After looking for cinnamon buns (not rolls!) everywhere here in Wroclaw (and not finding them), I decided to make them at home! Making kanelbullar is not difficult, though you need patience to yield the best results. Here’s my new favourite recipe for Swedish-style twisted cinnamon buns.
Traditional Swedish kanelbullar (lit. cinnamon buns) are twisted little knots of perfectly soft and chewy cardamom dough, filled with a buttery cinnamon-sugar filling. They are considered the national pastry of Sweden and celebrated every year on 4th October with Kanelbullens dag.
Cinnamon rolls and cinnamon buns are different types of pastries, both usually eaten at breakfast with coffee or tea. These pastries are often confused: they are similar in taste, but very different in appearance.
The American style cinnamon roll is shaped in a spiral with a thick layer of sugar icing on top. If you like this kind of pastries, you can try my recipe for Orange Glazed Rolls with marzipan and candied orange peel.
Swedish cinnamon buns are more briochelike. Typically twisted, the dough is then tied into little knots filled with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Finally, the buns are sprinkled with crunchy pearl sugar.
Swedish kanelbulle dough typically contains cardamom spice, which gives it a distinctive intense flavour.
A few years later, I travelled to West Sweden on a press trip that was mostly focused on food and specifically in learning about fika. Fika is the Swedish tradition of taking a break (several times a day) with coffee and often cake. Over three days, I tried many different cinnamon buns! My favourite ones were in Alingsås, a small town just 40 minutes from Gothenburg which is considered the Fika Capital of Sweden, and in Gothenburg at Da Matteo Coffee Roasters.
Because I am a perfectionist and I have tasted some of the best cinnamon buns in Sweden, I knew that re-creating the much-loved Swedish pastry at home was always going to be a challenge. The secret to the perfect cinnamon bun is the dough, which should be soft and chewy. To make the dough, I used a recipe for “cinnamon scrolls” featured in Bread Ahead Bakery cookbook.
The dough is kneaded with a hint of cardamom, but if you’d like you could also add ground cardamom to the filling. I made my own cardamom powder by emptying out the green pods and finely-grinding the seeds in a pestle and mortar.
Once you have prepared the dough, the key ingredient to add the right taste to your kanelbullar is cinnamon. It’s very important that you use high quality ground cinnamon. It should be fresh and full of its aromas (check the expiry date on the package: after 2-3 years in the cupboard your cinnamon powder will lose potency and flavour).
The tricky part of this recipe, at first, is making the “knots”, thought you will learn the technique quickly (there are many tutorials online). Remember, they don’t need to be perfect and no matter how you twist the dough, the buns will taste delicious!
For the filling, I combined butter with two types of sugar (light brown and dark muscovado), vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. I say, make a little bit of extra filling if you really love a strong spice flavour. I would have liked a bit more cinnamon, but my husband said these cinnamon buns were absolutely perfect. So it’s really down to your personal taste.
Note: I used fresh yeast, but you can substitute it with active dry yeast.
Yields 14 large buns.
For the dough
- 300g full fat milk
- 80g caster sugar
- 10g fresh yeast
- 2g fine sea salt
- 3 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
- 100g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 50g rye flour
- olive oil, for the bowl
For the filling
- 140g butter unsalted, softened
- 50g light brown sugar
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 20g ground cinnamon
For the topping
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp of milk
- 5 tbsp pearl sugar
To make the dough, put the milk, sugar, yeast, salt, ground and crushed cardamom, melted butter and egg, plus yolk, into a large bowl and whisk together for just 30 seconds. Gradually add the flour and mix with one hand until it is all incorporated into a dough.
Scrape the dough off your hand back into the bowl, then scrape the fairly sticky dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. Set the bowl aside, as you will need it later. Knead the dough (folding and turning) for about 6 minutes. Form lightly into a ball and cover with a tea towel, then leave for 10 minutes to relax.
Grease the bowl with olive oil, then reshape the dough into a round and place it in the centre of the bowl.
Stretch and fold the dough, leave it to rest for 30 minutes, then give the dough two more folds, resting for 30 minutes each time. Between folds you will need to cover the bowl with cling film, a tea towel or a shower cap. After the final fold, put the dough into the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up before rolling out.
To make the filling, beat the softened butter, sugars, vanilla and cinnamon together in a bowl until combined.
Take the dough out of the fridge and transfer it onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a rectangle about 50cm x 40cm. Spread the filling evenly, then fold the dough into thirds like a business letter (to create three layers).
Cut out strips of dough (about 2 cm wide). Hold a strip of dough with your hands and stretch it a little. Twist it about three times. Push an end of the dough strip onto the counter and use the other hand to wrap the dough around itself into a bun. Tuck the remaining end under the dough to seal the knot.
Place the dough knots on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Repeat this step with the remaining dough. Cover the buns with a tea towel and leave them to rise for about 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to fan 190C. Brush the buns with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
Bake the proved buns for 13-15 minutes, until lightly browned.Remove from the oven and transfer them on to a wire rack to cool down.