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The Cinnamon Bun for Cardamom Lovers

Plenty of cinnamon in the filling makes these buns worthy of their name, but the coarsely ground cardamom in the dough makes them quintessentially Swedish.
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Published Nov. 22, 2021.

The gooey icing; plush crumb; and warm, sweet swirl of American cinnamon buns makes them a hall-of-fame breakfast treat. But after developing a recipe for the Swedish kind, called kanelbullar, I may never go back.

Besides cinnamon, the Swedish buns are swirled with the bold menthol-y, citrusy punch of cardamom. They’re also less sweet than American cinnamon buns. And instead of a thick slather of icing, they’re sprinkled with crunchy nubbins of Swedish pearl sugar that complement the crumb’s tender, fluffy texture and allow its buttery flavor to shine.

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Kanelbullar are a favorite feature of the coffee breaks called fika that Swedes enjoy with friends, family, or colleagues, often multiple times a day. I love the idea of sharing these buns in a social setting—but I also find it pretty satisfying to hunker down on my own with a couple as I enjoy my morning coffee.

My Swedish cinnamon bun recipe has a couple of key features:

  • I incorporate a cooked flour-and-milk paste, called tangzhong, into the dough, which traps moisture so the high-hydration dough isn’t sticky or difficult to work with. The water in the dough converts to steam during baking, which makes the buns fluffy and light.
  • For a lavishly spiced treat, I use plenty of cinnamon in the filling and coarsely ground cardamom seeds in the dough. These are far more potent than commercially ground cardamom, and are well worth seeking out at a South Asian market or online.
  • I refrigerate the dough for an hour, which allows the flour to fully absorb moisture and the butter to firm up, making the dough easier to handle. Preshaping it in a baking pan makes it easier to roll out and form into intricate knot shapes later.

To learn more about kanelbullar, go to my longer story on the topic. And this book is a great source for delving more into the Swedish custom of fika.  

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