Blog Flog: This post was sponsored by Alberta Wheat. Thanks for growing delicious things, and supporting this space!
So I’ve seen these twisted Scandinavian cinnamon rolls in pictures over the years, and have always been fascinated with them – they’re like genteel cinnamon buns, not as gooey and unwieldy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and are irresistibly pretty, like elaborately twisted knots. They’re called kanelbullar, or sometimes kardemummabullar if they’re spiked with cardamom (which they should be). Since the best part about the holidays is the baking, I figured now was the time to give them a go. I’ve already made them twice in a week, and have plans to stack some of the filled, flat pieces of dough in the freezer to pull out, twist and bake on Christmas morning.
People have been asking for weeks if I’ve finished my holiday baking yet, as if it’s a project that needs to be neatly done and tucked away well in advance of Christmas. I never quite understand this question, because isn’t holiday baking something you do throughout the holidays? It’s not like Christmas shopping, which pretty much needs to be wrapped up (literally) by Christmas eve. I understand that fruitcakes are often made back in October, to be given an adequate number of weeks to douse in booze, but in my mind the rest of the baking – the cookies, squares, Turtle-stuffed shortbread, stollen, panettone, mince pies, butter tarts, homemade Raincoast crisps, Parker House rolls – these are in constant rotation in and out of the oven throughout the month of December.
Of course there are the things I make once a year, so many recipes that stay the same. Some of them evolve, of course – I try to expand my fruitcake horizons, and a few weeks ago I gave plum pudding a go in the slow cooker. Most years I take something new for a spin, just to try some new bread or pastry to see if it’s worth bringing into the annual Christmas fold.
When it comes to baking during the holidays, there are a ridiculous and endless number of things to be made. And of course being in Alberta, we have some of the best raw materials to work with, including wheat – our largest crop and the basis for so many of these things, and yet an ingredient we largely take for granted. I have a sack of unbleached all-purpose flour from Highwood Crossing in High River in my kitchen, and anticipate going through all of it in the coming weeks. Rather than have a big flour canister on my countertop, I have an enormous bin in a pull-out drawer, I go through so much of the stuff.
Like other ingredients, good-quality flour makes a difference, particularly when you’re baking bread. I’m into the rhythm of it again, having revived an old sourdough starter and begun mixing up batches of no-knead dough on the regular to bake in a hot, covered pot for an unbelievably crackly crust. (I’ve used the same formula for olive bread with rosemary, and it makes an amazingly chewy pizza crust.) But that’s just the day to day stuff – in winter, on those days when the light stays so low it seems like dusk starting at around 2pm, I like to spend more time in the kitchen, and rolling and kneading a nice, soft dough rich with sugar, butter and eggs on a floury board is one of the biggest stress reducers.
This year, kanelbullar with cardamom has become my new thing – you roll soft dough into rectangles, spread it with a paste of soft butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, then fold it up like a letter, give it another quick roll and cut into long strips you then twist, roll around your fingers and tuck under itself. (There’s a great visual by British food writer Izy Hossack here.) It’s the sort of thing you can play with until you get a handle on, and even if it’s wonky, they’ll still look great.
I feel like the one thing people who aren’t yet comfortable with handling yeast doughs tend to do is add too much flour – you want the dough to still be tacky. If it’s too sticky to knead, and you have to scrape it off your fingers, it’s too sticky, but it should be tacky, and will smooth out as the dough has time to rest and rise a bit. Better to err on the side of not quite enough than too much.
I’m hoping these will stick in W’s mind, that he’ll remember me making them on special occasions the way moms do, and teaching him how to twist them too.
Can I also point out the potential for other flavours here? Chocolate paste, babka-style? Garlicky butter and grated aged Gouda? Pesto? There are so many things you can spread onto rich yeast dough and twist up into a bun. (I’ve never been able to twist my own hair up into a bun – it’s gratifying to be able to at least do it with dough.) A quick brush with beaten egg will make these deeper golden and glossy, and you want to forego the pearl sugar or sliced almonds on top, just sprinkle the finished rolls with icing sugar. And if you want to assemble them the night before and bake them in the morning, slide the filled and rolled sheets into the fridge overnight, then twist and shape them while the oven preheats in the morning.
These are so wonderfully tender and amazing, and best soon after they’re baked – although I have a few in the freezer, and successfully reheated part of my first batch the next day. Yum.
Thanks again to Sponsored by Alberta Wheat Commission’s Life’s Simple Ingredient for helping me share the love!