboard so luckily I won’t run out too soon 😉

  13. Steven

    You can buy these to bake at home in the food shop in IKEA

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  15. Thanks for this amazing post! Such a beautiful text and pictures too. Are you going to make some more this week? Don’t forget that the day of the cinnamon bun is on October 4th in Sweden.

    I have a question for you. You said that your own preference is for the ones that have been left to prove for as long as possible, to make them very light and fluffy. What is the longest you have proved them for? I reduced the yeast by half to allow for double proving time, but perhaps should I go even further? Not sure…. Based on some research and advice from other people, I have been able to come up with a really good recipe, but it can always be improved and I REALLY want to find out how! Hope you can help.

    In case you are interested, here is my current best cinnamon bun recipe: http://www.thefoodmethod.com/?view=sidebar#!/2012/10/the-perfect-swedish-cinnamon-roll.html

  16. akvavit never had anything to do with sweden, its a big norwegian spirit 🙂

  17. Michelle

    Had these for the 1st time ever in Sweden cafes in August and fell in love. Made a double batch today – FANTASTIC! Finally found a european shop here in NZ that sells the pearl sugar too. So glad I stumbled upon this recipe. It’s a keeper. Thank you!!

    • Hi Michelle – that’s great! These are just about my favourite thing to enjoy with a cup of coffee, so it is wonderful to hear that you love them too. I’ve also made them with nutmeg in the dough and cardamom butter in place of the cinnamon – has to be tried to be believed.

  18. petit4chocolatier

    Oh my! I love these adorable cinnamon treats!!

  19. Rebecka

    Such gorgeous pictures! I was making the sirupsnipper (which was interesting I must say. I thought they’d be much spicier) you posted last week and decided to have more of a look around in your blog. And suddenly there was Swedish being thrown around and I just had to have a look. Your kanelbullar look absolutely perfect! When you wrote that we Swedes love cinnamon buns with our morning coffee I was a bit “whaaaat?” cause having something this sweet for breakfast is considered weird and unhealthy (I am always surprised when I see “perfect for breakfast” on especially American recipes, when they are for pastries!) but I realised you meant the 10am fika haha. The healthy breakfast was had hours before. Not that I would say no to something like this for breakfast, I would just feel very naughty.

    Must ask, since it’s Christmas and I’m knee deep in preparations for a family gathering at my place tomorrow (got it into my head that everything has to be home made): did you ever tried knäck? Such a must have for me, and most Swedes I believe, for Christmas.

    • Hi Rebecka,

      Glad you like the pictures. I agree that the sirupsnipper are not very spicy, but I’ve also made some things recently that are very, very spicy indeed, so it is nice to have a bit of variety. I think also that if you start to add much more spice, the flavour of the syrup would get overwhelmed. However, it’s all a matter of personal taste at the end of the day!

      Good to hear that you like my take on kanelbullar too. I used to adore them when I lived in Stockholm, but only ever with morning coffee (as you say, fika). I used to stick to my Scottish roots when I lived there and eat porridge, or go with knäckebröd and cheese. I know what you mean about eating very sweet things first thing in the morning – not good (apart from fruit).

      Knäck is, however, something I have not tried yet. I’ve tried it in Sweden, but never made it. Do you have a recipe? I’d love to give it a go, and I’ve actually got a space in my 12 days that has opened up as something I have tried has been a bit of a disaster, and I’m not entirely sure what to do in its place.

      Hope the family gathering went well 🙂

      • Rebecka

        I agree. Variety is nice, and my gingerbread recipe (with almonds and spelt flour!) are rather spicy so it was the perfect compliment cookie so to speak. And so pretty! My mum was worried they’ll taste too much of the white pepper and anis (she hates both) so I was quite pleased when they didn’t.

        Personally I never really have that morning coffee, but rather the afternoon one. Maybe it’s cause I don’t start working/studying at 8am. Also prefer my lunch at noon or later though. crazy people having lunch at 11. Still morning haha!I always go with porridge in the morning too, or toast. Gotta put in a good foundation.

        I do have a recipe! I make it in the microwave, which is much quicker and haven’t failed me yet. Also meant me and my brother were more easily trusted with it when younger. Not as dangerous as cooking sugar on the stove. I’ll send you an email!

        Thank you. It went splendidly. They were so impressed.

  20. Zoe

    Hi there…I decided to make these and followed the recipe very carefully but my dough didn’t rise 😦 Any advice? I have actually placed it in the oven, see if that works, but have you ever had that problem with this recipe? My yeast is new btw. Could it be just a temperature problem? Also, my dough seems pretty dry. Any troubleshooting tips would be great! I really want it to work, I have such a craving for these haha!

    • Hi Zoe – sorry to hear that. I’ve made this dozens of times using these measurements, so I’m pretty happy that it works. Sounds like there was a problem with the yeast. If it was too old, it might not work. If you didn’t use instant yeast in the dough, you would need to activate the yeast in warm milk with a little sugar before adding it to the dough. Was there no rising at all, or just a little bit? If the dough didn’t rise enough, it might be that the dough was too cold, or wasn’t left to rise for long enough. Hope that helps!

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  23. Cynthia

    I just made these and ate three straight out of the oven. Fingers may have been burnt in the process…

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  25. I love these!! I have family in Malmö and every time I’ve visited, I’ve eaten kanelbullar almost every day. Great post. Makes me miss Sweden 🙂 Oh, and re the strange eating patterns, YES! I go a bit crazy whenever I visit Sweden. I’m used to three regular mealtimes a day and my relatives often eat very early, or very late, or not at all, depending upon how much fika they have! Weird. But hey, one can never eat too many cinnamon buns 🙂

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  28. takoyaki81

    Thanks for this recipe, they were divine – light and fluffy!!

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  30. Pingback: Bids & Grace – a Kanelbulle baking session (Swedish cinammon buns) – Bids in Graceland

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