Cardamom Knots (Knutar)

I honestly couldn't tell you how I came to order Trine Hahnemann's book, Scandinavian Baking. I just decided one day that I was interested in the subject. All those rye breads I like so much, maybe, and the idea of the Swedish coffee break called fika. So I asked Amazon to bring me Trine's book, and I've been Scandi baking it up ever since. Whatever it was that initially planted the seed of Scandinavia in my brain, I'm glad it happened. I'm loving this book. It's full of dreamy desserts involving lots of cream, marzipan, and Danish pastry, all things that I feel I don't see enough of in American baking. Why do we Americans hate marzipan? I'll never understand. 

I've made quite a few recipes from the book, from crisp breads (aka crackers), to rye breads, cookies, and cakes and, so far, the section on buns, knots, and pastries is my fave. It's that Swedish fika thing that gets me, basically a socially established formal coffee break in which you drink coffee or tea out of real cups, eat something sweet like a cinnamon bun, and chat. It's hard to translate the idea, really, and I'm no expert since I haven't been to Sweden. However, I am pretty advanced in the art of taking a coffee break and I think I get the gist. T.B.H. I'm jealous that the Swedes get a daily opportunity to eat sweet buns and pastries. 

For me, the original recipe from the book was a little plain. I know, I know; it must be that I'm an American, and that I don't appreciate simple things, and that I like things sweeter than they need to be. Whatever it is, I did want them to be, well, a little sweeter, so I upped the sugar in the dough ever so slightly. Also, the original recipe was pretty large; it seems that when Trine bakes, she bakes for the neighborhood. I wanted the dough to fit comfortably in the mixer, so I reduced the size of the batch. Lastly, I have a strange pet peeve about using just butter and spices as the filling for any kind of pastry or bun. The issue is that whenever you do this, the filling just bakes out into the dough because the butter melts as soon as it hits the oven. For that reason, and because I love that old marzipan flavor, I mixed the butter in the filling with a headier dose of spices, and an equal portion of almond paste. This way, our filling stays more intact, though some of it does melt out onto the sheet tray, forming a delightful crunchy contrast to the soft bun. 

A note about fresh yeast: baking with fresh yeast is so fun! Feeling that crumbly, weirdly spongey texture in your fingers....and the taste is a little more mellow, too. If you're in LA, you can get fresh yeast by the block in the refrigerated section of Surfas, in Culver City. If it's too hard to find, I've included an approximation for using instant yeast.

Cardamom Knots (Knutar)

Makes 13-15 knots, inspired by Trine Hahnemann

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 25 grams fresh yeast (about 6 grams instant yeast, that's about 2 scant teaspoons)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 425 grams all-purpose flour (about 3.5 cups)
  • 75 grams sugar (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 100 grams room-temperature butter, about 7 tablespoons

For the filling:

  • 75 grams butter, at room temperature
  • 75 grams almond paste, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • The seeds of one fresh vanilla bean, scraped out of the pod

Instructions:

  1. Warm the milk very gently, to lukewarm. Put the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl and crumble the yeast into the milk and stir to dissolve. Then add the egg, sugar, and about half of the flour. Mix well and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the flour and the salt, and mix well. If you're doing this in a stand mixer, use the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed until everything is combined. Then, increase the speed to medium and add the butter knob by knob until it's well incorporated. If you're doing this by hand, follow the same procedure, adding the butter in slowly after the initial ingredients are incorporated. 
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle the top with flour. Flour your hands, too, and knead it well, until it becomes less sticky, and stays in a smooth-ish ball as you knead. Try to add as little flour as possible while kneading. Put the dough into a bowl, cover with a dish towel, and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it's doubled in size. 
  4. Make the filling by mixing together the butter, almond paste, sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt. 
  5. Start preheating the oven to 350 F. Tip the risen dough onto a floured surface, and roll it gently into a rectangle approximately 18 inches long by 9 inches wide. It doesn't need to be exact! Spread the filling over 2/3 of the filling. Fold the top third down over the center of the dough, and then fold the bottom third up over the rest. Press down gently to seal, or use the rolling pin to flatten the dough rectangle out slightly. 
  6. Cut the dough vertically along the short side into 13-15 equal rectangles using a sharp knife or a dough scraper. If the dough is difficult to work with at this point, you can put the dough pieces into the freezer or refrigerator for 10 minutes or so. Then, taking one piece at a time, cut each piece lengthwise in half almost all the way up to the top, and then stretch the piece gently. Twist each half, and tie into a knot. I know that this set of instructions is confusing, and I don't have pictures, so I refer you to this unbelievably adorable video, here. These two Swedes will show you how it's done. Skip to minute 8 for the dough shaping that I'm talking about. 
  7. Place each knot on a rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment, and allow them to rise for about 30 minutes. They should be puffy. 
  8. Brush them gently with a beaten egg, and place in the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until they're well browned. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.