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{6} Kransekager

Each year, reaching my sixth post is something of a relief – we’ve made it to the half-way point without the kitchen catching fire or being destroyed by scalding molten sugar and burning butter. It feels like we’re on the home stretch, even if it means I’ve got to produce another six bakes to complete the series. Every time I do this challenge, I really enjoy it, but baking against a (self imposed) deadline of Christmas Eve does sap a little of the fun out of the process. And then we do it again the next year…

To celebrate getting this far, I’ve made a celebratory cake. Kransekager hail from Denmark, as well as Norway where they go by the radically different moniker of…eh…kransekake. They are made from a mixture of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites, which is mixed into a marzipan-like dough, and then baked until golden. The result is a slightly crisp exterior, with a soft, chewy centre, and they are utterly delicious. They also happen to be gluten-free if that’s your thing.

The impressive way to make them is by shaping the dough into ever-smaller rings (krans means wreath), then drizzling each layer with white icing to build a tall conical tower that can hide a bottle of champagne. These cakes are popular at Danish weddings, and in Norway on national day on 17 May. I’ve seen some suggestions from Danes that kransekager should be eaten at midnight on New Year’s Eve with champagne. I’m not a massive fan of champagne with very sweet things, so I’ll leave that one to you. To each their own!

kransekager2
There is also a variation on the kransekage tower. Rather than a cone which rises into the air, the rings can be arranged into an overflødighedshorn (say that after a few glasses of champagne!) which means “horn of plenty” or “cornucopia”. This can then be filled with sweets and chocolates, for a truly dazzling showstopper. If you’re looking for a way to serve all your Christmas baking in a memorable way, then this might be the way to do it. Perhaps I’ll have a go at that next year.

All these fancy cakes are great when you’ve got the time, but as you can see, I’ve avoided the elaborate cake tower and a fantastical horn of plenty, and instead made a simple bar form, with either end dipped in dark chocolate.

kransekager1
I have found a few Danish versions online which all suggest using marzipan, sugar and egg white. However I’ve learned the hard way that what we call marzipan in Britain has quite a high proportion of sugar to nuts (usually a 3:1 ratio, rather than the 1:1 in Danish “raw” marzipan). The result in the past has been that I’ve ended up making things that were so sweet they were inedible! No worries about that here – I’ve made this using equal parts of ground almonds and icing sugar to get the perfect balance. I’ve also added a little bit of almond extract for that distinctive flavour. I love it, and a little really enhances the kransekager, but if you want to leave it out you can.

kransekager3
These were really easy to make – the dough comes together easily, and it straightforward to shape. I opted for some long batons – you just measure out the dough, roll it into a ball, then roll into a long sausage. I’ve finished them with traditional white royal icing, but I dipped the ends into dark chocolate  – this provides a flavour contrast to the sweetness, but it also tidied up the messy ends after I’d baked them. I was originally going to leave them with just the icing, but I picked up the chocolate tip from Gitte at My Danish Kitchen. If you’re interested in finding more Danish recipes, her blog is great and there are so many recipes on there – it it’s Danish, I think Gitte has made it at some point!

To make Kransekager (makes 10)

For the marzipan dough

• 1 large egg white
• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the icing

• 75g icing sugar
• 1 tablespoon egg white
• few drops of lemon juice

To finish

• 100g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and rub the paper with a dot of butter to prevent sticking.

2. Lightly beat the egg, then add the ground almonds, icing sugar and almond extract. Mix to form a soft dough (start with a fork, then finish with your hands).

3. Divide the mixture into 10 pieces. Dust a worktop with icing sugar. Form each piece into a ball, then roll each one into a sausage, around 9cm long. Press the sides so that you have a long triangle. Transfer to the baking sheet, leaving space between each for the kransekager to expand slightly.

4. Bake the kransekager for around 13-15 minutes until just golden, turning half way for an even bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

5. If dipping in chocolate: temper the chocolate, then dip either end of the batons in the chocolate. Transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave to set.

6. Make the icing – briefly whisk the egg white, then add the icing sugar and lemon juice. Beat until smooth but stiff – add more icing sugar is needed. Transfer to a piping bag and drizzle a zigzag shape on top of the kransekager. Leave to set.

