In Sweden, October 4th is Kanelbullens dag, which makes the humble cinnamon bun the only baked item I know to have an officially sanctioned holiday. To be fair, it’s not the most long-standing of national holidays, having been dreamed up in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council. But this year, as it happens, it coincided with a cold and rainy Sunday morning here in London, so no possibility of my usual tennis game. How better to spend the morning than with a bit of traditional baking?
The basics of the cinnamon bun are straightforward enough: make a slightly sweetened bread-like dough enriched with butter, milk and (in many recipes) egg, let it rise, roll it flat and spread with a butter/sugar/cinnamon filling. At this point, you have two choices: for the traditional cinnamon roll, you roll it into a sausage; for the cinnamon twist or knot (kanelknutar), you start with a book fold and do a tricky looking twisting trick. I went for the simple roll.
Just about anywhere in Sweden, the buns would be garnished with the little white sugar nibs known as “pearl sugar”, and in many places, it would be brushed with a syrup glaze after baking. My sweet tooth isn’t what it was, so I’ve omitted both of these. For added puffiness, however, I’ve followed an American blog called “True North Kitchen” and used an Asian pre-dough technique called Tangzhong, which helps to keep the buns stay soft for several days after baking.
The Tangzhong (or “water roux”)
- 75 ml milk
- 75 ml water
- 30g strong white flour
- Whisk the ingredients together in a saucepan, getting as many lumps out as you can
- Heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking frequently. Make sure you get rid of lumps as they appear.
- Keep heating for a couple more minutes – there shouldn’t be any taste of raw flour left – and then remove from the heat and set aside.
- 75g butter
- 8g yeast
- 30g sugar
- 6g salt
- 400g flour
- Ground cardamom to taste (I started with whole pods and shelled and ground my own in a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1g, which was fine)
- 125ml milk
- 1 egg
- Melt the butter and leave to cool
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, evenly mix the yeast, sugar, salt, flour and cardamom
- Warm the milk to lukewarm (around 40℃)
- Add the milk, egg, melted butter and tangzhong to the dry mix. Stir until combined into a smooth dough (either with a wooden spoon or the standard paddle of your mixer.
- Knead for around 5 minutes with the dough hook.
- Leave to rise until you have a light, puffy dough: this took a couple of hours in a not particularly warm autumn kitchen, but will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen
Preheat the oven to 225℃
- 75g butter, softened
- 75g brown sugar
- 4g flour
- 5g cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- Combine all the ingredients and stir until you have a smooth, even dark brown paste.
- Make sure it’s soft enough to spread thinly and easily: 30 seconds in the microwave is a good way of doing this. There’s no point in tearing your dough because you had lumps in the filling.
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon of milk
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board until you have a thin rectangle around 50cm x 40cm – try and be as accurately rectangular as you can manage, otherwise (as you’ll see from my photos) the two buns at the end will be rather conical and rather shorter of filling.
- Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together until smooth
- Slice the dough into sixteen even slices.
- Prepare two baking trays and array eight buns on each one. If you have paper bun cases, use them: they help the buns keep their shape. If not, make sure the trays are properly greased.
- Brush some egg wash over each bun
- Bake the buns until golden brown: this should take around 8-10 minutes; if you did both trays at the same time in the oven, the bottom tray will need a couple of minutes longer.
- Cool on a wire rack.