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Monday 23rd May, 2011.

Let's fika

It was a rainy day that cried out for the scent of baking and something sweet to eat so I searched the internet for inspiration. Actually I searched for a Chelsea bun recipe but as soon as my fingers hit the keyboard my mind went blank, I couldn’t think of the name. I typed in Danish pastries, sticky rolls, spiced raisin bread, hoping the forgotten buns might pop up in the search, alas no luck. Instead I found myself sitting in my apron opening sweet bread recipes from around the globe. One such recipe leapt out because it contained cardamom and give me an excuse to crack open those pistachio green husks to release that sweet potent scent and I challenge anyone to stop me.

The recipe was for Kanelbullar which are slightly sweet Swedish spiced rolls for eating with coffee. Kanel translates as cinnamon and bullar or bulle, are rolls or buns.
Since making them, a whole new culture has opened to me. As soon as I warmed the milk, stirred in sugar, crushed cardamom seeds and yeast I knew there must be more to Kanelbullar. The perfumed yeasty custard filled the house with an atmosphere akin to bringing home a new baby. A mixture of Cleopatra’s baths and Johnsons’ baby powder, sophisticated, fundamentally gorgeous, comforting. I imagined the aroma I breathed in, permeating through Scandinavian households and coffee shops throughout generations. The warm soft cardamom dough I kneaded in my small Lincolnshire kitchen connected me to another nation of people.
The delicacy of the ingredients and the slow method, hinted that Sweden's culture values more than just a ‘naughty but nice’ approach to cake. To invent Kanelbullar there must be an intrinsic worth paid to the cafĂ©/coffee culture. Relaxing, talking and taking time to be in a moment with a focus and a friend.
It might sound farfetched to get all this from a lump of dough, but believe me this is no ordinary dough. I spoke to my friend about the experience (over coffee and cake of course) and she told me that her Swedish friend calls it fika. On further reading I learnt that fika is the act of creating a time to relax with a cup of coffee, friends and a selection of sweet breads, Kanelbullar being one. It's part of  Swedish culture that the cardamom dough had so strongly evoked.  I like Sweden, any country that has a verb for having coffee and cake gets my vote. Here’s the recipe. Let’s fika!

This will make around 40 rolls, so you might want to halve the amounts. I make the whole lot and give them to everyone and anyone.

Cardamom dough 

600 ml whole milk
350 grams unsalted melted butter
225 grams caster sugar (add more if you if like, this recipe only hints at sweetness)
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom (from about 25 pods)
2 packs dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
1 kilo strong flour (use the best you can lay your hands on)

  • Heat milk, turning off heat when it reaches scalding point (with small bubbles across the top)
  • Stir in melted butter, sugar, salt, and ground cardamom. (there is no word for how delectable this mixture tastes, I have to be careful not to guzzle the lot)
  • Let mixture cool until “finger-warm” then stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Add flour into mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time until dough is firm and pulls away from the side of your mixing bowl.
  • Cover the dough with a plastic bag or tea towel and let rise until doubled.
  • When risen punch down dough before removing from bowl, tip out onto a floured surface and knead dough lightly until smooth and shiny. 

    Kanelbullar filling

    80 grams unsalted melted butter
    150 grams caster sugar
    4 tablespoons cinnamon
    2 tsp ground cardamom


    Pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes, flaked almonds or crushed pistachios.
    Beaten egg for egg wash.

    • Divide your cardamom dough into two halves.
    • Roll each half of dough into a 30cm by 45cm rectangle.
    • Brush each rectangle well with melted butter.
    • Combine sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and sprinkle evenly over the 2 rectangles. Roll each rectangle crosswise, like a swiss roll, to form a 45cm long roll.
    • Using a sharp knife cut each roll into 20 equal slices.
    • Place each slice into a paper cupcake wrapper and place on baking sheet. Cover with plastic bag or tea towel and allow to double in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 220C. 

      • Brush risen cinnamon rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar and or almonds or pistchios.
      • Place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes, or until done.


        1. Something to go with Earl Grey tea please!

        2. I needed more sugar but I enjoyed trying cardamom for the first time. I also love the bread-like quality of this treat. I think we are so used to eating either flaky pastry or thick cakes that anything bread like is considered a mistake. Will definitely make again.

        3. Fantastic photos and lovely writing, this really cheered up my sunday in the kitchen, looking forward to your next post.