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{2} Sandkaker

Sandkaker are a Norwegian Christmas cookie. Their name means literally “sand cookies” and reflects their golden colour and crisp-yet-crumbly texture. They often form part of the Norwegian tradition of syv slags kaker (seven sorts of cookie) whereby home bakers get themselves in a frenzy of flour, butter, sugar and festive flavours to produce an impressive selection of sweet treats. There isn’t a fixed list of what comprises the magic seven, so I like to imagine Norwegians quietly judging each other’s efforts after a few glasses of warm, boozy gløgg. If you’re keen to make some other Norwegian treats, I’ve made serinakaker and sirupsnipper and mor monsens kake in the past (so that’s four down, three to go to…).

So what are sandkaker? Well, they’re certainly, ahm, unusual. They are made with a buttery almond dough that is pressed into intricate tartlet moulds, and they look like…well…empty upside-down tartlets! I’ve come across all sorts of weird and wonderful Christmas baking in previous years, but this one might just take the biscuit (ha – bad pun!). For I have made cookies that have to be cut out with special cutters, or pressed into shape, or shaped in intricate ways, or decorated in a particular (i.e. time-consuming) way. But cookies that look like unfilled tarts? Well, you have to admit that this really is just a little bit odd!

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I could wax lyrically about the beautiful shapes and delicate flavours, but it is just plain strange that you would serve guests what looks like a tray of pastries without a nice filling. I mean…surely the filling is the whole point of a tart? And I’m not even that fussy when it comes to sweet treats – I’ll go for fruit, cream or chocolate, they will all do me just fine!

sandkaker2
But…having said all that…sandkaker are really rather nice. What you need to get your head around is that these are not pastry shells waiting to be filled, but cookies in their own right. The dough is rich – buttery and sweet – and I’ve flavoured it with vanilla and almond extract (or you can use ground cardamom, which is also a popular flavour).

The dough would make great cookies just rolled out and cut into shape, so shaping the dough by pressing it into intricate moulds is really just a way of making them look fancier than roll-and-cut cookies. And as you can see, they do look very pretty indeed on the plate!

sandkaker3
After making these, I don’t have too many insights to share as they are fairly easy to make. I did think that it might be easier to roll out the dough and lay it into the tartlet shells like pastry, but this is dough, not pastry, and it was too fragile to roll out successfully. As long as you keep the dough chilled, it is very easy to push into the moulds (which in fairness is what every other recipe suggests doing, so lesson learned there!). Try to keep the cookies thin, and prick the base with a cocktail stick – I found that the bottoms puffed up a little and stayed pale, but pricking a few holes let any steam escape, ensuring the base (or top!) would become golden. If you don’t have fluted tartlet moulds, you can still make them with a non-stick muffin tray (except you won’t have the fancy fluted finish).

The real fun comes with getting the sandkaker out of their moulds. They did seem to stick a little, and I did panic at first. I tried prising them out with a knife, but it turned out for me that the easiest way to get them out was to let them cool for a few minutes after baking, then to drop them onto a wooden worktop. After a couple of drops, they would just pop out of the tin. Simple!

If you do make them, just be ready for your guests to ask where the filling is, and snap back (tartly – ha!) that they’re supposed to be like that. Or if you are feeling generous, use them like tartlet cases, fill with some whipped cream and add a little jam with a Scandinavian flavour like cloudberry or blueberry.

To make Sandkaker (makes around 40)

• 170g unsalted butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 120g ground almonds
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 large egg
• 250g plain flour

1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, almond extract, vanilla and the egg and mix well.

2. Add the flour and mix to a smooth dough – it should come together but will be fairly soft. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

4. Very lightly butter some small fluted tartlet cases. Pinch off pieces of the chilled dough, and use your fingers to press into the tins until you have an even, thin layer. Trim off any excess dough from the edges, and use a cocktail stick to prick a few small holes in the bottom.

5. Bake in batches – put 10-15 filled tartlet cases on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, turning half-way to ensure an even bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then remove the sandkaker from the moulds. Leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

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{7} Anisplätzchen (Anise Cookies)

Today’s recipe is another German favourite, the incredibly cute looking aniseed cookies that are Anispläzchen. These are tiny cookies that look rather like miniature macarons, but they are made with whole eggs and flour rather than just egg whites and almonds. Apart from that, it’s a similar process – whip the eggs and sugar, add flour and aniseed, then pipe onto a baking sheet.

