Last Saturday, I woke up realizing it was National Cinnamon Roll Day, and I didn't have anything planned. "Oh crap", I repeated to myself like some sort of mantra. As I had to go to work that day, I decided to devote the next day to baking those traditional sweet treats. They're the ultimate Nordic baked good, and our love for them is deep and true, endless like the Nordic winter nights. Or winters in general.
We all know that the days are getting colder now. First comes the rain, then the snow. Therefore, we all need some cinnamon rolls in our lives. They make it all so much more bearable.
I think cinnamon rolls are not without reason one of the most loved baked goods in the world. While they're topped with icing all over North America, here in Scandinavia we skip the icing and sprinkle pearl sugar on top. Lots of it. Furthermore, we use the traditional cardamom-spiced yeast dough that is also used to make pulla, as we call them in Finland, or bulle, as they're called in Sweden. Here in the north, cinnamon rolls are the ultimate baked good that can be found at every café. That's also how you're supposed to eat them; alongside a big cup of coffee. However, I think they're also great with a glass of cold milk, especially when they're still warm. You can, of course, also enjoy them with a cup of tea; after all, it's your choice, your moment of comfort.
Cinnamon rolls are actually called korvapuusti here in Finland which can be translated as slapped ears. I have no idea where this slightly violent name comes from; I tried to do some research on it but without success. However, the name has been around since the late 1800's. Very mysterious indeed. But I like it; I like food with funny names.
Although the dough and filling are the same in both Finland and Sweden, the shape is unique to Finland. For me, this is the one and only cinnamon roll shape. It's a bit like with pasta; theoretically they all should taste the same no matter the shape but in reality, well, they definitely don't.
I even made a GIF (my very first one!) to show you how to shape proper korvapuustis. See? Easy! And it's definitely lots of fun to poke once finger into dough. Truth.
A few notes on the recipe: For the best result, make sure that all your ingredients are at room temperature. I recommend using bread flour, but this recipe will work with all-purpose flour as well. Just substitute the flour by weight, not volume (although, you'll notice when the dough is ready as it'll come clean off the sides of the bowl). Pearl sugar is obligatory; remember to be generous with it. You can certainly adapt the filling to your liking by adding more or less sugar. I like mine not overly sweet, but I've seen recipes that use up to 2 ½ dl / 1 cup of granulated sugar (basically almost three times as much as my recipe calls for) for the same amount of rolls. You can leave the egg out and, furthermore, substitute the milk with water should you follow a special diet. However, as you can imagine, the most delicious and flavorful result is made with eggs and milk.
So next time you plan to make cinnamon rolls, why not try this Nordic variety? I hope you do.
Korvapuusti – Finnish Cinnamon Rolls
makes around 30 rolls
5 dl (2 cups + 2 tbsp) lukewarm milk (preferably whole milk)
50 g fresh yeast (or alternatively 16 g / 1 tbsp + 2 tsp instant active dry yeast)
180 g (2 dl; ¾ cup + 2 tbsp) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
about 1 kg (15 dl; 6 ½ cups) bread flour
170 g (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
for the filling
150 g (1 ⅓ sticks) soft butter
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon
for the egg wash
pearl sugar, to sprinkle
To make the dough
In a large mixing bowl (you can make the dough by hand, like me, or in a stand mixer), combine the lukewarm milk and crumbled yeast. [If using instant active dry yeast, skip this step. Combine the yeast with some flour and add to the warm, 42°C / 108°F, milk mixture before adding the rest of the flour.] Stir with a spoon until the yeast is completely dissolved. Add sugar, salt, cardamom, and egg and mix until combined. Gradually add about two thirds of the flour and knead. Add butter and knead until well combined. Continue to knead the dough, and gradually add just enough flour so the dough comes clean off the sides of the bowl and doesn't stick to your hand.
Don't overwork the dough or you'll end up with hard rolls, not soft as we want them to be. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until double in size.
Meanwhile, mix together the butter, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.
To shape and bake the rolls
Line four baking sheets with parchment paper.
Punch down the dough and divide into two equally sized portions. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Roll out the first portion of dough into a large, about 60-by-40-centimeter / 23-by-16-inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling evenly on top. Beginning with the long side, roll the dough into a tight tube shape, seam side down. Cut into 15 cylinders and press each point tightly into the center with your index finger.
Place the shaped cinnamon rolls on the baking sheets, spacing them about 5 cm / 2" apart. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for further 30 minutes, or until they're double in size. Repeat with the second batch.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 225°C (435°F).
For the egg wash, lightly whisk the egg. Before baking, brush each roll with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar. Bake the rolls on the middle rack for 10 – 15 minutes, or until golden to dark brown in color. When the rolls are done, the bottoms will most probably be dark brown in color; this is totally normal and typical for Nordic cardamom-spiced sweetbread. Repeat with the other sheets of rolls.
The cinnamon rolls are best eaten while still slightly warm or on the same day. However, you can freeze them once baked and warm them up when ready to serve.