To tell the truth, I’d given up on cinnamon buns. Even as overdrawn emblems of American culture go, cinnamon buns had gotten particularly out of hand. If you’d added up obesity, Texas, SUVs, the entire James Patterson canon and all of the seasons of The Bachelor, it’s possible that a single Cinnabon Pecanbon®, with its 1,080 gut-busting, butt-gusting, bun-hustling calories, could have out-Americaed them all.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the occasional nice little sweet as much as the next guy. And cinnamon is basically unimpeachable under normal circumstances. But when faced with a bun the size of my husband‘s head that activates the nerve endings in my teeth at bite one and my gag reflex at bite three, all I can feel is terror. That’s why I gave up on cinnamon buns, back around the time I got my driver’s license.
Then, though, Christmas came this past December. And for Christmas, someone gave me the quietly enticing design book Handmade Living by Lotta Jansdotter. As if pretty handmade things weren’t enticing enough, this design book comes with recipe cards. Do you hear me, publishers? Recipe cards. In a design book. If this were facebook, I would slap a big fat “like” on the buns of that idea.
You can tell by looking at the book cover that Lotta Jansdotter’s cinnamon buns will not make your head explode with over-sweetness. No one gazes lovingly at a hanging paper mobile or
paints dainty dots on perfectly good plates and cups and then—bam!—sends you into diabetic coma or head explosion with a cinnamon bun. That just isn’t how the world works, people. You have to trust a lady who hand-stencils her own lampshades and keeps all her possessions on open shelving, if only because when you don’t have closets, there’s nowhere to hide the skeletons. That safe space is the reason I felt like maybe I could once again come face-to-face with a cinnamon bun. Well, technically it was the safe space plus an overabundance of recent excursions to IKEA, where I never ate a cinnamon bun but did fall prey to the wafting aroma of bunnitude, because let’s face it, that’s what IKEA pumps through the air ducts to keep people from smacking each other silly in the aisles. The wafting wonders have certainly saved some of the Americans within striking distance of me from time to time, if you know what I mean.
Having baked and devoured these buns this weekend, I can now say for sure that my trust in this particular crafty, shelvy Scandinavian was not misplaced. These cinnamon buns are just right. Not too huge, not too sweet (in fact, I’ve even added a little glaze to the recipe to sweeten them up a touch, because I guess I’m more American than I thought), you can taste the cardamom and cinnamon and appreciate the yeasty goodness of the dough.
In all fairness, I should probably warn you that the next recipe I intend to try from this book is a Smörgåstårta, which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you is a savory birthday cake made from shrimp salad, salmon salad and sandwich fixins. Just as Lotta drew me in with her approachable design sensibility, I thought I’d warm you up first with a pastry less likely to have made you cry as a child. I hope you’ll join me in the deep end when Smörgåstårta time comes—although a birthday cake all to myself wouldn’t be the world’s worst idea, come to think of it. But until then, cinnamon buns.
Adapted from the lovely design book (with recipes!) Handmade Living: A Fresh Take on Scandanavian Style by Lotta Jansdotter. If you have a stand mixer, it will save you the time and energy of kneading the dough. If you don’t, you can knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. Makes 24 buns.
For the Dough
1 cup warm milk (105° to 115°F)
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground cardamom
4 cups (spooned and leveled) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon neutral-tasting oil
For the Filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
For the Icing
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Pour warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer (don’t attach bowl to mixer just yet) and sprinkle with yeast. Add a pinch of the sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let stand in a warm spot until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add remaining sugar, egg, melted butter, salt, and cardamom. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add flour 1 cup at a time, stirring between additions, to form a smooth dough. Connect bowl to mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to speed 2 (no higher!) and knead for about 8 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Pour the teaspoon of oil onto dough and turn to coat lightly but completely. Place a kitchen towel over the bowl and set it in a warm spot to rise until doubled, an hour or more.
2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a rectangle with your hands. Roll out the first piece into a 12-inch by 12-inch by 1/2-inch-thick square. Spread half the butter evenly over surface. Sprinkle half the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over butter. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a log shape. Slice log crosswise into 12 slices. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, or in a muffin pan with paper liners, with one of the cut sides facing up. Repeat with the second square of dough and remaining butter and cinnamon sugar. Cover rolls with kitchen towels and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled, an hour or more. (Note: At this stage, some or all rolls may be frozen for later use. Freeze on baking sheet until solid, then transfer to an airtight container. Thaw before continuing.)
3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake until lightly browned and just cooked through, about 12 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Drizzle a small amount of glaze over each roll. (You may have leftover glaze.) Serve rolls warm. Extras can be reheated one at a time in the microwave for 10 seconds.