It's safe to say that I am enamored with all things Scandinavian. Their take on cinnamon buns is no exception. Kannelbullar, Swedish cinnamon buns, are one of my favorite things to bake. They are a perfect everyday kind of treat - cheerful on a bright and chilly March morning, comforting on a cold November afternoon, and delightful every day in between. They are not at all difficult, though they do require a bit more effort than American-style cinnamon buns, only because you add the step of forming them into knots and egg-washing them before baking. Making them is an enjoyable kind of work and the payoff at the end is well worth the extra effort. Like many Kannelbullar recipes, I like to add cardamom to the dough, which gives the flavor extra depth and compliments the cinnamon in the filling. The dough is lightly sweet and the filling is rich with butter and cinnamon. They are traditionally topped with Swedish pearl sugar, but when I first made them I didn't have any on hand and so I used a sparkling sugar that I usually use to top muffins. I liked the end result, so now I regularly use sparkling sugar for my topping. The buns are pretty, even if mine always seem to be slightly unruly and not especially uniform. There is perfection in imperfection.
My recipe is very slightly adapted from this wonderful video on how to make Kannelbullar. It yields 8-10 buns, depending on the size of your final log of dough when you slice it to form the buns. I never bother to measure the dough when I roll it out. I eyeball it as I go, so I am prone to variance in the final number of buns.
For the buns:
- 1 c. lukewarm whole milk (add a little cream or butter to low-fat milk if needed)
- 5 Tbsp. butter
- 3 ½ c. flour
- 1 ¾ tsp. yeast
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1+ tsp. cardamom (add more than 1 tsp. if you like)
For the filling: (measurements are approximate)
- 1/3 c. butter, softened
- 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1 egg
- Course sugar or Swedish sugar pearls
Heat the milk and butter together in a small sauce pan, or in small bowl on low power in the microwave, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and let the butter and milk cool to lukewarm. Mix together the flour, sugar, yeast and cardamom in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter and milk mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine. The dough will likely seem quite wet but unless it is really more like batter than dough, avoid adding extra flour. I use my hands at this point, as the video suggests, so I can feel the dough and get the consistency I want. I begin to work the dough while it is still in the bowl. It should feel very soft and a little sticky at first, but as you work it the stickiness will start to ease up. If it is too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time but be careful not to add too much. Too much flour makes the dough hard and dry when the buns are baked, instead of staying nice and soft. When the dough has lost its stickiness, I dump it onto the counter, without extra flour, and knead it for about 10 minutes. If you notice the dough is fighting you and not becoming stretchy, let it rest, covered, about 10 minutes. This will let the dough relax and when you go back to it, it will be softer and more compliant. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise until doubled, one to two hours.
Once the dough has risen, remove from the bowl. Knead the dough a few times, let rest a few minutes covered, and then roll into a large rectangle to spread on the filling. Measurements for the filling are approximate. I never measure my filling. I start with about a half a stick of softened butter and spread it on the dough using a butter knife or offset spatula. I sprinkle sugar over the butter and the cinnamon over that. My family prefers the buns to be a little bit light on the cinnamon, but use as much as suits your tastes. Leave a small margin at the edges of the rectangle so that it will seal when rolled up. From here, you can either roll the rectangle into a log and slice, like classic American cinnamon buns, or you can shape them like Swedish buns. To shape them in the Swedish style, fold your rectangle the long way in thirds, like folding a letter. Use your rolling pin to press the layers of the “letter” together and flatten slightly. Slice the new, thin rectangle into 2” wide sections and slice each section in the middle, about ¾ of the way up the piece of dough, like you are making legs. (See photo.) Stretch and twist each of the “legs” and form into a knot with the twisted parts on top. This is not as difficult as it sounds and is very forgiving, so be a little creative and don’t worry about having perfect form. Place each formed bun onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a couple of inches between buns as they spread in the oven, and allow the buns to rest and rise for about ½ an hour.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. If you like, you can brush each bun with an egg wash (crack an egg and break up with a fork, then use a pastry brush to apply the egg to the tops of the buns) and sprinkle with course sugar or Swedish pearl sugar. Bake buns for 12-14 minutes, keeping a close eye on them. When they are golden brown and baked through, remove from oven and let cool on a rack until they are cool enough to eat. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Buns are best eaten the day they are baked, but will keep for a day or two.