The only research I did before arriving in Stockholm last month was not on its architecture, or archipelago, its museums or shopping districts. Or even Abba. It was about breakfast, and specifically: cardamom buns. I'd booked an air b n b based on its proximity to a bakery that made some of the best in town, I was reliably informed. However what my narrow band of research did not reveal is that most of Sweden is away during July. Many businesses too, close for the month, including my well-researched bakery. But fortunately Stockholm is liberally sprinkled with bakeries - not that you even need one. Even the convenience stores sell cardamom buns (and, by the looks of them, good ones!), such is their place in the culture. In walking distance of the apartment I stayed in were several excellent sources and I made the most of it. Luckily now I'm back home, it's not too hard to make my own, like most Swedes do (possibly only tourists like me buy them commercially).
Cardamom is a popular flavour in Scandinavian baking, and it's so beautiful here - speckled through these lightly sweet pastries. The crushed black seeds in the dough contrast with the pretty pearl sugar sprinkled on top. Unlike American-style cinnamon buns, these are modestly-sized, and not too heavy on the sugar. The spice is the dominant flavour and goes beautifully with coffee, for breakfast, for fika, for memories of Scandinavian summer.
Adapted from a recipe in Fika by Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall
The recipe below makes 30-36 buns so you may want to halve it, like I did. Or not. They freeze well and defrost easily in the oven.
100g unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons yeast
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 teaspoons whole cardamom seeds, crushed
1 egg, beaten
pearl sugar or chopped almonds
First make the dough: Melt butter in a saucepan, then stir in the milk. Heat til warm to the touch (about 110 deg F / 43 deg F). In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 2-3 tablespoons of the warm liquid. Sir and let sit for a few minutes til bubbles form on top of the yeast.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cardamom and salt. Add yeast mixture along with the butter and milk. Work together with your hands til you can make the dough into a ball. Transfer to a flat surface and knead dough til smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and place in a draft-free place to rise til doubled in size, about one hour.
Next make the filling: using a fork, cream butter and sugar with cardamom til you get a spreadable paste.
When dough has finished rising, take half the dough and roll out with a rolling pin to an 11 inch by 17 inch rectangle (28cm x 43cm) with long side closest to you.
Spread half the filling on top of the rolled-out dough so that it covers the entire area going all the way to the edge. At this point you have a choice about how to form the buns.
For rolled buns: roll dough upward from bottom into log, then cut into 15-18 equally sized slices.
For plaited buns: fold dough in half by lifting bottom corners up over the top ones so you have a rectangle. Cut into 15-18 evenly sized strips, then watch this youtube video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3DkWtbcWDI - in which a nice Swedish lady will explain it to you far better than I will.
Place buns on baking sheet lined with baking paper, cover with tea towel and leave to rise a further 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 435 deg F / 225 deg C.
When buns have risen, brush the tops with beaten egg and scatter with pearl sugar or almonds.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until nice and brown. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.