These cookies have a crisp outside and soft interior, and a delicate aniseed flavour which gets a little stronger if you can keep them in a tin for a couple of days. They’re simple, but I think they look rather pretty.

anisplaetzchen
Now, if you’re taken by these, I do need to warn you that I got about a 55% “hit” rate in getting those little feet under the cookies. The rest…well, they tasted perfectly nice, but the went a little wonky. Perfectly edible, but wonky. So if you need dozens and dozens that need to turn out picture-perfect…you might want to make a couple of batches!

To make Anisplätzchen (makes around 40):

• 100g icing sugar
• 1 medium egg
• 100g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon ground aniseeds, crushed

1. In a bowl whisk the eggs until foamy (1 minute). Add the icing sugar and whisk until pale, thick and fluffy (5 minutes). Mix in the vanilla extract and ground aniseed.

2. Remove two tablespoons of flour and put to one side. Add half of the remaining flour and whisk to mixture. Add the other half and whisk again. The mixture should be thick and look a little bit dry and slightly grainy, but when you put a drop of mixture on a tray, it should go smooth on top. If the mixture is too wet, add more of the reserved flour until the texture is right.

3. Spread out 2 sheets of greaseproof paper. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe small circles of the batter (2cm diameter). Leave in a warm place to dry for an hour. The surface should be dull and matt when ready.

4. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes until the biscuits have developed “feet” but the tops are still pale.

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{2} Mailänderli

Today we’ve got a little bit of a festive mystery. Yes, Christmas means mysteries in our house, and I love to binge-watch episodes of Poirot and Miss Marple. But this one is of a culinary nature, and thankfully does not involve death by biscuits…

Mailänderli are little buttery cookies from Switzerland, rather like shortbread, with a delicate lemon flavour and a jaunty yellow colour, and none of the flavours you normally associate with the festive season (nuts, fruit, spice, chocolate…). Their name means “little Milanese” and they are one of the most popular Swiss Christmas biscuits. Rather fun little guys, aren’t they?

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So…what is this mystery? Well, you might be thinking that it’s very logical that the Swiss have a Christmas biscuit that comes from Milan, given that it’s only the other side of the Alps. In fact, the origin of Mailänderli is a complete blank. I haven’t been able to find out the origin of the name, and even the mighty Duden dictionary of all things German doesn’t attempt to offer an explanation. Maybe the recipe really did come from a citizen of Milan many, many years ago? Or maybe it is a mistake by a Swiss baker, confusing Milan with Sorrento (given, well, the lemon link)? I guess we’ll never know. Perhaps not one to trouble Miss Marple!

These cookies are easy to make – just mix the ingredients, let the dough chill properly, then roll out and cut whatever shapes you like. I would just urge you to take the chilling part seriously – I tried a test bake without chilling, and they don’t hold their shape nicely. I also tried doing one or several coats of the egg yolk glaze, but I did not think that this made any difference. One coat does the trick.

Mailänderli are also great cookies to make if you’ve got smaller hands helping you as the chilled dough is easy to cut and the cookies hold their shape nicely. You can also give your helper a paintbrush to coat the tops with the egg yolk to give them their colour (and go non-traditional with sprinkles or pearl sugar). And perhaps best of all…they take almost no time to bake, and these little buttery morsels of lemony goodness taste great while still warm.

Mailaenderli2

To make Mailänderli (makes around 60 bite-sized cookies):

For the dough

• 125g unsalted butter
• 125g sugar
• 250g plain flour
• 1 pinch salt
• 1 large egg
• 1 lemon, zest only

For the glaze

• 1 egg yolk
• 1 teaspoon cold water

1. Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the salt, egg and lemon zest. Finally, sift in the flour and mix until combined.

2. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for an hour or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out to 1cm thickness. Cut out whatever shapes you like, but try to keep the biscuits on the tray roughly the same size so that they bake evenly.

5. Make the glaze by mixing the egg yolk and water. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the glaze, and bake for around 10-15 minutes (depending on size) until the Mailänderli start to turn golden at the edges.

