5 Scandinavian baking recipes to brighten up dark winter days, from apple cake to cinnamon buns

Posted by for Food and Drink

January gloom calls for cake, cookies and buns. These Scandi-inspired recipes will bring all the warmth and comfort you need.

Silver linings have felt few and far between during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s fair to say that lockdown has forced us to appreciate the simpler things in life. Taking long walks in the park. Reading for pleasure, once you realise you’ve completed Netflix. And, of course, baking – whether you’ve mastered the art of brownies or become the queen of focaccia.

Having been locked into a slower pace of life, we’ve also inadvertently been following the principles at the heart of hygge – the famed Nordic philosophy of being present in the moment and appreciating what we have. Often misrepresented as being about physical cosiness, hygge is actually “a completely psychological and emotional state,” says Danish restauranteur and cook Brontë Aurell. It’s the equivalent of hugging a loved one or noticing the birds singing – and when we carve out little pockets of time in our day to relax, it’s ours for the taking.

In her cookbook ScandiKitchen: The Essence Of Hygge, Aurell explains that baking is just one way of finding this state of satisfaction. Filled with recipes from across the Nordic nations accompanied by essays on the art of hygge, it’s a tribute to the joy of cake, buns and cookies. And seeing as Scandinavian countries consistently rank among the happiest in the world, we figured it was time to take a leaf out of Aurell’s book.

Below, Aurell shares five Scandinavian bakes sure to elicit warmth and contentment this winter and beyond. Inspired by her Auntie Inga’s traditional recipe, her simple Swedish sticky chocolate cake is every bit as heavenly as it sounds.

If you love a buttery sponge, you’ll find comfort in Aurell’s sweetly spiced apple and cinnamon cake, while those with a sweet tooth will love the Norwegian cream buns and gooey Daim cookies.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Scandinavian baking roundup without kanelbullar, aka cinnamon buns. Whether you tried your hand at these during the first lockdown or are a complete beginner, these prettily knotted bakes topped with pearl sugar lend themselves perfectly to the darker months. 

All that’s left to do is put the kettle on…

  • Auntie Inga’s ‘kladdaka’ sticky chocolate cake

    swedish chocolate cake recipe
    Scandinavian baking recipes: Swedish chocolate cake, or kladdkaka

    Brontë says: “This cake is one of the most famous fika cakes in Sweden. Every café has a version of kladdkaka (which literally means ‘sticky cake’). It is a bit like an under-baked chocolate cake and that is exactly what makes it so very good. This is our Auntie Inga’s recipe. It’s an easy cake to assemble but take care to bake it for the right length of time.”

    Serves 6-8

    Ingredients

    • 2 eggs
    • 200g caster sugar
    • 150g plain flour or cake flour
    • 3 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder (I use Fazer), plus extra for dusting
    • 1 tbsp vanilla sugar or extract
    • a pinch of salt
    • 100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
    • whipped cream, to serve

    Equipment

    • a 20cm deep round cake pan, greased and lined with baking parchment

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

    Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale.

    Sift all the dry ingredients into the egg and sugar mixture. Fold in until everything is incorporated, then fold in the melted butter.

    Pour into the prepared cake pan.

    Bake in the preheated oven for around 10–15 minutes. The exact time can vary, so keep an eye on the cake. A perfect kladdkaka is very, very soft in the middle, but not runny once it has cooled – but almost runny. The cake will not rise, but it will puff up slightly during baking.

    If you press down gently on the cake, the crust should need a bit of pressure to crack. When this happens, the cake is done. Leave to cool in the pan.

    Serve with whipped cream, dusted with cocoa powder. 

  • Apple and cinnamon cake (Æblekage med kanel)

    Scandinavian apple and cinnamon cake recipe
    Scandinavian baking recipes: apple and cinnamon cake

    Brontë says: “There a many different kinds of ‘real Scandinavian’ apple cakes out there. Truth be told, there are as many ‘real recipes’ for apple cakes as there are people who bake them. This is a cake my mother used to bake when I was a kid, using apples from the garden. At the café, we added a layer of crème pâtissière to it for a bit of extra scrumptiousness. This is one of the most popular cakes at the café.”

    Serves 8-10

    Ingredients

    • 150g butter
    • 200g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla sugar or extract
    • 4 eggs
    • 200g plain flour or cake flour
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
    • 150g crème pâtissière
    • pouring cream, to serve (optional)

    For the topping:

    • 25g butter
    • 50g caster sugar
    • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • a sprinkling of sea salt
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract
    • 3 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm cubes
    • a 23cm springform or round cake pan, greased and lined with baking parchment

    Method

    First, make the topping. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar and cinnamon and add the salt and vanilla extract. 

