How to make the perfect cardamom buns – recipe | Food


Outside cardamom’s native Asia, the biggest markets for this headily aromatic spice are the Arab world, where the crushed pods are commonly used to flavour coffee, and Scandinavia, where their contents flavour treats to go with coffee. In fact, it’s said that the average Swede consumes 60 times more cardamom than their American counterpart, mostly in the form of cakes, cookies and these gloriously sticky buns.

Kardemummabulle, which are usually shaped into elegant knots of dough, may be less famous internationally than the puffed-up cinnamon versions beloved across the pond, but I prefer their smaller size and zestier flavour. Easy to make, and fun to shape, they’re also the perfect Easter holiday project.

The flour

Bread flour and cinnamon: Leila Lindholm’s cardamom buns.
Bread flour and cinnamon: Leila Lindholm’s cardamom buns. Thumbnails by Felicity.

Bread flour is so called because its high protein content helps with gluten development, gluten being the thing that gives bread its springy texture, as opposed to the more delicate crumb of the average cake. Gluten also helps the dough trap air; bread made with plain flour, for example, tends to be denser as well as softer. The bun, therefore, presents us with a quandary: recipes using plain flour have a more tender interior, but sometimes don’t rise quite as well as those using bread or even 00 flour (that said, many recipes, such as Charlotte Druckmann’s for The New York Times, are American, and American plain flour tends to have a higher protein content than European plain flour, thanks to the different wheat involved).

I make perfectly good buns with both plain flour (Druckmann, Swedish baking blogger and author Martin Johansson); bread flour (Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, Swedish food writer Leila Lindholm and Danish cook and author Bronte Aurell); and very finely milled 00 flour (Danish food writer and cook Trine Hahnemann). But I like baker Sarah Lemanski’s mixture of strong and softer flours, which she uses at Nova Bakehouse in Leeds (which comes to me courtesy of baking enthusiast and journalist Felicity Spector), and which seem to offer a happy medium. If you have only one of them, however, don’t feel obliged to rush out and buy the other especially; just make up the same total weight of flour with it.

The raising agent

NOT sourdough yeast: Magnus Nilsson’s cardamom buns.
NOT sourdough yeast: Magnus Nilsson’s cardamom buns.

Fresh yeast, as used in Scandinavia, is trickier to come by in the UK, though any supermarket with an in-house bakery should be able to give you a tub. Happily, as with dried versus fresh pasta, there’s no difference in quality between fresh and dried yeast – you just need to use it slightly differently. Here’s a link to a conversion table to suit what you have; note that you’ll have to bloom fresh or dried yeast before use.

Interestingly, Andrea Geary of America’s Cooks Illustrated magazine tells me that she discovered that: “like cinnamon, cardamom has anti-fungal qualities that slow fermentation”, and suggests that the dough is so copiously spiced that one can up the yeast content to improve the rise without spoiling the flavour. And she’s right: this is one dough that can take it.

There are, of course, many no doubt excellent recipes for sourdough buns, but on this point I am with Nilsson, who writes in his Nordic Baking Book: “I love buns, and I love a great hand-kneaded, stone-oven baked wholegrain sourdough loaf, too. But they are different things, and what increases the greatness of one cannot necessarily always be said to do the same to the other … I want my bun to be made with added yeast and not sourdough, because it promises a fast-leavening process, which in turn leaves a lot of primary sweetness left in the flour itself. The inherent sweetness of processed flour is what gives that mild weariness, which acts as such an amazing foundation for the aroma of sweet spices like cinnamon and cardamom to shine on.” Sourdough cardamom buns may be delicious, but the simple sweetness of yeasted dough allows the spices to shine.

The fat

Half milk, half water: Martin Johansson’s cardamom buns.
Half milk, half water: Martin Johansson’s cardamom buns.

Most buns are made from an enriched dough, in which the basic flour, water and salt formula of bread is gilded with fat, in this case always butter and sometimes egg, with the water replaced by milk. (Johansson and West Yorkshire’s Triangle Bakehouse both use half milk, half water, which speeds up the fermentation time, but I think you lose a bit of softness in the dough, and I want these to feel like tucking into an unusually tasty feather duvet).

Both Aurell and Nilsson melt their butter before use, Johansson specifies cold butter, as if making a laminated dough for something such as a croissant, and everyone else uses it softened, with Triangle kneading the dough for several minutes before incorporating it. Although I get decent results from all of the above, which suggests to me it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, I call on Ian Lowe, late of Tasmania’s Apiece Bakery, for expert guidance. He kindly explains that “both melted and solid butter interfere with gluten cross-linking when added to dough, albeit in slightly different ways”, which indeed suggests that there’s no particular benefit in spending time rubbing in cold butter. (Interestingly, Lowe also suggests that, if I want a lighter, fluffier bread, I should increase the egg, decrease the milk and butter, use all plain flour and increase the sugar – at which point I decide that actually I miss the richness. Thanks for your help, though, Ian.)