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Midsummer Cardamom Twists

If you’re in London right now or have visited recently, it may come as something of a shock to learn that it is midsummer. Sure, we’ve had a few warm days, but the skies are still leaden, with oppressive dark clouds threatening rain at the drop of a hat. However, the threat of bad weather on a summer’s day is never enough to stop us enjoying the Great British Summer – I’ve just spent the day at a garden party in Primrose Hill where we spend most of the day rushing between the house and the garden depending on whether the rain was falling or some rays of sunshine could be spotted.

Given the state of the weather, midsummer is not a huge event in Britain, but in honour of this point in the year, I’ve made cardamom twists as a nod to our Scandinavian cousins, for whom the middle of the summer season is a very big deal indeed. And when you have warm, sunny days by the sea with little (or no!) night like the do in Sweden, Norway and Finland, you can understand why.

This is a variation on my recipe for cardamom buns, but rather than rolling the dough into a sausage and slicing it, you cut it into strips, twist and form into a bun, then hope for the best as the yeast gets going and they expand into all manner of strange shapes. Not one for those obsessed with getting even-looking buns, but I think they’re pretty fun to make and eat.

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twist3  twist1

To make cardamom twists (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour
• pearl sugar, to finish

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1. Whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2(a). 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!

2(b). 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, nutmeg/mace 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.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a very large rectangle getting the dough as thin as you can. Make the filling by mixing all the ingredients until smooth, then spread across the dough. Fold the dough in half. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

4. Take each strip and start twisting the edges in opposite directions until you have a spiral. Form into a coil, tucking the ends underneath, and place on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°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 10-12 minutes until golden.

6. When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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Cinnamon Buns for Busy People

I’m a mega fan of a good cinnamon bun (as well as their cardamom cousins). But much as I love to make buns using yeasted dough, but there is one problem – these are recipes that taste great when they’re fresh, but if you need to allow several hours of proving time to get a nice, puffy dough, then it’s not really compatible with the idea of a lie-in at the weekend when you want to munch on cinnamon buns for breakfast. So what can you do?

I’m aware that some folk have mastered the technique of slow-rising the dough overnight in the fridge. I’ve tried it in the past, but with less than stellar results, so it’s something I still have to perfect. In the meantime, I’ve come up with a solution (of sorts). The technique is pretty much identical to the “traditional” method, but uses baking powder in place of yeast. This means that you don’t need to leave the dough to rise, and can get them done is less than an hour. It also means the recipe is foolproof, and you still get a decent amount of lift, and in the case of one bun, a rather spectacular amount!

So, how do they compare to the buns made with yeast? In fairness, this baking powder version is not quite as as light and fluffy, but I think that this is a reasonable trade-off when you need to whip up a batch in a bit of a hurry. However, they do look good and you’ve got my word that they still taste utterly delicious. That, and you get those extra hours in bed at the weekend rather than having to get up at 6am to prepare a fresh batch…

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Cinnamon_no_yeast

To make cinnamon buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 180ml milk
• 60g butter
• 1 medium egg
• 50g caster sugar
• 280g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 4 teaspoons baking powder

For the filling:

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

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with white bun cases.

2. In a saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Take off the heat, add the butter, then leave until the butter has melted and the mixture is lukewarm.

3. Make the filling – beat the sugar until soft, then add the sugar and cinnamon. Mix until very soft and smooth. It should be easily spreadable.

4. Whisk the egg and divide in two (you need half for the dough, and half for the glaze).

5. Put the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom and baking powder into a bowl. Mix, then sieve well. Add the milk mixture and half of the egg, and mix to a soft dough. If needed, add more flour, and knead lightly until you have an elastic dough.

6. Turn the dough 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. Cut into 12 slices with a sharp knife, and lay each piece, cut face up, on a bun case.

7. 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 12 minutes until puffed up and golden.

