Rewarding Yourself in the New Year — The Fika Way
Go, go, go!
That’s how our lives are these days.
But I’m here to say it’s time to stop, stop, stoppppppppp.
At least once in awhile.
The Swedish way.
As in fika.
It’s the art and practice of taking a break to enjoy a coffee with a little treat.
And in Sweden, it’s a custom adhered to at least once a day.
Doesn’t that seem positively wonderful and civilized?
A few minutes to unplug, to stop typing, to put down the phone, and to just take a breath and be present with your surroundings and companions.
It’s what we should all do more of in this new year. It’s what we all deserve, too.
“Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break” (Ten Speed Press) will put you in the mood to do just that.
Inside, you’ll find 45 recipes for baked goods that go perfect with coffee, the Swedish way.
Chief among them is “Vetebullar,” the quintessential cinnamon and cardamom buns that are a favorite of fika.
If anything will make you put the brakes on your life, these will. After all, they do take some time and effort to make. But are they ever worth it.
These twisted, yeasty buns are loaded with cinnamon and cardamom. Even as the dough proofs, you can smell the warm, sweet, earthy spices throughout the kitchen. It’s a fragrance that will surely get you salivating for what’s to come.
Filled with soft butter stirred up with more of those spices plus sugar, these buns can be made in various shapes. The easiest is to just roll the dough out to a rectangle, spread the filling (use your fingers, as the heat of them makes it much easier to smear the buttery filling evenly), then seal it jelly-roll-style, before cutting it into slices.
I went with the slightly more difficult way of making them into twists, which is the traditional method they’re made in Sweden. Just fold the filled, rectangle of dough in half, then cut it into about 13-15 equal slices. Snip the center of each piece to create two “legs” still attached at the top. Twist the left “leg” clockwise, and the right “leg” counter-clockwise to form a pretty candy-cane effect. Lay the right “leg” over the left “leg” and bend them both toward the back, tucking the center in, to create a twisty, round roll. Believe me, it’s easier than it sounds. And even if you don’t make every single one looking exactly the same (which I confess I didn’t), they will still come out looking mighty impressive.
Give each bun a gloss of egg wash, and gently stick on some pearl sugar or chopped almonds before baking.
The buns bake up soft, fluffy and bready. They’re incredibly redolent of spice, but not in a smothering way. You can make them with all cardamom or with a mix of cinnamon and cardamom, which I did. Even my husband, who isn’t always a fan of cardamom, loved these. The buns are not achingly sweet, either.
Instead, they’re just the perfect tender treat to enjoy with a cup of coffee or chai tea.
If anything can make you stop and smell the coffee, so to speak, in 2016, these surely will.
Vetebullar (Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns)
(Makes about 26 to 32 buns)
For the dough:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cardamom seeds, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
3 to 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon or whole cardamom seeds, crushed
2 additional teaspoons crushed cardamom seeds, IF making filling using cinnamon
For the topping:
1 egg, beaten
Pearl sugar or chopped almonds
To prepare the dough: Melt the butter in a saucepan; then stir in the milk. Heat until warm to the touch (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit). In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 3 to 5 tablespoons of the warm mixture. Stir and let sit for a few minutes until bubbles form on top of the yeast.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cardamom, and salt. Add the yeast mixture along with the remaining butter and milk. Work together with your hands until you can make the dough into a ball.
Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. the dough should feel moist, but if it sticks to your fingers, add a tiny bit of flour. The dough is fully kneaded when you slice into it with a sharp knife and see small air bubbles throughout. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and place in a draft-free place to rise and double in size, about 1 hour.
Grease a baking sheet, or place medium paper cupcake liners directly on the sheet.
Make the filling: Right before the dough has finished rising, use a fork to cream the butter together with the sugar and spices until you get an evenly mixed, spreadable paste.
When the dough has finished rising, take half of the dough and place it on a flat surface. Roll it out with a rolling pin to an 11-by-17-inch rectangle. Place the rectangle on the surface so that the long side is closest to you.
Carefully spread half of the filling on top of the rolled-out dough so that it covers the entire area; be sure to go all the way to the edges. Begin at the long side near you and roll the dough upward, jelly-roll-style. Slice the roll into 15 to 18 equally sized rounds and place them, rolled side up, on the baking sheet or in the paper liners. If using a baking sheet, pinch the ends of the slices to keep them from pulling away during baking. Repeat with the second half of the dough. (Alternately, make the dough into twisted buns by following the directions and photos above.) Cover the buns with a clean tea towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 435 degrees.
When the buns have risen, carefully brush them with the beaten egg and sprinkle each with the pearl sugar or almonds.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer the buns from the baking sheet to the counter, and cover with a tea towel to cool. Serve freshly baked, and if not eaten right away, store in the freezer once they are completely cooled.
Adapted From “Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break” by Anne Brones and Johanna Kindvall
Another Time-Out Treat: Honey Cashew Morning Buns by Joanne Chang
And: Marzipan Scones