Nilsson’s baking bible includes three sweet bun dough recipes, noting that the first, plainest one is the most traditional – “it is the one that has been on the back of the wheat flour packets since for ever”. It is, however, now losing ground to newer recipes, he says, “which are mostly a bit richer”. I try the first, which contains a similar amount of milk and sugar to Hahnemann’s, but no egg, to compare with recipes on a sliding scale of richness, though there’s surprisingly little variation in the amount of butter used. Eggs, however, are more divisive, with Nilsson, Druckmann and Johansson all eschewing them, while Lemanski adds extra-virgin olive oil to her dough instead, which gives an incredibly soft crumb, but less richness of flavour. Eggs seem to help with the fluff factor, though, so I’m going to keep them in; if you’d prefer a plainer bun, leave them out and add a little more milk to bring it to a soft dough. (It also seems to me that they would be relatively easy to veganise, but I haven’t tried it myself.)

A slow rise: Sarah Lemanski’s cardamom buns.
A slow rise: Sarah Lemanski’s cardamom buns.

The flavourings

Everyone adds a little sugar to the dough – though not too much: there should be a contrast between the bun and the filling – and most include salt, too. Nilsson says cardamom seeds in the dough itself are optional, but everyone uses them, and I’m not going to buck that trend; they give the bun a wonderful perfume and an attractively speckled appearance. (You can buy ready-ground cardamom, but it loses its aroma quickly, so I’m afraid I’d have to recommend doing the hard work yourself; Scandinavian suppliers sell cardamom husked, but removing the green pods is a pleasingly meditative activity as far as I’m concerned.)

The rise

A few recipes, including Johansson, Lemanski and the Triangle’s, recommend retarding the dough by leaving it to rise slowly in the fridge, rather than at room temperature, which, the Yorkshire bakery tells me: “will make the dough taste greeaaaat, and [is] easier for the final shape!”. With so much spice involved, I can’t really taste the difference, but I can attest it makes stretching and filling the dough an awful lot less faff, because the dough is firmer and so more amenable to being topped with butter. It also makes timing a bit easier, because you can, to a certain extent, choose when to bake it, as opposed to being at the mercy of your yeast. They also, in my experience, rise slightly better, but the difference is not significant.

The filling

More butter, obviously, and more sugar – white is common, but Lemanski and Aurell’s mix of brown and white brings a lovely, caramel flavour with it, while Aurell’s teaspoon of flour seems to help bind it, so less melts out of the buns during baking. (Not that that’s really a bad thing, given that it creates a crispy frill of toffee on the baking sheet, but I can see that, technically, that might be considered a fault.) Aurell and Lindholm also add cinnamon, and, in the former’s case, vanilla sugar to their fillings, and no doubt you could also put in ginger, or lemon zest, or anything else that pairs happily with cardamom, if you had a fancy to, but I’m sticking with cardamom.

The shaping

Bronte Aurell: melts the butter for her cardamom buns
Lovely caramel flavour: Bronte Aurell ‘s buns.

Cardamom buns are generally knotted, rather than rolled like the cinnamon sort. The principal difficulty with shaping is conveying the instructions in writing; I try several methods, and find Aurell’s video, for the buns made every day at her London shop and cafe, the ScandiKitchen, to be the easiest to follow, though, in fact, I, being not the most dextrous with dough at the best of time, eventually opt for the more common braided version, which yields more impressive-looking results in even the least talented of hands. (Aurell also gives instructions on her website for making them like cinnamon rolls, should you be looking for something a bit simpler.)

To finish

Egg wash, though not mandatory (it does leave you with leftovers, which I dislike, but you can make fried rice with them, or indeed a tiny omelette for a dog), gives the buns a handsome, bronzed look, while a glaze – a simple sugar syrup, such as that favoured by Aurell and Johansson, or golden syrup (Lindholm and Nilsson) will provide the requisite stickiness, as well as increasing the buns’ shelf life. You could go all out and finish them off with cardamom sugar, as Nilsson suggests, or flaky vanilla sea salt, as Lemanski recommends, but I’m not entirely sure you need to; I do rather like the crunch of Aurell’s chopped hazelnuts, though.

Felicity’s hybrid Swedish cardamom buns.
Felicity’s hybrid Swedish cardamom buns.