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Pumpkin Gnocchi

Yes, I am back from my big holiday in the US – lots of pics and a write-up coming soon! In the meantime…my “back from holiday” recipe

If you’re anything like me, you will have recently gotten into the Halloween spirit and bought lots of pumpkins and squashes, carved them, and then been left with some amazing lanterns plus lots of pumpkin flesh. So what can you do with it? Well, I made the lot into soup, but got back from holiday this week, and still found an assortment of squash in the fruit bowl. So…

While I think I have a pretty amazing pumpkin soup recipe (I usually enhance the flavour with lots of spice and top it off with toasted pumpkin seeds for a bit of crunch) as with so many things, there comes a point where you want something a bit more creative than soup. Back at home, suitcase in hand, I wanted to make something that did not involve a trip to the shops – I’d just “enjoyed” 8 hours in a plane, two busy airports, a severe lack so sleep, jet lag and a trip on the tube, which made a trip to the local store unappealing. So I came up with the idea of making pumpkin gnocchi with the stuff I had in the fridge and cupboard.

At this point, I can imagine some Italians clasping their hands to their faces in horror as an outsider commits culinary heresy with their classic little potato dumplings, but this was a tasty little dish so frankly, I’m not too worried. Indeed, there’s actually a lot of variety out there with gnocchi seemly made from just about anything you can imagine, so there may even be a strand of Italian authenticity in here somewhere.

This is a remarkably easy dish to make, provided you’ve got a little time to dedicate to it (i.e. quite good when you’re unpacking cases and making the washing machine work overtime). The squash is roasted in the oven with a little oil and garlic until tender, then mixed up with cheese and flour to make the dough. What was a sheer delight when making the dough was the colour – somewhere between the deep orange of the squash flesh and the sort of vibrant yellow you get from using saffron. My picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it is very firmly on the jaunty side of things.

One realisation I had in making this is that while you want the squash to be soft, you also want it to be on the dry side. I would therefore avoid steaming (which will get you a soft texture, but increases the moisture in the dough) and instead opt for roasting. Pop the squash pieces in a dish, mix with a little olive oil, add some garlic, then cover in tin foil and bake until tender, before uncovering and allowing the edges of the squash to caramelise. This imparts flavour, and keeps moisture levels down. The result? You need less flour in the gnocchi.

I actually made this gnocchi in two batches – one for pictures and a quick bite to eat after my travels, and another the next day for lunch (yup, I’d taken an extra day off to get over the jet lag). The first attempt was based on making large gnocchi. Or at least, these were my attempt at normal-sized gnocchi, they just turned out slightly larger. I had them with a little butter, black pepper, nutmeg and pecorino cheese. While they might look a little large on the place, they were very tasty, with a clear flavour of squash.

For the second version, I rolled the dough into very thing strands, and cut out what were really tiny gnocchi (the side of peanut M&Ms). They looked very pretty when cooked, piled up on the plate, but this time I made a change when serving them. I added only a tiny knob of butter, and instead used a dash of pumpkin oil to impact a rich toasted flavour to the dish. This combination was, frankly, sensational, giving two very different pumpkin flavours in the same dish.

So here you have it – squash gnocchi, made with butternut squash and goat cheese. Now all I need to get hold of is one of those proper little gnocchi rollers to get the ridges right!

To make pumpkin gnocchi:

• 400g squash, peeled and cubed (I used butternut squash)
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 100g soft goats cheese
• 1 egg
• 25g pecorino cheese, grated
• 200-225g plain flour
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Place the squash pieces in an ovenproof dish. Add the olive oil and garlic cloves, and mix. Cover with tin foil, and roast until tender (at least 30 minutes). Once ready, remove the tin foil and continue to roast until the edges of the squash are just starting to brown and caramelise. Remove from the oven and allow to cool – if the squash seems watery, reduce the heat to 150°C (200°F) and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, then check again.

2. Put the cooled squash into a bowl (make sure to peel the garlic and discard the skin). Mash, then add the goat cheese, egg and pecorino cheese. Add enough flour to make a soft dough – it will still be quite sticky, so be careful not to over-work. Try to keep your hands and surfaces well-floured to prevent sticking, rather than adding more and more flour to the dough.

3. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into strands, then cut into pieces. You’ve made the gnocchi!

4. To cook the gnocchi, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. In the meantime, melt a knob of butter in a saucepan, and pour into a serving dish. Once the water is boiling, drop the gnocchi into the water. They are done when they float (around 2-3 minutes). As the gnocchi reach the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place into the serving dish. Serve immediately.

To serve, add the sauce of your choice. I like to coat them in butter, add a little nutmeg and black pepper, and top with pecorino. If you have pumpkin oil, try adding a dash of that too.

