Swedish Cinnamon Buns (Kanelbullar)

Right of the bat you’ll see the word TANGZHONG in the recipe and you might ask yourself what the heck is tangzhong? In a nut-shell it’s the method of pre-cooking a portion of the flour and liquid. This gelatinizes the starches in the flour, transforming the two ingredients into a viscous paste (think papier-mâché).

It is then cooled and added to the remaining ingredients. Sometimes it’s referred to as a roux starter, water roux or yudane. This mixture traps more water in the dough which creates a bread that is more more tender and somewhat more shelf-stable. Feel free to google the word for pages and pages of additonal information.

David Schmit Photography

For the Tangzhong:
5 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the Dough:
5 tablespoons (2.5 oz) unsalted butter
½ cup (4 oz) whole milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
¼ cup (2 oz) granulated sugar
3 cups + 2 tablespoons (14 oz) bread flour
1 teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt
1 large egg, room temperature
Cooled tangzhong

For the Filling:
5 tablespoons (2.5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
Pinch of fine salt
4 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the Egg Wash and Topping:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Pearl sugar for topping

Make the tangzhong: Combine water, milk and flour in a medium saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook mixture, whisking constantly, until thickened, no lumps remain and forms a paste, about 1-2 minutes. Remove to the bowl of a stand mixer to cool.

In the same saucepan heat milk and butter, allowing the butter to melt. Allow to cool slightly then add to the tangzhong and whisk until combined and cooled to about 100 degrees F. 

Make the dough: When the combined tangzhong and milk/butter mixture has cooled set a seive over the bowl and sift together the yeast, cardamom, sugar, flour and salt. Attach the dough hook to the mixer. Mix on medium low until fully combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Increase mixer speed to medium and knead mixture for 4 – 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and clears the side of the bowl.  It’s okay if a bit of dough sticks to the bottom of the bowl. You can also mix and knead the dough by hand but it will take longer, more like 8-10 minutes.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour or until 1 ½ or 2 times its original size. Once the dough has risen take and pull the outer part of the ball of dough up and over the middle of the ball about eight times (this is the equivalant to “punching  down” the dough but in a much gentler fashion). Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning in a small bowl make the filling. Remove dough from the bowl and place it onto a clean countertop. Roll out with a rolling pin until it is in the shape of a rectangle that is about 16 by 20 inches in size. The dough should be smooth enough that you do not need to add flour during the rolling process. If however, it happens to stick, sprinkle a little flour over the dough as necessary to prevent from sticking. Using an off-set spatula, spread filling in a thin layer over the entire surface of the dough. 

Fold the dough like a business letter going the long way: bring the top third of the dough down over the center third and bring the bottom third up over both the center and top third.  You may need the bench knife to coax the dough from the counter top if it is sticking. Roll out folded dough to about 8-inches in width. Using the bench knife, sharp knife or a pizza wheel, cut the folded dough into 15 – 18 equal size strips (depending on how large you want each of them).

Working with one piece of dough at a time, twist the strip of dough as you hold it between your thumbs and forefingers until it has a spiralized shape.

While you continue to hold the dough in the thumb and forefinger of one hand, use your free hand to wrap the twisted strip of dough around two or three middle fingers of the hand that holds the dough strip, tucking the last bit of the dough strip up and through the center of the circle you have just created. Place the shaped bun on a prepared baking sheet. Once you have 7 or 9 buns shaped and placed on one of the baking sheets, cover with a clean flour-sack towel and set aside. Continue with remaining buns, shaping and placing them on the second baking sheet before covering with the towel. Let covered buns rise for an additional 30-45 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Reduce oven to 375 degrees and bake one tray at a time in the lower-third of the oven for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden brown. The rolls are best served warm but any remaining can be stored in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

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