What the Croissant is to Paris, the Franzbrötchen to Hamburg, the Pączki to Warsaw, the Pastel de Nata to Lisbon, that’s the Cinnamon bun or Kanelbulle to Stockholm. Not only to Stockholm, to the whole of Sweden. I promise that 99% of times you enter any cafe or bakery, you’ll find cinnamon buns (Kanelbullar, plural). If there are no cinnamon buns, there will be cardamom buns (Kardemummabullar) for sure.
The cinnamon bun became popular in Sweden only around 1950 and was quite luxurious as cinnamon was quite expensive. Nowadays it’s available everywhere, at any time of the day.
1. What is a cinnamon bun anyways?
It’s a small pastry made from a dough with flour, butter, yeast and sugar, with a filling made from loads of butter, sugar, cinnamon. A cardamom bun is with ground cardamom, which has an aphrodisiac effect apparently.
Choices in Stockholm are endless. For me though, there’s a limit to how many buns per week I can eat. A dear Californian friend of mine, ate a cinnamon bun every day when we had Swedish classes together. For me that doesn’t work for some reason. It’s too sweet for every day, too heavy. I’m alone with this opinion, though. On average, Swedish people eat 300 buns or similar pastry per year. This equals to 148,766,006 kg per year (source). One hundred forty eight million seven hundred sixty six thousand and six. In case you wondered. Are Swedes overweight? No, most are pretty fit. I guess the one-bun-almost-a-day keeps the doctor away because it motivates to exercise more.
I worked at Skeppsbro bageri, which is owned by Håkan Johannson Frost who was the world champion in croissant baking some years ago. Yes, a Swede won this, not a French person. Impressive, right? Anyways, this is another story. My point was that I made a lot, A LOT, of cinnamon buns. Making the dough, rolling the dough into 4mm thin layers, spreading a butter and cinnamon or cardamom mix on top – God, this was harder than I would’ve thought – folding them up, rolling again, cutting, twirling, making a knot. How many I’ve made? I don’t know, maybe 10-thousand, maybe 15-thousand, maybe more? I stopped counting. People are buying them like crazy, it’s the perfect addition to the strong, medium roasted Swedish filter coffee, which is drunk here a lot too. Swedes are the number two nation in the world drinking most coffee. Number one is: Finnland. A bun for breakfast, a bun after lunch, a bun for Fika (the traditional coffee break), there’s always time and space for the beautifully twirled yeast pastry.
2. The secret to a good cinnamon bun?
Many. One is the sugar syrup glaze. Right after coming from the oven you baste it with a simple sugar syrup, which ensures that the bun stays moist and fresh for more than just a few hours. Also it makes it nicely shiny!
3. What’s the perfect cinnamon bun for me?
Well, the issue is that my favourite one is the cardamom bun. I don’t know why really, but I think they’re usually softer than cinnamon buns. Also cardamom has a small punch to it, something peppery. Anyhow, whether cinnamon or cardamom, I have a few criteria when it comes to buns. First of all, the bigger the bun, not necessarily the better the taste. Some buns can be humongous (like the ones at Saturnus), but lack flavour and be too dry. I like them small to medium sized, also because I don’t like feeling super full after eating one bun. Second, the shininess. Ok, so the shinier the bun the more aesthetic it looks, but that’s not my point. Rather, if a bun is very shiny it’s been glazed with sugar syrup, which to me is essential. Yes, it makes the whole affair stickier and sweeter, but also keeps the bun from drying out. Third, the butter. You can taste when the butter used in a bun is great quality or if it’s a mediocre kind or let alone if it’s margarine (eww!). Good butter will make a bun a fabulous treat and won’t leave a strange after-taste in your mouth. Last, the texture and fluff. I like my buns fluffy, but not too much. It’s nice if they’re a bit doughy when you pull them apart, layer by layer.
Although cinnamon and cardamom buns can be found at any bakery, you should be choosing wisely. There are only so many days you’re visiting the city and 24 hours have only so many windows of opportunity to stuff the buttery yeast pastry into your mouth. The three following places are in my eyes the best places in Stockholm for cinnamon and cardamom buns. The ones I name after are also a safe bet when you stumble across them. However, I also have flaws and I haven’t managed to try all places in town yet during the 10 months I’ve lived here.
This place on Södermalm is definitely worth a detour, not only for buns but also for their bread and other treats. Located in a very vibrant area, with many bars and restaurants around, it offers one of the best buns in town. The buns here are a tad flatter than at most other places, but still fluffy. They have a very caramelised top, that gives you some crunch, before you get to the soft and slightly doughy middle of the bun. Petrus uses a bit of spelt flour, which gives the buns a more pronounced and earthy flavour I’d say, but still giving them a light and tender crumb with a very soft texture. You’ll only get filter coffee here, so if you want a nice Cappuccino with your bun, head over to Drop Coffee, which is 30 seconds away.
Probably the smallest of these 3 different buns. Soft, tender, pillowy and light but still with enough doughiness. They’re just mind blowing when eaten still warm and then you can just eat one after the other. So far, whenever I’ve been there, Lillebrors only sold cardamom buns, but they’re my favourite one anyways. The buns have some shine to it, but not too much and they have the perfect level of sweetness. Take a walk to Vasaparken, five minutes away to eat your bun on a park bench. Pass by Mellquist Kaffebar and pick up some coffee to go with your bun.
Skeppsbro isn’t only worth a visit because of the views, with its location right by the water in the old town. The cardamom and cinnamon buns here are super soft, very shiny and made with a bit of sourdough which gives them that special rich taste. The flour and all other ingredients used are organic and some of Skeppsbro’s flours are milled at the bakery. Sit down in their cafe or if weather allows, on the terrasse. You can also pick up some of their own milled flours and the baking book, to recreate the buns at home.
4. Other places that have delicious buns
Rosendals Trädgård (lovely summer spot in a pavillion amidst a flower garden), Le Violon Dingue (tiny place in the city center with great bread, too), St Paul (their bakery is close to Petrus, but their buns, croissants and bread is sold at different cafes around the city, such as Il caffe), Bullar och Bröd (I especially like their vanilla bun), Valhalla Bageriet (a classic, where on weekends buns are sold out quickly), Green Rabbit (owned by a star-chef and their buns are made with rye flour), Saturnus (I would not necessarily recommend Saturnus for the deliciousness of its buns. Rather, you should go there if you want to see the biggest cinnamon bun in Stockholm). Fabrique (Yes, this is a chain, but that doesn’t matter. You can always be sure that you’ll get a delicious bun here and there’s tons of these bakeries around the city.)
The bakery at Skansen (Probably no Swede ever goes here, except if you have kids or international guests over. You have to pay an entrance fee to get into Skansen, so coming there for just a bun might get a bit expensive. If you plan visiting it anyways, make sure to try a cinnamon bun or something else at the bakery. Everything is super fresh, tastes lovely yeasty, is warm and not too sweet.)
Of course there’s also a whole day dedicated to the cinnamon bun. It’s the 4th of October and for this day you can pre-order large amounts to treat your colleagues or family with.
Is it worth traveling to Sweden just for the buns? Oh yes, it is.
Finally, I have a question for you guys: Do you rather pull your buns apart and eat them piece by piece, or are you the kind who just bites into it and doesn’t care about layers? I’m the first one.