Bullar with Pappa

It wouldn’t feel right to start with anything else…apart from a post about ‘Tuna Pasta’, Cold Fried Egg Sandwiches, or the Tesco value cupboard that I grew up with. Those can wait though- It’s winter time and in Sweden that means it’s just another excuse to bake!

I’m half Swedish through my Dad (Pappa) although my Mum speaks Swedish fluently and loves the country for its nature, it’s national traditions and culture. So Hugo, Iz and I were brought up chanting ‘Ja mår han leva’ at every Birthday possible, we excitedly watched and read about Pippi Longström’s adventures, we fell asleep to tales of the Bullerby barn, Pappa tried to make us eat spoonfuls of butter and Kallas caviar and us girls pranced around the garden in clogs. I learnt very quickly not to care about what other people thought… even though that has probably more to do with my parents than being half Swedish.

It was only in 2008 when I went to live in Uppsala that I first read and understood the lyrics to the Swedish version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which we’d been phonetically singing all these years. It felt like such a revelation to finally read and understand sounds (because we’d never seen the words) that we’d grown up with. Deb had helped start up Lördag Skola which was a Saturday Swedish school for Swedish parents and their children in Bristol, and that’s where we took part in the seasonal events of Lucia, Påsk and Midsommar fest amongst others. It’s where we celebrated our ‘Swedishness’ with others through dancing, singing and eating.

I never feel more proud of my heritage though, or more close to it than when I take a tray of warm, caramelised ‘kanelbullar’ out of the oven. For me, it’s a taste of Sweden and a taste of ‘home’. These comforting, spiced bakes aren’t just an example of me exercising ‘my swedishness’ (although they are my signature bake) but they are in fact deeply engrained in the country’s food culture. Magnus Nilsson in ‘The Nordic Cook Book’ talks about the Scandinavian ‘taste chord’ as being aromatic and spicy due to a long history of spice imports since the 15o0’s of allspice, cloves, both white and black pepper, cardamom and cinnamon. Others place the spice trade with Scandinavia from the 13oo’s -introduced by the Crusaders and sustained by the Hanseatic League http://blogs.sweden.se/expat/tag/cardamom-cake These latter two spices are the key component in bullar which in English are translated as merely ‘buns’ ….but ‘Oh my God!’ they are so!much!more!!

The most popular buns are filled with cardamon or cinnamon butter and are often speckled with cardamon throughout the dough. They are eaten all through the year and are most commonly shaped into swirls, plaits or knots. The cardamon is green and freshly ground but I swear it never tastes the same in England as it does when I buy it in Sweden. Over there the pre-ground cardamon still smells and tastes as strong as when freshly ground over here?! On that note the grind should be fairly course rather than a smooth powder. They are baked with pearl sugar and always best eaten warm with a glass of cold (chocolate) milk. In Sweden they are traditionally part and parcel of ‘fika’ which is translated as a ‘snack break’ or ‘coffee break’ although I think nowadays people are less inclined to eat them so often. Pappa always jokes that “if the oven doesn’t set on fire, you haven’t put enough butter in!”

~Kanel Bullar Pappa’s Recipe~

Whisk 2 teaspoonfuls of dried yeast with a little warm water and wait a few minutes until bubbly. In a bowl mix 1kg of plain flour, 6 tablespoons of sugar and a good few pinches (this is a preference thing) of freshly ground green cardamon. Warm up 600 ml of milk to hotter than finger warm but not scolding ( I always use full fat but you can do half water half milk if you like- your choice of course) and add a knob of butter. (When mixing an enriched dough bakers normally add the butter last as the fat inhibits gluten development- however I haven’t noticed a difference either way for this recipe) Mix the dough until stretchy, supple and ‘windowpaning’. Leave this covered with a damp towel until doubled in size.

Mix your cinnamon paste- a mix of butter, sugar, cinnamon and icing sugar. Previously I have used the following measurements. 200g butter, 100g sugar, 50g icing sugar, 25g cinnamon.

When the dough is ready, roll it out into a large, thin rectangle, keeping it as neat as possible. Keep your surface and rolling pin floured so the dough doesn’t stick. If you find it hard to manage you can alway chill the dough in the fridge. Spread the paste all over and roll the dough into a long snake from bottom to top or top to bottom. Portion your dough- an inch is roughly a good size to go with but this is also a preference thing again. I often put my swirls in paper cases to make sure all the buttery paste stays with the bun rather than on the baking tray.

Set the oven to 200–220 degrees celsius. Let these now proof up a little until they look and feel like they have a bit of bounce to them. Keep them covered with a damp tea towel or mist them with a little water to keep them from skinning over. Just before they go in the oven egg wash them and sprinkle pearl sugar on the tops. The Swedish ‘Pärlsocker’ has a high melting point meaning the granules remain intact when baked, however I’ve come across other types which will need to be sprinkled on at the end. If this is the case you might want to make a sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water and heat until thickened) to coat the buns with and keep the sugar pearls from falling off. It also helps give a professional look, keeps them softer for longer and can be brushed on after baking also.

Lycka till! x

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