The buns are best eaten on the day of baking, though if you glaze them, they will stay good for a couple of days; in the unlikely event that you have leftovers after that, they make excellent bread-and-butter pudding, too. Dare I say it, but who needs hot cross buns?

Perfect cardamom buns

Prep 20 min
Proof 5-12 hr
Cook 15 min
Makes 16-18

1 tbsp cardamom seeds (from about 35 husked pods), or 2 tsp ground cardamom, if you really must
250ml milk
75g butter
, cubed
250g strong white bread flour
200g plain flour
½-1 tsp salt
30g caster sugar
9g
fast-action yeast
1 egg
, beaten

The filling
100g butter, softened
1 tsp flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
(from about 12 husked pods)
50g soft light brown sugar
50g caster or granulated sugar
A good pinch of salt

To finish
1 egg, beaten
50g sugar

Grind the cardamom seeds relatively finely in a mortar or spice grinder; a few coarser bits are no bad thing.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 1a: Grind the cardamom seeds relatively finely in a mortar or spice grinder; a few coarser bits are no bad thing.

Heat the milk to just below boiling point, then add the cardamom and butter, and leave to cool to blood temperature (about 37C).

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 2a: Heat the milk to just below boiling point, then add the cardamom and butter, and leave to cool to blood temperature (about 37C).

Whisk the flours, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl or food mixer, then add the milk and butter once it’s cool enough.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 3b. Whisk together the flours, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl or food mixer, and then, once it’s cool enough,then add the milk and butter once it’s cool enough.

Mix until well combined, then add the egg to bring it all together into a soft, but coherent dough; it should be a little sticky, but not too wet to handle.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 3d. Mix until well combined, and then add the egg to bring it all together into a soft, but coherent dough; it should be a little sticky, but not too wet to handle. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and comes cleanly away from the bottom of the bowl (or work surface, if you’re kneading by hand); it doesn’t matter if it then sticks again.

Knead the dough until it’s smooth and comes cleanly away from the bottom of the bowl (or work surface, if you’re kneading by hand); it doesn’t matter if it then sticks again.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 4b

Cover and leave for an hour to get going, then put in the fridge for four to 12 hours (if you’d prefer to bake as soon as possible, keep it at room temperature until it’s grown considerably, though it may not quite double in size).

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 5a – mix together all the filling ingredients and line two baking trays.

Meanwhile, mix all the filling ingredients and line two baking trays.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 5b: Once the dough is ready, put it on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a roughly 50cm x 30cm rectangle about 50 x 30cm, with the short edge facing you.

Once the dough is ready, put it on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a roughly 50cm x 30cm rectangle, with the short edge facing you.

Step 5c: Spread the filling all over the surface (this is easiest with a butter or palette knife, or similar, but you can also use your hands).

Spread the filling all over the surface (this is easiest with a butter or palette knife, or similar, but you can also use your hands).

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 6a. Fold the top third of the dough into the middle, then fold the bottom third up on top of it, as if folding a letter.

Fold the top third of the dough into the middle, then fold the bottom third up on top of it, as if folding a letter.

Step 6b: Turn the dough 90 degrees, then roll it out again, this time to about 50cm x 20cm, and cut horizontally into roughly 2½cm-wide strips.

Turn the dough 90 degrees, roll it out again, this time to about 50cm x 20cm, and cut into roughly 2½cm-wide strips.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 7a. Cut the strips almost, but not quite, in half widthways, so they look a bit like pairs of trousers, stretch the “legs” slightly, then twist these strips together like plaits.

Cut the strips almost, but not quite, in half widthways, so they look a bit like pairs of trousers, stretch the “legs” slightly, then twist them together like plaits.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 7c. Wind each plait into a coil around your finger, tucking the end through the middle to secure.

Wind each plait into a coil around your finger, tucking the end through the middle to secure. (I would strongly recommend watching a video online before starting, though it’s not difficult, and there are other, equally valid techniques.)

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – step 8a. Arrange the buns, well spaced out, on the lined trays, cover and leave to rise again for an hour.

Arrange the buns, well spaced out, on the lined trays, cover and leave to rise again for an hour. Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7, then brush the buns with egg and bake for 13-15 minutes, until golden; swap the trays around halfway through baking, so the buns all bake evenly.

Felicity Cloake’s perfect cardamom buns – done.

Meanwhile, heat the sugar with 50ml water, stirring until dissolved. When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with this syrup while they’re still hot. Before serving, you could also sprinkle them with some granulated sugar mixed with a little ground cardamom for extra crunch.

  • Are cardamom buns the Scandinavian world’s best-kept secret; and, at the risk of provoking rivalry between friends, which country makes your favourite? And what other great dishes celebrate this much-misunderstood spice?



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