Tag Archives: Fika

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.

twist2

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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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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On Location: Nordic Bakery (Soho, London)

I recently went to a Swedish café, but left broken-hearted when I didn’t have the Scandinavian love-fest I expected (see here).

Why was I so traumatised, you ask? I am a bit of a Swedophile. I lived there, loved it and still have very close Swedish friends. So after not finding cinnamon buns last time, I did a bit of digging and this brought me to the Nordic Bakery near Piccadilly Circus. Surely this place would have what I want? I arranged to meet a friend there, and I went on my merry way. To say that I went there with hopes and dreams on a cinnamon theme would be pretty accurate.

I arrived at the bakery in Golden Square (fab name, nice square full of flowers in the middle of pretty buildings) and I saw Nordic – and the words “Cinnamon Buns” were written in white Helvetica letters. Joy!

As I got there early, I sat down and ordered a rye bread with cheese and gherkin, a cinnamon bun and a coffee. To be accurate, the buns in Nordic are not the Swedish type (kanelbullar) that I had searched for, but the Finnish variety (korvapuusti). I didn’t care. I ordered anyway, and anticipated the sweet, slightly sticky cinnamon-cardamom-yeasty goodness. It arrived, still slightly warm, and I started to pick little bits off. And it was just great. I did get a couple of odd looks from the two Finnish ladies at the next table, but I think they recognised that I appreciated the baked goods on offer. The buns are yeast-risen, with many layers of thin dough and cinnamon paste. It was rich and aromatic, with little moments of fresh cardamom zing. Super, super, super.

My companion arrived, with another friend who was due to move to Paris the next day. I was glad that her final day in London was bathed in glorious sunshine, so she would remember the place at its very best.

We picked out some goodies but in view of the spectacular weather we decamped to the grass on Golden Square. As you can see, the interior of Nordic is great – chic, minimalist black tables and bare wood walls, cutlery and crockery from various Nordic designers. Really, a hundred times better than Fika. However, the lure of the sun was too much to resist. We took our selection outside: more cinnamon buns, rye bread, tosca cake (a moist honey-almond creation), cream cheese and pineapple buns (using yeasty dough rather than puff pastry) and a whole-wheat rice pastry. Each of them was, in turn, delicious, and the coffee was good. We liked that everything was fresh, well-made and delicious, and not overly sweet. Our soon-to-leave-us French friend even tried the cinnamon bun, and declared that this might just have cured her of her previous dislike of the spice which she attributed to Cinnabon’s ubiquity in the US. A triumph!

So…would I go back? 100% yes. In fact…eh….I’ve actally been there again since (twice in less than a week, am I an addict?). It is a lovely, relaxed place in a very busy neighbouhood, which just oozes that Scandinavian relaxed-but–hip vibe. Plus great cinnamon buns. This is what I wanted. I am glad I found it.

The Nordic Bakery, 14 Golden Square, London W1F 9JG. Tel: 020 3230 1077. Tube: Piccadilly Circus

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On Location: Fika (Shoreditch, London)

Fika means a Swedish coffee break, usually involving a little snack. I know this, because I used to live there. I loved living in Stockholm – lovely coffee bars, and great cakes and snacks. When looking for a place to meet my friend K a couple of days ago, I discovered Fika, a Swedish café/bar/grill with a roof terrace on Brick Lane. While we didn’t make it there in the end, I decided that I really did have to go. Yesterday, I did just that.

Book in hand and with a vague appointment to meet a friend there if she was able to come, I jumped on the tube and headed over to Fika. How would it be? Could I look forward to tucking into a range of Nordic goodies? On the way over, I had ideas kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and dillpotatis (potato salad with dill) in my mind.

Fika has a pretty slick website, with a philosophy based around simple, fresh food. So far, so good. I turned up, and the place looked promising. The owners have gone for the pared-down Scandinavian shabby-chic minimalist look, with a few ironic twists (reindeer skulls decked out with pearls, astroturf cut into the shape of a reindeer). I checked my watch – it was 3.30pm, so time for coffee and a much-anticipated cinnamon bun.

Except…they didn’t have any cinnamon buns.

I was almost ready to turn around and walk out. What is the point in a Swedish cafe without cinnamon buns? I ordered my coffee and settled for what was euphemistically called a summer berry tart (in May – why?). This might have been alright if it had been cooked properly, but the middle was borderline raw and unpleasantly doughy. It had been heated slightly, I suspect in part to hide the fact it probably wasn’t quite cooked. This cake was not difficult or elaborate, so it pretty bad to flunk on something so simple. This place would last about five minutes on the streets of Södermalm in its current form.

Would I go back? No. Perhaps the mains and savoury dishes are better, perhaps it’s the coolest place on Earth when it gets busy, but frankly, I don’t really care. It’s cute enough as a place for a drink, but from what I had, there are other places on Brick Lane serving great coffee and (in my view) better food, so it’s not as if you need to settle.

Fika, 161a Brick Lane, London E1 6SB. Tel: 020 7613 2013. Tube: Shoreditch High Street.

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