Worth making? Easy? Yes. Quick? Not especially, but these are fun to make and delicious solid fare for cold days, so overall, worth the effort.

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Cardamom Buns

I’ve recently been into making a big old batch of buns at the weekend, which then serve for breakfast and mid-afternoon snacks for several days afterwards. I’ve mostly made them with cinnamon, with a brief flirtation with vine fruits and citrus over Easter, but much as I love cinnamon, it can get a little bit same-y. So what could I use instead? Simple – cardamom!

I recently saw a recipe for buns that replaced the cinnamon with ground cardamom, which is mixed into the butter/sugar filling. The moment I saw this idea I was convinced – I love the flavour of this spice. It has a lovely citrus-like aromatic flavour that complements the yeasty dough and butter filling very nicely. So I had a bash, and just adapted my kanelbullar recipe.

However…much as I like cardamom…it’s a real pain to use. You’ve got lots of little pods, usually rock-hard, that need to be picked apart by hand, and then you need to scape out the seeds and crush them. I’ve got a nifty little marble mortar and pestle that is perfectly suited to this, and it get the spices so fine that you can sieve then through a tea strainer, and get a very fine power that is ideal for this recipe (means no bigger “gritty” pieces). However, if you’re busy or don’t fancy the home grinding process, just use pre-ground. Our little secret…shhhh!

As you can see, I’ve played around with the appearance of these buns too. Rather than baking them on muffin cases on a flat try, I used arty squares of greaseproof paper pushed into a muffin tray. It looked a little like a tray of paper tulips! Certainly adds a little something when you present a tray of them, still warm, to breakfast or bunch guests. However, I made these on my own, thus lacking an audience to experience the brilliance of my creativity.

I noticed, too, that recently I have tended to veer towards pictures of finished items only. Of course, sometimes it is either interesting or helpful (or both) to see the intermediate steps in the baking process. Also, you do end up with such interesting patterns when things are formed into spirals and cut, and I love how the patterns of the buns of the tray looks.

As is usually the case for yeast doughs, you’ll think that the buns are way too small when you cut the dough and put into the tray. However, fret not, as they will expand considerably if you leave them somewhere warm.

As you can see below, they nearly tripled in size over an hour! It did help that it was a freezing day outside, and so the heating was on inside and that meant the yeast was happily bubbling away.

To finish the buns, I followed the usual steps – brushing with a little beaten egg and sprinkling with pearl sugar. Then into the oven to bake until golden-brown.

These buns were sensational. The dough is very light, and the flavour of the cardamom does indeed make them seem fresh and slightly zesty – it’s sweet, buttery, fragrant and had a note of citrus to it. They also bake in such a way that they can be easily unpicked as you’re eating them with a coffee, so good for breakfast while reading the papers. And in their little paper jackets, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest that they’ve got a little bit of the “wow” factor too.

To make cardamom buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 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, nutmeg/mace 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 tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°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 10-12 minutes until golden.

When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, at least in London, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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Hot Cross Buns…with a twist!

OK, first things first – I have a set of chicken-themed salt and pepper shakers, so given its Easter, I have to showcase them. So here they are:

This is in honour of my most recent endeavour at Easter baking. Last year I made a few batches of hot cross buns, but this year, I was looking for something different.

I have recently been making a lot of Swedish cinnamon buns – not only are the delicious, but a batch lasts for a few days to cover off both breakfasts and afternoon snacks. The home-made stuff knocks the socks off a lot of the buns you can buy, so perfecting the art of making my own has become a bit of a mini-obsession.

And this got me to thinking…what if I could make some sort of Anglo-Scandinavian fusion and combine them with the good old hot cross bun? You get a hot cross bun Easter Twist, that’s what!

The trick is just to replace the cardamom with mixed spices (I used the remains of my festive spice mix), and add candied peel and raisins to the filling. The texture is not the same as a fluffy hot cross bun, but the flavour is all there. Well, that was the theory. How was I going to achieve it?

First, I’ve been trying to vary the flour I use, really just to see what the results are like. A lot of folk have been recommending spelt flour, mainly because it give a lighter, fluffier bun. Thus far, I’ve been quite happy with it – it does seem to rise faster than wheat flour, and while it does not puff up to the same extent that strong wheat flour does, it also remains softer and fresher for longer (wheat seems to dry out more quickly). It’s also apparently a better flour for those that are keen to cut down on the amount of wheat in their diets. So frankly, I was almost making a health food!

