Cinnamon bun recipes: 3 ways to make the classic Scandinavian swirls at home

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Craving the taste of fresh cinnamon buns? Whip up your own Nordic treats in lockdown with these authentic recipes – plus one with a twist.

Chelsea buns, iced buns, creams buns and more: there’s something about a sweet, sticky, still-warm bun that feels like the culinary equivalent of a comforting hug. And as much as we have a taste for classic British bakes, there’s one Scandinavian variety that we just can’t get enough of: cinnamon buns.

With fluffy dough, fragrant spices and snowy mounds of sprinkled sugar, cinnamon buns are now firmly a national obsession. But unless you’re lucky enough to live beside a Nordic bakery (or within deliverable distance from one), they’re probably something you’re missing while in lockdown

Fortunately, they’re not too difficult to make at home. So we asked three of the UK’s top bakeries and pastry chefs to share their favourite cinnamon bun recipes. 

Fans of a traditional bun will love Gail’s Bakery’s buttery but time-intensive version, while the recipe by Chow and Alex Mezger includes extra spices, a lemony glaze and decorative sugar nibs. And for something a little bit different, Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson has transformed his classic Nordic cinnamon bun recipe into a truly sumptuous cake.

Perfectly capturing the flavours of Scandinavian baking, these buns are a great companion to a hot cup of tea or coffee, whatever the time of day. Just don’t be shy with the sugar. 

Chow and Alex Mezger’s cinnamon bun recipe

Cinnamon bun recipe by Chow and Alex Metzer

Chow and Alex say: “This recipe is one of our absolute favourites. In recent years, we’ve made a few trips to Stockholm and Copenhagen where these buns are found in every bakery. Each time, we wanted to bring back suitcases of these sweet ‘n’ spicy delights. By creating this recipe, we no longer need to. At heart, this is a simple bun. But it’s spectacular.”

Makes 12 large buns

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 300ml whole milk 
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 450g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 7g fast-action dried yeast 
  • 50g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for oiling

For the filling

  • 100g salted butter, softened 
  • 80g soft dark brown sugar 
  •  2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For the glaze

  • 150g icing sugar 
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1–2 tablespoons water

To decorate

  • 30g sugar nibs or pearl sugar (optional)

Method

Bruise the cardamom pods hard enough to split them and shake their black seeds into a mortar. Crush to a rough powder with a pestle and put into a saucepan along with the milk. Warm over a gentle heat for 5 minutes or so, removing from the heat just as the milk begins to simmer. Stir the butter into the pan to melt in the residual heat. Cool for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the cinnamon, dried yeast, sugar and salt and mix until combined. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and warm milk and mix until everything comes together to make a very soft, sticky dough. 

Knead for 10 minutes using an electric dough hook or alternatively, turn the sticky dough onto an oiled surface and knead until smooth, about 10–12 minutes. The dough should be smooth and spring back a little when pressed. 

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with an oiled piece of clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for 45–60 minutes, until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until you have a thick paste. Set aside.

Once the dough has risen, divide it in half, place each one on a lightly floured or oiled surface and roll each one out to a large, long 30 x 46cm rectangle. Spread the paste over the rectangles, keeping a clear 2cm border around the edges.

Roll each piece of dough into a fat cylinder and then, using a sharp knife, cut into six 6cm slices. Nestle the slices into a large 25 x 35cm ceramic baking dish or roasting tin. Cover once again and leave for a final prove of 45–50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Bake the buns in the oven for 16–18 minutes until slightly puffed and golden brown.

Make the glaze by mixing all the ingredients to a smooth paste.

Remove the buns from the oven and allow them to cool in the dish. Drizzle the glaze over and sprinkle with sugar nibs, if using.

Extracted from Jude’s: Ice Cream & Desserts by Chow and Alex Mezger (£16.99, Kyle Books, out on 30 May)

Magnus Nilsson’s cinnamon bun cake (butterkaka) recipe

Cinnamon bun cake
Cinnamon bun recipes: Magnus Nilsson's cinnamon bun cake

Makes 2 cakes or 1 cake and some cinnamon buns.

Preparation and cooking time: 2 hours

Rising time: 1 hour

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 150g butter
  • 500ml milk
  • 50g fresh yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 90g sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground cardamom seeds (optional)
  • 800g strong wheat flour
  • plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
  • 90g sugar, for brushing

For the filling

  • 100g butter, at room temperature, plus extra to grease
  • 90g sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the vanilla pastry cream

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 200ml milk
  • 20g butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open 

Method

Melt the butter in a pan, add the milk and heat to body temperature (37°C). Dissolve the yeast in the milk and butter mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt, sugar, cardamom, if using, and then the flour, little by little, while you knead the dough with the dough hook. Set aside a little of the flour for dusting later.

Keep kneading for about 10 minutes, or until it comes clean off the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and leave to rise for 30–40 minutes, or until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling by mixing the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

For the vanilla pastry cream, add all the ingredients to a pot. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the bean, then let the seeds and the whole bean simmer with the rest of the ingredients over a low heat while you stir constantly until the cream thickens.

Butter a 24cm cake pan. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work counter and knead it for a minute. Roll the dough out and make the buns according to the recipe for cinnamon buns opposite.