    Add the chopped apple and stew for a few minutes to lightly start the cooking process, then take off the heat and allow to cool completely. This can be done a day in advance.

    Preheat the oven to 175°C/Gas 4.

    To make the cake, cream the butter, caster sugar and vanilla sugar or extract together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. 

    Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add to the butter and sugar mixture in three stages, whisking all the time. Ensure that all the egg is fully incorporated before adding more or the batter will curdle.

    In a third bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Sift into the wet mixture and carefully fold in until fully incorporated.

    Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and spread evenly to the sides. Dollop the crème pâtissière on top and spread out evenly over the batter.

    Using a slotted spoon, remove the apple from its syrup and scatter over the crème pâtissière. Reserve the syrup for drizzling over the cake once baked.

    Bake in the preheated oven for around 50 minutes – it can be tricky to tell if the cake is done because the crème pâtissière will remain a bit wet, but if a skewer comes out clean, it should be baked inside.

    Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly before eating.

    Enjoy with cream, if you so wish – and pour over some of the leftover syrup for added oomph (I like to add a little more salt to the syrup – it really lifts it). 

  • Norwegian cream buns (skoleboler)

    Scandinavian baking recipes: Norwegian cream buns
    Scandinavian baking recipes: Norwegian cream buns

    Brontë says: “This is the ultimate comfort bun for Norwegians. Traditionally named ‘skoleboller’ (‘school buns’), we call them Norwegian cream buns at the café.”

    Makes 14

    Ingredients

    For the dough:

    • 13g dried yeast or 25g fresh yeast (see note)
    • 250ml whole milk, heated to 36–37°C
    • 80g butter, melted and cooled slightly
    • 40g caster sugar
    • 400–500g white strong/bread flour
    • 2 tsp ground cardamom
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 egg, beaten

    For the topping and brushing:

    • 1 beaten egg, for brushing
    • 150g icing sugar
    • 50g desiccated coconut

    For the crème pâtissière:

    • 500ml whole milk
    • ½ vanilla pod
    • 2 eggs
    • 100g caster sugar
    • 30g cornflour
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 25g butter

    Method

    Pour the warm milk into a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and whisk together. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to become bubbly. 

    Pour into the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Start the machine and add the cooled, melted butter. Allow to combine with the yeast for 1 minute or so, then add the sugar. Allow to combine for 1 minute.

    In a separate bowl, weigh out 400g of the flour, add the cardamom and salt and mix together. Start adding the flour and spices into the milk mixture, bit by bit. Add half the beaten egg. Keep kneading for 5 minutes. You may need to add more flour – you want the mixture to end up a bit sticky, but not so much that it sticks to your finger if you poke it. It is better not to add too much flour as this will result in dry buns. You can always add more later.

    Once mixed, leave the dough in a bowl and cover with a dish towel or clingfilm. Allow to rise for around 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

    Meanwhile, make the crème pâtissière. Heat the milk in a saucepan together with the scraped out vanilla seeds. Add the whole pod to the pan, too, for extra flavour.

    In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornflour and salt. When the milk reaches boiling point, remove the vanilla pod and discard, and pour a quarter of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking as you do so. 

    Once whisked through, pour the egg mixture back into the remaining hot milk, return to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking continuously. Let it bubble for just under a minute. Make sure you whisk as it thickens.

    Remove from the heat and add the butter, whisking in well. Pour into a cold bowl, then cover the top with a sheet of baking parchment to prevent a hard edge from forming as it cools down. Place in the fridge to cool completely.

    After the dough has risen, roll out the dough into a cylinder and cut it into 14 pieces. Roll each piece into a neat circle, then place on a baking sheet and flatten firmly (although they will spring back into place after a while). Make sure you space the buns out evenly.

    Using the base of a glass measuring around 4–5cm in diameter, press down the middle of each bun and add a good tablespoon of crème pâtissière to each indentation.

    Leave the buns to rise for a further 20 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.

    Lightly brush the buns with egg (avoid the custard centres) and bake in a preheated oven for around 10 minutes, or until done (times may vary depending on your oven).

    Cover the baked buns with a damp dish towel for 5-10 minutes as soon as you have removed them from the oven to avoid a crust forming.

    Once the buns have cooled, make the icing. Add a few tablespoons of hot water to the icing sugar and stir. Keep adding water, drop by drop, and stirring until you have a smooth consistency that can be stirred but is still thick, like a syrup.

    Using a plastic pastry brush or a palette knife, carefully smooth the icing on top of all the buns, avoiding the cream centre.

