In May, I spent three days in Helsinki. Though it was spring in the northern hemisphere, when I arrived it was snowing. No sooner had I made my way to the shelter of my snug airbnb - shielding myself with an ineffective umbrella - did it stop. The sun came out and was still out til close to midnight. The weather continued in this vein - blizzard one minute, blindingly bright the next. The only constant were the cinnamon rolls, which I found everywhere - from the 7-11 on the corner to the beautiful bakery opposite the second-hand store agonisingly overstocked with antique enamel I was unable to fit in my suitcase, from the food hall by the flea market, to the café at the nearby Design Museum, and the canteen at the Marimekko outlet on the outskirts of town, where the shop assistant ringing up my purchase cheerfully advised me that for Finland in May you need both ski gear and a bikini. Maybe that's why saunas are so popular. I went to one, on the edge of the Baltic sea (thanks Ian for the impetus!), and sat in my swimsuit outside, insulated with sweat from the steam, and watched people walking by in their winter wear. Then I went next door to their restaurant and had a coffee and a cinnamon roll.
There's a reason these things are so popular. They're warm and soft, fragrant with spice, and lightly sweet, with crunchy pearl sugar on top. Not too big, not too small - they go beautifully with coffee and function in the culture as a reason to pause... always a good thing, wherever you are.
Finnish cinnamon rolls (Korvapuusti)
Adapted from a recipe by My Blue and White Kitchen
The following recipe makes around 30 (!) rolls. I halved the quantities and ended up with a more manageable 15 - some to eat fresh and some to stash in the freezer. Wrapped in foil, you can throw them direct from there into a preheated moderate (180 deg C) oven and have your morning pause ready in 15 minutes.
2 cups + 2 tbsp lukewarm milk (preferably whole milk)
1 tbsp + 2 tsp instant active dry yeast
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
about 1kg flour
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
for the filling
150g soft butter
6 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon
pearl sugar, to sprinkle
Combine yeast with a tablespoon or two of the lukewarm milk and let bloom (basically just let sit in a warm place for about five minutes until froth/bubbles form on top).
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with the flour and add in the rest of the milk. Mix in sugar, salt, cardamom, and egg. Add butter and knead until well combined. Continue to knead the dough, til it comes clean off the sides of the bowl and doesn't stick to your hand. This won't take too long - don't overwork the dough or you'll end up with hard rolls, not soft. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until double in size.
Meanwhile, mix together the butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.
Line four baking sheets with baking paper.
Punch down the dough and divide into two equal sized portions. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the first piece of dough into a large, about 60 x 40cm / 23 x 16 inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling evenly on top. Beginning with the long side, roll the dough into a tight tube shape, seam side down. Cut into 15 cylinders (alternating the angle of the knife so you end up with vaguely triangular shapes) and press each point tightly into the centre with your finger. If that sounds confusing, click here for how-to photos from the original recipe.
Place the shaped cinnamon rolls on the baking sheets, spacing them about 5 cm / 2" apart. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise for further 30 minutes, or until they're double in size. Repeat with the second batch.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 225°C (435°F).
For the egg wash, lightly whisk the egg and add to it a teaspoon of water. Before baking, brush each roll with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar. Bake the rolls on the middle rack for 10–15 minutes, or until golden to dark brown in color. Repeat with the other sheets of rolls.