Put the buns into the prepared cake pan, but don’t place them too close to one another as they will rise one more time before baking. Cover with a clean dish towel and leave to rise for 30–45 minutes. The buns should be stuck together after the second rise.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Make a hollow in each cinnamon bun and add a scoop of the vanilla pastry cream. Bake for 30–35 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the sugar and 100ml water to the boil in a pan so that the sugar dissolves. Brush the cake with the mixture as soon as you remove it from the oven, but avoid brushing the mix on the vanilla pastry cream. Loosen the edges from the cake pan and leave to cool. 

Extracted from The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson (£29.95, Phaidon)

Gail’s Bakery’s cinnamon bun recipe

Gail's cinnamon buns
Gail's cinnamon buns recipe

Makes 12 buns

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 35g fresh yeast
  • 170ml cold water
  • 300g plain flour
  • 640g strong white bread flour
  • 95g butter, at room temperature
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 20g fine sea salt
  • 300ml milk

For laminating the dough

  • 400g butter, chilled

For the filling

  • 170g light muscovado sugar
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 2 heaped tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g butter, melted

For the topping

  • 120g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon

Method

To make the dough, mix the yeast, water and 150g of the plain flour with a wooden spoon in the bowl of a stand mixer to create a thick paste. Sift over the remaining 150g plain flour in a thick layer, and leave to sit for 15–20 minutes, until you can see the flour beginning to crack as the yeast works underneath it. 

Add the strong flour, butter, sugar, salt and milk, and knead on a slow speed using the dough hook for 5 minutes, until you have a soft but not completely smooth dough.

Tip the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead by hand for a few more minutes, forming it into a ball. Lightly flour a rolling pin and press the dough out into a rectangle measuring 20cm x 30cm x 5cm. Transfer it onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper, wrap it well in cling film, and freeze for 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, take the butter for laminating the dough out of the fridge and leave it to warm up for 15 minutes. Put it into a sandwich bag or between two pieces of plastic film and press it down to create a rectangle of butter, about 15cm x 20cm and 1.5cm thick. Chill until the dough is ready.

Roll the chilled dough into a long rectangle, 15cm x 60cm. Lay it in front of you on the largest surface you have, short edges at the side and long edges at the top and bottom. Press the chilled butter over the right side of the rectangle, then fold the left half on top of it, as if closing a book. 

Press the dough out with the rolling pin, working away from you, front to back only, not side to side – the direction you roll in is absolutely crucial. Create a rectangle that’s 1cm thick, and 1 metre long. One long side should be the folded edge, sealed up, the other should be open.

Mentally draw two lines across the long rectangle stretched out in front of you, dividing it into thirds. Fold the bottom third up, then the top third down over that, rather like folding a letter. Transfer the folded dough back to the baking sheet, wrap in cling film and freeze for another 30 minutes.

Remove from the freezer, unwrap, and sit the dough in front of you exactly as it was before, like a folded letter, then give it a quarter turn so that the long edges are at the sides and the short edges at the top and bottom. 

Roll it out again a rectangle 1cm thick, and 1 metre long. Mentally draw a line half way up the dough, then fold the bottom edge up to meet the centre line, and do the same with the top edge. 

Finally, fold the entire top half of the dough back down over itself. Return to the baking sheet, wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes more.

Butter 12 large muffin cup tray, greasing the flat surface between the cups as well as the cups themselves.

Next, make the filling: mix together the muscovado sugar, caster sugar and cinnamon until combined and set aside.

On the most spacious kitchen surface you have, roll the chilled croissant dough out to a 30cm x 80cm rectangle, 1–2cm thick. Lay it out in front of you so that the short edges are at the sides.

Use a pastry brush to brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 4cm-wide border along the top long edges. Sprinkle the filling all over the melted butter, and pat it down so that it begins to dissolve into it.

Starting from the long edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly, like a Swiss roll. Turn it so that it’s sitting on its seam. With a sharp, non-serrated knife, slice the log of dough into 12 equal buns. 

Take each bun and tug the loose end of the rolled dough out to stretch it very slightly, then tuck it under one of the cut ends of the bun to seal it up – this creates a base for them to sit on. Sit them in the buttered muffin cup tray.

Leave for 2 hours to prove, the best place to prove the buns is in a completely cold oven. Put them on the centre shelf, along with a small bowl of hot water on the floor of the oven, and shut the door – until risen and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven along with the bowl of water. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Place the buns in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180°C/gas mark 4. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until completely puffed and mushroomed over the edges of the muffin cups. They should be a dark, golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave them for 5 minutes, then lift them and sit them slightly askew in their tins to cool further, so that the base of each bun isn’t touching the base of the muffin cup. This allows them to cool without sticking to the cups as the sugar solidifies.

Making the topping by mixing the sugar and cinnamon in a large, shallow dish, and when the buns are completely cooled, roll them gently in the topping to coat them in even more sugary, cinnamony goodness. Eat as soon as possible. 

Main image: Klara Avsenik/Unsplash. Gail’s Bakery image by Charlotte Schreiber. All recipe photos supplied

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Christobel Hastings

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