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Cardamom Buns (The Guardian)

16-18 buns

servings

35 mins

active time

5-12 hours

total time

Ingredients

The dough

1 tbsp cardamom seeds (from about 35 husked pods), or 2 tsp ground cardamom, if you really must

250ml milk

75g butter, cubed

250g strong white bread flour

200g plain flour

½-1 tsp salt

30g caster sugar

9g fast-action yeast

1 egg, beaten

The filling

100g butter, softened

1 tsp flour

1 tsp ground cardamom (from about 12 husked pods)

50g soft light brown sugar

50g caster or granulated sugar

A good pinch of salt

The glaze

1 egg, beaten

50g sugar

50ml water

Directions

Grind the cardamom seeds relatively finely in a mortar or spice grinder; a few coarser bits are no bad thing.

Heat the milk to just below boiling point, then add the cardamom and butter, and leave to cool to blood temperature (about 37C).

Whisk the flours, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl or food mixer, then add the milk and butter once it’s cool enough.

Mix until well combined, then add the egg to bring it all together into a soft, but coherent dough; it should be a little sticky, but not too wet to handle.

Knead the dough until it’s smooth and comes cleanly away from the bottom of the bowl (or work surface, if you’re kneading by hand); it doesn’t matter if it then sticks again.

Cover and leave for an hour to get going, then put in the fridge for four to 12 hours (if you’d prefer to bake as soon as possible, keep it at room temperature until it’s grown considerably, though it may not quite double in size, about 2 hours).

Meanwhile, mix all the filling ingredients and line two baking trays.

Once the dough is ready, put it on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a roughly 50cm x 30cm rectangle, with the short edge facing you.

Spread the filling all over the surface (this is easiest with a butter or palette knife, or similar, but you can also use your hands).

Fold the top third of the dough into the middle, then fold the bottom third up on top of it, as if folding a letter.

Turn the dough 90 degrees, roll it out again, this time to about 50cm x 20cm, and cut into roughly 2½cm-wide strips.

Cut the strips almost, but not quite, in half widthways, so they look a bit like pairs of trousers, stretch the “legs” slightly, then twist them together like plaits.

Wind each plait into a coil around your finger, tucking the end through the middle to secure. (I would strongly recommend watching a video online before starting, though it’s not difficult, and there are other, equally valid techniques.)

Arrange the buns, well spaced out, on the lined trays, cover and leave to rise again for an hour. Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7, then brush the buns with egg and bake for 13-15 minutes, until golden; swap the trays around halfway through baking, so the buns all bake evenly.

Meanwhile, heat the sugar with 50ml water, stirring until dissolved. When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with this syrup while they’re still hot. Before serving, you could also sprinkle them with some granulated sugar mixed with a little ground cardamom for extra crunch.

How to make the perfect cardamom bun

The raising agent

Interestingly, Andrea Geary of America’s Cooks Illustrated magazine tells me that she discovered that: “like cinnamon, cardamom has anti-fungal qualities that slow fermentation”, and suggests that the dough is so copiously spiced that one can up the yeast content to improve the rise without spoiling the flavour. And she’s right: this is one dough that can take it.

The fat

Most buns are made from an enriched dough, in which the basic flour, water and salt formula of bread is gilded with fat, in this case always butter and sometimes egg, with the water replaced by milk. (Johansson and West Yorkshire’s Triangle Bakehouse both use half milk, half water, which speeds up the fermentation time, but I think you lose a bit of softness in the dough, and I want these to feel like tucking into an unusually tasty feather duvet).

I get decent results from melted, softened or cold butter, which suggests to me it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference and indeed suggests that there’s no particular benefit in spending time rubbing in cold butter.

Lowe also suggests that, if I want a lighter, fluffier bread, I should increase the egg, decrease the milk and butter, use all plain flour and increase the sugar.

Eggs seem to help with the fluff factor, though, so I’m going to keep them in; if you’d prefer a plainer bun, leave them out and add a little more milk to bring it to a soft dough. (It also seems to me that they would be relatively easy to veganise, but I haven’t tried it myself.)