I was also keen to get away from the spiral shape of the cinnamon buns for my Easter creation, when I saw the recipe on Scandilicious for cardamom twists. They were made from spelt flour (tick!), and were made using a nifty trick to cut the dough into trips, twist it into a spiral, then form into a coil. This looked perfect – it would mean that the buns would look rather funky, but would also help to keep as much of the peel, raisins and spicy filling in the finished buns as possible.

For the dough, I stuck to the same recipe I use for cinnamon buns, but with a teaspoon of mixed spices in place of the cardamom, and the white sugar swapped for light brown sugar. For the filling, I used two teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of mixed spice (I’d toyed with using just the mixed spice, but the flavour was a little too strong – it needed the cinnamon to balance it), then added chopped candied peel and currants. To keep the filling tender, I left the peel and currants to soak in a little hot water – but there is no reason you couldn’t use a little cold tea or rum. Et voilà – the hot cross bun Easter twist was created!

Well…not quite that simple. For I ended up making two batches. The first, on Good Friday, was a breeze, until I realised I was running late to get to Kew Gardens to see the spring plants. To get the dough moving, I warmed the oven for a minute, put the tray of buns in there to give them a boost, and covered with a damp tea-towel. Bad idea! The oven was too warm and the butter melted and oozed out (rather than being absorbed into the buns) and the tea-towel stuck to the tops! So I ended up with a tray of buns that looked like they had been scalped, so all my careful twisting and shaping was for the wind. After a bout of swearing and generally being rather annoyed, I baked them and I got a tray of tasty, albeit not picture-perfect buns. I was all the more annoyed that I’d promised to send the lady behind the cardamom twists a picture of the finished buns….what to do?

Clearly, make more. And these are the buns you can see above and below!

During my visit to Kew, I picked up another bag of spelt flour, and when I got home that evening, I made more dough. Except…it turned out I had bought wholemeal spelt instead of white. So I sieved it to remove the bran, and ended up with sligtly-less-wholemeal-but-still-quite-wholemeal spelt flour. So I dug out the finest sieve I have – a tea strainer. I then spent about half an hour sieving the flour to end up with something that looked like while spelt flour, and a bowl of fine spelt bran for bread. The lesson? Read the packet carefully, and don’t buy according to the picture on the front.

As it was rather late by this stage, I left the dough overnight to prove. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but it seemed to work alight. I’m not sure I will do this often, as the chilled dough seemed to take a while to get moving. The next day, the dough was rolled, filled, sliced, shaped, left to prove, baked and glazed. All according to plan, and even with my flour wobble, I ended up with a tray of golden, sticky delicious Easter buns, rich with spice, citrus and juicy fruit. A good thing that I like them…as…eh…I now have a large plate containing 24 of them!

So in the spirit of these Anglo-Scandinavian buns, wishing you all a Happy Easter and Glad Påsk!

To make Hot Cross Bun Easter Twists (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 ground mixed spice
• 325g white spelt flour or 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, spice 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 (or overnight, in the fridge, loosely covered). 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 1/4 cm (1/8 inch) thick. Spread half of the dough with the filling mixture, and scatter over the peel and currants. Fold the other half of the dough on top of the filling, and press down lightly. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

Taking each strip in turn, start to twist one end, five or six times, until you have a spiral. Form the twisted strips into coils, and then place onto bun cases on a baking sheet.

Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size (around an hour, depending on how cool or warm your room is, but go by eye rather than by time).

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. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden  (again, go by eye, and if they are getting too dark, open the oven door for a moment to let out some heat, and reduce to 190°C).

When the buns are done, remove from the oven, brush straight away with the hot syrup. Leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
• 50g candied citrus peel, finely chopped
• 100g currants

Mix the butter, sugar and spices in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.

Put the candied peel in a bowl, add a tablespoon of boiling water, and mix. Put the currants into another bowl, add two tablespoons of boiling water, and mix. Allow to soak for at least half an hour.

For the syrup:

• 3 tablespoons white sugar
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon honey

Put everything it a pan and bring to the boil – cook until all the sugar has dissolved.

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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.

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