Happy Cinnamon Bun Day!

As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to love Sweden, today is a minor national holiday celebrating… wait for it… cinnamon buns.

The fun just never stops around here, I’m telling you.

And because I take this blogging job very seriously and I consider it a very serious obligation to give you the inside scoop on all important Swedish happenings, I have tasted a lot of cinnamon buns this week. It’s all in the name of duty.

I have eaten A LOT of cinnamon buns this week. Let this be a testament to my commitment to the art of blogging. Photos: Kate Wiseman

Here’s the thing, though: no one seems to know why Sweden has a National Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens Dag). I talked to professional and amateur bakers alike and asked them what it is that makes the cinnamon bun special among all the other fantastic baked goods in Sweden. Why is the cinnamon bun so important within Swedish food culture?

Blank stares, giggles, uncomfortable squirming. As it turns out, National Cinnamon Bund Day is a relatively new phenomenon—it was started in 1999 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hembakningsrådet, which translates roughly to “Home Baking Council.” The Council was established in 1959 with the goal of providing information and inspiration for home bakers. Hilariously enough, the primary funders at that time were Jästbolaget (produces yeast), Kungsörnen (flour), Margarinbolaget (margarine), Saltsjökvarn (flour and grains), and Sockerbolaget (sugar). At present, Nordic Sugar is the primary sponsor of Hembakningsrådet. I feel like the Sugar Plum Fairy should be their Honorary CEO.

The Council’s own explanation for celebrating the cinnamon bun rather than any other bun isn’t much more concrete than anything I heard in person. They cite the feelings of enjoyment, comfort, and happiness that a cinnamon bun brings, plus its nearly universal popularity among Swedes. Kristina Eriksson, author of an entire cookbook of Cinnamon Buns and other freshly-baked buns, wrote that “cinnamon buns symbolize so many positive things; the fresh-baked smell, warmth, generosity, childhood, and home… a feeling of total contentment.”

As vague as people are in explaining why cinnamon buns are so important, there are no lukewarm opinions as to what separates a so-so cinnamon bun from the real deal.

I met my friend Josefine and her husband, Johan, on the street—without hesitation, Johan said that the best cinnamon buns are the ones your mom makes for you. Josefine said that it has to do with the consistency: the best ones are just a little undercooked, so they’re warm and squishy on the inside without being crispy on the outside. The saleswomen at Ramklint’s Bakery in Lund, which won the coveted “Best in Test” prize, said that it was a question of what you put inside the buns… and recommended judicious use of almond paste. The women at Lund’s Surdeg (Sourdough) Bakery had the simplest answer: lots of butter.

A few of the advertisements around town... every bakery I asked said that there's a big increase in demand for cinnamon buns on their special day. Photos: Kate Wiseman

Another factor people brought up when talking about the greatness of Swedish cinnamon buns is their versatility. Yes, there are a few aesthetic prototypes (the neatly wrapped roll, the intricately twirled bun, etc.), but what you put in your cinnamon bun is up to you. Cardamom, almond paste, pistachios, vanilla sugar, hazelnut paste, chocolate, pecans, even fruit jams… the sky’s the limit.

I thought it would be fun to do a side-by-side comparison of Swedish and American cinnamon buns, but it didn’t really go anywhere. In the immortal words of my boyfriend, who is an admitted Cinnabon fanatic:  “They are two different things, impossible to compare in any way. It’s like preferring salmon over Jell-O shots.” Yet another reason why I love this man.

If you’re feeling up to baking some Swedish-style cinnamon buns yourself, give this recipe by Sweden.se food blogger Anne a try! (Her recipe uses fresh yeast, so if you have access to only active dry yeast, give these substitutions a try: from Food.com, from The Fresh Loaf.)

In the meantime, Happy Cinnamon Bun Day! I raise my coffee cup in honor of  everyone’s favorite buttery, sweet, cinnamony treat. And thank goodness it only comes once a year, because I feel like my stomach is going to explode.

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  • Katie Harger

    making these.

  • beth

    so yum.

  • Monica-USA

    That is so funny because on  Sunday  I  baked a double batch of cinnamon buns. Happy eating….

  • Alex

    I believe one reason why these buns are so popular among swedes is because it’s (at least where I grew up) the only thing our parents ever baked, or at least, the absolutely most common pastry baked. So on every single special occation, birthdayparty, national day or other celebration, there were cinnamon buns.

    Growing up meant that fikas replaced these occations as the prime source of pastry, and most of us, weary of the old dreary cinnamon bun would then start exploring all the other excellent pastries out there.

    Personally, I would pretty much never order a cinnamon bun at a café. However, when I am serverd one, I definetly get very strong flashbacks to my childhood, my family, birthdays and such magic moments of my youth.

    This is at least for me, why cinnamon buns will always be special to me, regardless of how much I prefer other pastries. I do believe I’m not the only swede who feel this way.

    Anyways, thanks for a nice blog!
    It’s fun reading about things I take for granted from an outside perspektive :D

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

      Hi, Alex! Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so nice to hear other people’s experiences and perspectives. When I first moved here, I wasn’t that keen on trying Swedish cinnamon buns because they looked harder then the gooey ones I’m used to from home and the pearl sugar on top weirded me out–I thought it was salt! A year and some months later, they’ve become one of my favorite treats.

      Thanks so much for reading! Best wishes – Kate

  • http://herrborjesson.wordpress.com Börjesson

    Apparently, the cinnamon bun is originally a Swedish invention, dating back to the 1920s. Considering how its fame has spread across the globe, it may be one of our greater contributions to mankind, and well worth celebrating! :)

    (But don’t bother comparing the various factory versions, that you find in the supermarkets, gas stations, SevenElevens and so on. They are all made from margarine rather than butter, they all have far too much sugar, and are basically no worthy representatives of the noble cinnamon bun family. Bake them yourself, or go to small high-class local bakeries.)

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

      I don’t know if it’s Sweden’s greatest contribution to mankind (Skype!!), but it’s definitely way up there! Strangely enough, even though I love to bake this is one of the few things I haven’t attempted to do at home… I think I’m worried that I won’t be able to replicate the deliciousness. Maybe I’ll have to give it a shot after all!

      Thanks a lot for reading! Best – Kate

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