December 6, 2022
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On December 13, Swedes celebrate St. Lucia's Day in a festival of lights at this darkest time of year. Among the baked goods traditionally served are ginger cookies called pepparkakor and saffron buns known as lussekatter. But there's another spiced Swedish bun worth trying around the holidays as well: kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns whose dough is fragrant with cardamom. They are thus less sweet and more nuanced in flavor than the iced cinnamon buns Americans know.
This America's Test Kitchen recipe for kanelbullar utilizes a technique from East Asia called tangzhong, which involves slightly cooking some of the flour and liquid of a yeasted dough before combining it with everything else. This not only makes the dough less sticky and thus easier to work with; it also causes it to rise more and retain moisture while baking.
Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)
We strongly recommend using a scale to measure the flour. It’s well worth seeking out cardamom seeds at a South Asian market or online. Alternatively, crack open whole green cardamom pods and remove the seeds yourself. Coarsely grind the seeds using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Watching our video is helpful when learning how to shape the buns. Swedish pearl sugar is available online; you can substitute turbinado sugar (sometimes sold as Sugar in the Raw) if you prefer, though it may soften on the buns during storage.
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (1 oz) bread flour
1/2 cup milk, chilled
2 cups (11 ozs) bread flour
1 tbsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ozs) granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt
6 tbsps unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened
2 tsps cardamom seeds, ground coarse
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ozs) granulated sugar
6 tbsps unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsps ground cinnamon
1 tbsp bread flour
1/4 tsp table salt
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp water and pinch table salt
1/4 cup Swedish pearl sugar
1. For the flour paste: Whisk milk and flour in small bowl until no lumps remain. Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture has thick, stiff consistency, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. For the dough: In bowl of stand mixer, whisk flour paste and milk until smooth. Add flour and yeast. Fit mixer with dough hook and mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 1 to 2 minutes (dough will look quite dry). Let stand for 15 minutes. Add sugar and salt and mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. Stop mixer and add butter and cardamom. Continue to mix on medium-low speed 5 minutes longer, scraping down dough hook and sides of bowl halfway through mixing (dough may stick to bottom of bowl but should clear sides).
3. Lightly grease 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Transfer dough to prepared pan (scrape bowl but do not wash). Flip dough, then press and stretch dough until it reaches edges of pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. While dough chills, make filling.
4. For the filling: Add all ingredients to now-empty mixer bowl. Fit mixer with paddle and mix on low speed until fully combined, about 1 minute.
5. Line 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to well-floured counter. Roll dough into 18 by 10-inch rectangle, with shorter side parallel to edge of counter. Using offset spatula, spread filling over lower two-thirds of rectangle, going all the way to edges (if filling is too stiff to spread, transfer to smaller bowl and microwave for 5 to 10 seconds). Fold upper third of dough over middle third. Fold lower third over middle third to create 6 by 10-inch rectangle. Roll into 12-inch square.
6. Cut dough into twelve 1-inch strips. Cut each strip in half length-wise, leaving it attached at very top (each strip will look like a pair of legs). Extend 1 strip to 24-inch length, but do not stretch. Starting at 1 end, wrap strip around tips of your first 3 fingers, loosely coiling strands side by side along length of your fingers. Continue to wrap loosely until you have just 4 to 6 inches left. Use your thumb to pin dough to side of bundle closest to you, then loop remaining strip over bundle. Transfer to prepared sheet, tucking end of strip under bun. Repeat with remaining strips. Cover sheet with plastic or damp dish towel. Let sit until slightly puffed, about 1 hour.
7. About 15 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush buns with egg mixture (you won’t need all of it) and sprinkle 1 teaspoon pearl sugar on top of each bun. Bake until buns are golden brown and register at least 200 degrees, 13 to 17 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer buns, still on sheet, to wire rack and let sit for 5 minutes. Use spatula to transfer buns to wire rack (some filling may leak out and form crisp frill around bun). Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. (Buns can be cooled completely and stored in zipper-lock bag at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks.)