The flavourings

Everyone adds a little sugar to the dough – though not too much: there should be a contrast between the bun and the filling – and most include salt, too. Nilsson says cardamom seeds in the dough itself are optional, but everyone uses them, and I’m not going to buck that trend; they give the bun a wonderful perfume and an attractively speckled appearance.

The rise

A few recipes, including Johansson, Lemanski and the Triangle’s, recommend retarding the dough by leaving it to rise slowly in the fridge, rather than at room temperature, which, the Yorkshire bakery tells me: “will make the dough taste greeaaaat, and [is] easier for the final shape!”. With so much spice involved, I can’t really taste the difference, but I can attest it makes stretching and filling the dough an awful lot less faff, because the dough is firmer and so more amenable to being topped with butter. It also makes timing a bit easier, because you can, to a certain extent, choose when to bake it, as opposed to being at the mercy of your yeast. They also, in my experience, rise slightly better, but the difference is not significant.

The filling

More butter, obviously, and more sugar – white is common, but Lemanski and Aurell’s mix of brown and white brings a lovely, caramel flavour with it, while Aurell’s teaspoon of flour seems to help bind it, so less melts out of the buns during baking. (Not that that’s really a bad thing, given that it creates a crispy frill of toffee on the baking sheet, but I can see that, technically, that might be considered a fault.)

To finish

Egg wash, though not mandatory (it does leave you with leftovers, which I dislike, but you can make fried rice with them, or indeed a tiny omelette for a dog), gives the buns a handsome, bronzed look, while a glaze – a simple sugar syrup, such as that favoured by Aurell and Johansson, or golden syrup (Lindholm and Nilsson) will provide the requisite stickiness, as well as increasing the buns’ shelf life.

Notes

2023/12/17 -

Result: Looked a bit soft and raw and was dense and gummy, and looked like whole wheat bread! Was sweet which was nice but didn’t get cocoa and only a hint of cinnamon.

Recipe: 1/8 one bun recipe; 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, 2 tbsp sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder; 2 tbsp hot tap water, scant 2 tsp butter; mix well. 1 tsp milk; too dry. 1 tbsp milk (ACCIDENT meant to be 1/2 tsp) too wet so sprinkled flour and kneaded to make slightly dry dough ball. Filling, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp cocoa powder to make it stand out, NO butter (just leaks out), touch of milk and flour.

Method: microwave 15 seconds as it looked a touch dry n has much less butter. Left 45 mins. Puffed nicely. Roll out long and thin. Spread filling, folded like envelope, rolled out again and braided fairly easily. Microwaved again 15 seconds and left to puff for an hour. Brushed with double cream as glaze. Baked 12 mins on Gas 7 until internal temp registers 61-63 degrees; brushed with sugar water mixture which didn’t make a glaze just made the bun soggy.

Next time: Make 1/4 of original recipe to test… or just properly proof it!

2023/12/17

Result: Raw, over baked on top, totally flat and very dark brown.

Recipe: cinnamon instead of cardamom. Concocted 1/8 version for one bun, 2 tsp butter, 2 tbsp milk, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, 2 tbsp sugar (double the sugar called for), 1 tsp cinnamon (quadruple called for), no egg drop of cream. Incredibly wet, even adding 2 tsp flour. 3 tsp cinnamon in filling (quadruple) was disgusting, balanced w more sugar.

Method: Use microwave 15 seconds and leave bowl of hot water 25min method but the very wet buttery dough oozes and melted grease. Impossible to work with as floppy but did three fold envelope and cut in half and braid. Fell apart. Shaped bun and microwaved again for second rise 25min. Resulting bun was oily pool so added 1/4 cup more flour and a sprinkle of baking powder, made a high bun and baked 22 mins on gas 7 too oven. Came out raw flat dry.

Next time: Try with correct flour 1/2 cup not 1/3 and don’t microwave due to butter content. Try full recipe with microwave to compare. Article states “lighter fluffier bread with increased egg, decrease milk and butter, increase sugar” “eggs for richness or “leave out and use milk to make a soft dough” and says water ferments quicker; try water instead of milk, milk instead of egg, decrease butter content. Add baking powder!

16-18 buns

servings

35 mins

active time

5-12 hours

total time
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