When tourists see a Swedish bulle they often times think, “Hey, it’s just a regular old cinnamon roll!” But no…bullar are so, so much more…
First of all, I’d equate Swedish bullar as more of a cardamom bun than cinnamon bun. No matter the filling (which yes, sometimes includes cinnamon), bullar dough is often speckled with crunchy chunks of cardamom. And contrary to American cinnamon rolls, you NEVER see icing on a Swedish bulle… sometimes sugar on top, but never icing.
Bulle is something you are guaranteed to find in any Swedish bakery or cafe. I truly don’t think there is a single place in Sweden that does not serve them… if someone were playing the game where you say a word and the other person says the first thing that comes to mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if “bulle” is the first thing a Swede would say in response to “cafe”. I don’t think we have anything equivalent in the US… but then again we don’t have the same coffee culture that Sweden has. This coffee culture, rich in tradition, can best be described with the Swedish word “fika”.
The word “fika” is so important to Swedish culture and daily life that I don’t even know if I can explain it to someone who has not experienced it. Sweden’s national website even lists it as the NUMBER ONE thing someone who is thinking of moving to Sweden should know about. It’s THAT important…
When non-swedes first encounter the idea of “fika” they always think “Oh, it’s just drinking coffee”…but just like the bulle is so much more than a cinnamon roll, fika is so much more than just having coffee.
I’m going to do my very best to try and explain fika, using the help of one of my new favorite baking books which shares Swedish recipes and also discusses the concept of fika: Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. I can’t promise you’ll understand it after this blog post, you might just have to visit Sweden to do that, but you’ll at least have a little bit better idea of why this word is so important to Swedes and why it is SO much more than just drinking coffee.
To start, fika can be used as both a verb and a noun…. “Should we fika?” or “Do you want to go get fika with me?” would both make sense. The other thing to know is that fika can happen at any time of the day… morning, evening, anytime… and people usually fika more than once per day (especially if you’re working), which is why Sweden is #3 in the world for coffee consumption per capita, only behind Finland and Netherlands. It’s funny because Chris and I both come from Seattle, which likes to think of itself as the coffee capital…but Chris was shocked and said he had no idea what it meant to be coffee-obsessed until moving to Sweden!
But again, fika is more than drinking coffee. True, it often involves coffee (or maybe tea) but it also is about slowing down… taking time to be with others… talking about life… letting go of stress… and of course, enjoying something sweet on the side (or maybe a small sandwich). Fika can be in your home, at a cafe, or if you work in an office you’re likely to have an separate area for fika (which is probably used multiple times per day). Chris’s work usually has assigned days where people bring in homemade or store-bought fika treats, but people also bring them in when someone at home has done some baking…which is exactly what happened with the left-over bullar from this recipe :).
In essence, fika is about forcing yourself to take a break, to enjoy life and not let it rush by you. It’s about enjoying time with friends, family, co-workers, even just yourself. The idea of work-life balance is something so important to Swedes, as can be seen in their parental leave and vacation time. To quote the authors of the Fika, “To truly fika requires a commitment to making time for a break in your day, the creation of a magical moment in the midst of routine and the mundane. Fika is the time when everything else is put on hold” (p. 3).
Not only does this book do a wonderful job of explaining fika, it also has the cutest drawings like the one above, drawn by co-author Johanna Kindvall (her instagram page is full of adorable drawings like this one, fyi). Of course, the book also has delicious recipes for typical fika! I have been wanting to make a chai-flavored bulle for a long time, so once I got this book I knew exactly what I wanted to make. In the book, the authors give the recipe for a basic bulle dough (vetebullar) as well as options for either cinnamon or cardamom fillings (the most typical), but then challenge the reader to experiment with their own filling ideas. So here’s my adaptation: chai spices!
Chai hold a special place in my heart because it reminds me of the love between my mom and dad. My mom stopped drinking coffee when she got cancer for the first time… I realize now how hard that must have been, especially for a Swede. But with coffee out of the picture she found a new love for chai tea lattes instead! So for almost as long as I can remember, my dad would wake up early most mornings and make a big pot a chai tea lattes… mostly for my mom, but anyone else in the house was welcome to enjoy them too. He ordered the spices from Zanzibar and mixed them himself…then he stirred it in with some black tea, added some warm milk, and finally topped it off with a bit of honey. Our house sort of became famous in our little world of friends and family for always having the best chai tea lattes… my dad was often giving away little jars of the spices as gifts, or bringing the ingredients to family gatherings so he could make us all a batch. Now whenever I drink chai lattes (my favorite too), I think about all these warm and happy memories, and it makes my heart smile so big.
