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.
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.
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.