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.