    After each bun has been brushed, sprinkle coconut over the top.

    Note

    If using fresh yeast, add the warm milk to a mixing bowl and add the yeast; stir until dissolved, then pour into the bowl of the food mixer.

  • Daim cookies (daimkakoe)

    Daim cookies recipe
    Scandinavian baking recipes: Daim cookies

    Brontë says: “These gooey cookies are filled with pieces of chocolate-coated almond toffee. Daim is one of the most popular chocolate bars in Sweden but you can use another type of chocolate bar if you can’t get hold of Daim.”

    Makes 20–22 cookies

    Ingredients

    • 150g butter
    • 300g plain flour
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • ½ tsp vanilla sugar or extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
    • ¼ tsp sea salt
    • 150g light brown soft sugar
    • 100g caster sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 2 tbsp whole milk
    • 5 Daim bars (each weighing 28g), roughly chopped

    Equipment

    • 2 baking sheets, greased and lined with baking parchment

    Method

    Melt the butter and set aside to cool down.

    Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, vanilla and salt in a bowl and set side.

    Combine the sugars with the cooled, melted butter and stir until no lumps remain. Combine the egg, egg yolk and milk and mix with the sugar and butter until thoroughly combined.

    Add the flour, bit by bit, mixing until everything is incorporated. Add the Daim pieces and mix to combine. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.

    Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5.

    Form the dough into rough balls, each weighing about 40g and place on the prepared baking sheets around 5 cm apart.

    Bake in the preheated oven for 8–10 minutes or until just golden. 

    Remove from the oven immediately and transfer to a cooling rack – the middle should still be slightly soft but they will harden up after a while. The cookies will be at their very best about half an hour after removing from the oven. 

  • Real cinnamon buns (kanelbullar)

    cinnamon buns recipe
    Scandinavian baking recipes: cinnamon buns

    Brontë says: “Having a good recipe for kanelbullar is essential, because it’s the Scandi treat you will make over and over. Don’t forget to knead some love into the dough; it makes them extra-delicious.”

    Makes 16

    Ingredients

    For the dough:

    • 13g dried yeast or 25g fresh yeast 
    • 250ml whole milk, heated to 36–37°C
    • 80g butter, melted and cooled slightly
    • 40g caster sugar
    • 400–500g white strong/bread flour
    • 2 tsp ground cardamom
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 egg, beaten

    For the filling:

    • 80g butter, at room temperature
    • 1 tsp plain flour
    • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
    • ½ tsp ground cardamom
    • ½ tsp vanilla sugar
    • 80g caster sugar
    • beaten egg, for brushing

    For the topping:

    • 3 tbsp golden syrup (warmed) and nibbed ‘pearl’ sugar

    Equipment

    • 2 baking sheets, greased and lined with baking parchment

    Method

    If using fresh yeast, add the warm milk to a mixing bowl and add the yeast; stir until dissolved, then pour into the bowl of the food mixer. If using dried yeast, pour the warm milk into a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and whisk together. 

    Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to become bubbly. Pour into the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a dough hook.

    Mix in the cooled, melted butter. Allow to combine for 1 minute or so, then add the sugar. 

    In a separate bowl, weigh out 400g of the flour, add the cardamom and salt and mix. Start adding the flour and spices into the milk mixture, bit by bit. 

    Add half the beaten egg. Keep kneading for 5 minutes. You may need to add more flour – you want the mixture to end up a bit sticky. It is better not to add too much flour as this will result in dry buns. You can always add more later.

    Cover the dough with clingfilm. Allow to rise for around 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead through with your hands and work in more flour if needed. Roll out the dough to a 40 x 50cm rectangle.

    In a bowl, add the butter, flour, spices and sugars and mix together well to make the filling. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly over the rolled-out dough. Fold the dough in half lengthways.

    Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut 16 widthways strips of dough. Take one strip and carefully twist it a few times, then curl into a ‘knot’, ensuring both ends are tucked in or under so they do not spring open during baking. 

    Place the folded ‘knots’ on the prepared baking sheets spaced well apart. Leave to rise under a kitchen cloth for 30 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.

    Brush each bun lightly with beaten egg and place in the preheated oven to bake for around 10–12 minutes or until golden.

    Remove from the oven. Brush the warm buns lightly with syrup then decorate with the nibbed ‘pearl’ sugar. Immediately cover with a damp, clean cloth for a few minutes to prevent the buns from going dry. 

    ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge by Brontë Aurell (£9.99, Ryland Peters & Small) is out now

Photography: Ryland Peters & Small

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.