So I had to try adding these chai spices to the bulle filling. It’s perfect because it already includes both of the typical spices for bulle (cinnamon and cardamom) but adds flavors of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and even a bit of black pepper to spice it up. The result is DELICIOUS (take it from me, but also Chris’s co-workers who gobbled them up quickly). I decided to get fancy with the bullar and twist them into one of the options described in Fika…
but you can also totally just roll the dough like a sleeping bag and then cut traditional rolls, like you would for a cinnamon roll (ok, I guess there are SOME similarities!). One of the best tips for cutting the rolls is to use floss, as seen in this video. Or you can even get creative and roll it into your own shapes, like I did for Valentine’s Day.
No matter how your roll them, I promise these bullar will taste delicious. And I hope you are able to take a break from the stress of life and enjoy them over a fika with someone close to you. With all the stresses in the world right now, I think we might all deserve a fika break.
P.S. A quick funny story about making these bullar… last week I came straight home from my class and got right to making these bullar because I knew I was a little behind (I usually try to take pictures of the recipe at least a week in advance). Since I don’t have a fancy camera, just my iphone, I also try to take pictures with natural light…which is limited to only a few good hours during the winter here! So I got started right away on the dough, which has to rise twice and takes a few good hours. Well…just as I was literally (and I’m using this word literally) putting the bullar into the oven, the power suddenly went out! This is the first time this has happened for me in Sweden and I was SO disappointed. Luckily I was able to save them by throwing the dough into the freezer until the power came on a few hours later. I baked them that night but had to wait until the next morning for pictures. It was stressful, but in the end, it all worked out ok :).
- 7 tablespoons butter / 99 g smör
- 1 ½ cups milk / 3.6 dl mjölk
- 2 teaspoons dry yeast / torrjäst
- 4½ cups flour / 6.3 dl vetemjöl
- ¼ cup sugar / socker
- 1 ½ teaspoons whole cardamom seeds / kardemumma kärnor
- ¼ teaspoon salt / salt Filling:
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon / kanel
- 1 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds / kardemumma kärnor
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger / ingefära
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg / muskot
- ½ teaspoon cloves / nejlika
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper / svartpeppar
- 7 tablespoons butter / 99 g smör
- ½ cup raw sugar / 1.2 dl råsocker Topping:
- 1 egg / ägg
- raw sugar / råsocker
- Melt butter in a pot over medium heat, then add milk and heat until it feels warm on your knuckle (not too hot).
- Start by mixing a few tablespoons of the warm milk mixture in with the yeast, stirring until it has dissolved, then adding the rest of the liquid.
- Let the yeast and liquid mixture sit for a few minutes, until small bubbles form. 4. While waiting, you can crush the cardamom seeds for both the dough and the filling using a mortar a pestle (or if you don’t have one you can crush them with the back of a spoon on a hard surface).
- In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients for the dough (flour, sugar, crushed cardamom, and salt).
- Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until you can use your hands.
- Place the dough on a flat surface and knead for a few minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of extra flour if needed.
- Turn your oven on to the highest heat for one minute, then turn off (this creates the perfect warm space for your dough to rise).
- Place dough in a bowl and cover with a clean towel, then put in the semi-heated oven to rise for 1 hour.
- Just before the dough is done rising, mix the chai spices together with the sugar for the filling.
- Add sugar and spices to softened butter and cream until completely mixed.
- Take half of the dough and roll onto a flat surface using a rolling pin, until it is in a rectangle shape about 11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm).
- Spread half of the filling mixture over the top of the dough, making sure to go all the way to the edges.
- Either roll the dough to make swirled buns, or fold the dough in half and cut strips to make knots (read the above blog post for more detailed instructions).
- Place shaped bullar on a lined baking sheet and repeat with the second half of the dough.
- Cover dough and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes (I like to place them above the pre-heating oven).
- Pre-heat the oven to 435° F / 225 ° C.
- When dough is done rising, brush the tops of each bulle with egg wash and then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake the bullar in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
- Eat right away or store in the freezer (like my mormor always did) for later!