|Scandinavian sweet bun|
One of the reasons why I have fallen for the whole Nordic Noir thing is that this is a region that I know little about and a good Scandinavian thriller gives a real insight into these countries and the people.
The weather and beautiful yet forbidding landscape play a large part in this too and what I like about the writing is their cold, austerity which is interspersed with a subtle black humour, mocking the stereotype of the morose, hard-drinking Scandinavian, while delving into the dark underbelly of society.
Reading these books gives me some context about the region and I can relate them to my own understanding of wider issues such as the legacy of world wars or an obsession with national identity. Also, I am a bit nosy. I like to know what people's houses look like, or what people wear.
But for me, what really brings people alive is the food that they eat. I am well and truly fascinated. So like a previous post on Cuba's Leonardo Padura and a Cuban recipe of chicken with mojo sauce, I decided to create something Nordic in homage to Scandinavian books I love so much. One of my friends makes a Norwegian yeasted bun from a recipe that her mother-in-law gave her. They are delicious and I suspect are probably a variety of Skillingsboller (shilling buns) - sweet yeasted cardamom buns filled with fruit and nuts. I suspect but I just don't know, because my friend says they don't have a name, they are just "those sweet buns that mum makes". "OK, but you'll give me the recipe, won't you?" I should be so lucky, she finds it much more entertaining to keep me in suspense. Grrrrr.
So I went on a bit of my own detective mission and I came up with these spicy yeast buns with a little fruit, nuts and, of course, spices. They aren't too sweet, so you can really taste the lovely citrussy cardamom and warm cinnamon. I'm afraid it got me thinking of Christmas because they are so infused with gorgeous spice flavours.
If you're interested in who my favourite Scandinavian crime writers are, why don't you check out the following:
- From Denmark -Peter Høeg and Jussi Adler-Olsen
- From Finland - Jarkko Sipila and Monika Fagerholm
- From Iceland - Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Siguradottir
- From Finland - Thomas Enger, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, Gunnar Staalesen, K.O. Dahl and Anne Holt
- From Sweden - Johan Theorin, Henning Mankell, Åsa Larsson, Camilla Läckberg, Håkan Nesser, Åke Edwardson, Karin Alvtegen and Mari Jungstedt
Scandinavian sweet buns
Skill level: Medium
Makes about 18
500g plain flour
1 tbsp dried yeast (or fresh equivalent or 1 x sachet of fast acting dried yeast)
75g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 x egg, lightly whisked
75g unsalted butter, cut or grated into very small pieces
60g unsalted butter
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
100g raisins (soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then drained well)
100g chopped almonds
granuated sugar or crushed sugar lumps (for dusting)
- Put the raisins in a little hot water to soak for at least 20 minutes. After soaking you will need to ensure that they have been well drained.
- Activate the yeast according to the instructions. I put 1 teaspoon of sugar in a jug and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then stir well to ensure that the sugar has dissolved. Then top up with the rest of the (cold) water to reach 100 mililitres. Sprinkle over the dried yeast, whisk well and leave in a warm place to allow the yeast to activate. It will start to froth after about 15 to 20 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and stir through the salt so that it is well-distributed through the flour.
- Add the ground cardamom and whisked egg and start to combine with a wooden spoon.
- Give the yeast a quick stir, then add to the flour mixture and continue to combine, before adding the milk. Bring the mix together until you are ready to tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. You can knead by hand, using a hand-held mixer with a dough hook or with a kitchen mixer. Which ever method you use, the dough should be kneaded for about 10 minutes until the dough has become smooth and pliable.
- Now add the pieces of chopped or grated butter, a handful at a time. Continue to knead for another 5 to 10 minutes until all the butter has been worked through the dough and are completely combined. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a clean, dampened tea-towel and set aside to rise until this has doubled in size. (If you put the dough in the fridge, this can slowly rise overnight without damaging the dough).
- When the dough has risen, knock it back in the bowl (so that you remove most of the air bubbles, but be gentle!)
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a large rectangle. It should be about 5 milimetres thick.
- Prepare the filling by melting the sugar with the butter, then add the cinnamon and stir well to combine.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the cinnamon butter over the flour, leaving a margin of about 1 centimetre all around the dough.
- Evenly sprinkle over the raisins. Repeat this with the chopped almonds. Lightly press down with your hand to ensure that the mix sticks to the dough.
- You can brush the margins of the dough with beaten egg, milk or water to help the dough bind when rolling, but I don't usually bother.
- Roll up the dough from the longer edge, working towards the opposite border. You will now have a long spiral sausage which you can cut into equal sized pieces with a sharp knife. (A serrated knife seems to work best as it doesn't squash the buns). The best way to do this evenly is to divide your roll in half, then in half again.
- Grease and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Carefully place the buns, evenly spaced on the tray. Don't pack them in too closely as they need space to spread both in a second rise and while in the oven, where they will join together.
- Press each bun lightly in the middle so that they are slightly flatter in the centre. Cover and set aside for 1 hour to rise again.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C / Gas Mark 4.
- Brush each bun with a little beaten egg wash and sprinkle over some granulated or crushed lump sugar.
- Bake for about 15 minutes. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown.
- Set aside on a wire cooling rack to cool a little.
- Best served slightly warm, if you can wait long enough for them to cool down without burning your mouth!
- These don't really keep and are best on the day of baking, although will last 24 hours at a pinch.