Fika (recipe: cardamom buns)

“All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
Our wanderings to guide…”

—Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), preface to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The afternoon — that lull in the day as the sun descends from its daytime peak associated with siestas, declining cortisol levels, increased traffic accidents, coffee breaks…

In August, I visited Stockholm and learned about the tradition of fika, a daily afternoon coffee break, back slang from Swedish kaffi (coffee).  One of the common “sweet treats” served with fika is kardemummabullar, Swedish cardamom buns.  The flavor is exquisite.  Still working on tweaking this recipe, as they don’t compare to the pastries I tried in Stockholm (the only other places in the world I’ve been able to find them sold in a bakery are London and New York).

First batch: attempted Jan 14, 2018.

Recipe: Kardemummabullar

Adapted from fix feast flair and hither and thither

Total ingredients needed for ~20 rolls

  • 1c + 1tbsp milk
  • 3.5c flour
  • 1c brown sugar
  • 3.5-4tsp crushed cardamom seeds
  • 8tbsp butter
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • salt pinch
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • large crystal granulated sugar (optional)

Instructions (active time 45 minutes, waiting time 1.5 hours)

  • if needed: take out butter to soften/bring to room temperature. crush cardamom seeds with mortar & pestle.

Part I: 20 minutes

  • warm milk in microwave for 30-60 seconds, add yeast and a spoon of brown sugar. stir. let activate 10mins
  • while activating, make and set aside filling: mix 4 tbsp softened butter, 1/3c brown sugar, 1.5-2 tsp cardamom in small bowl and cover.
  • while activating, combine dry ingredients in bowl: 3 1/4c flour, 1/3c brown sugar, 1/4tsp salt, 1tsp cardamom.
  • slowly add the milk/yeast, mix, add 4tbsp butter slowly (a pat at a time), mix
  • knead dough by hand for around 10mins (5mins if using mixer) – should be pretty loose dough.
  • shape into ball and leave in bowl, covered with cloth.
  • wait 40mins-1hr for dough to rise

Part II: 15 minutes

  • use remaining flour to flour surface. roll out dough into large rectangle.
  • spread filling on dough. fold into thirds lengthwise.
  • cut into 1-2cm wide strips. twist and fold into knots and place on baking sheet.
  • preheat oven 430°F.
  • let rise another 20-30 minutes.

Part III: 10 minutes

  • bake in oven 8-10 minutes until tops are golden.
  • while baking, make syrup: 2-3tbsp water + 1/4c brown sugar + 1tsp cardamom + 1/2tsp vanilla extract -> mix to dissolve
  • sprinkle with syrup immediately after taking out from oven
  • optional: sprinkle more cardamom and large crystal granulated sugar on top.

Enjoy with: steaming cup of coffee or chai

Recipe: chai

  • 1/3 parts water (around 2 cups, to make 4 cups of chai)
  • 2/3 parts milk (around 4 cups; protein vanilla almond/cashew milk adds a nice flavor)
  • 2 black teabags (assam or breakfast will do)
  • 1 cube crushed ginger (can be frozen, ice-cube size) OR 3 cardamom pods (lightly crushed with the flat end of a knife)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 spoon sugar

Heat water in small pot on stove. As water starts to steam add milk. Stir to prevent skin from forming. When almost-boiling add teabags, ginger/cardamom, cinnamon…let it come to a boil and then simmer for around 7mins (longer if you want stronger). Take off heat, pour in individual cups through a strainer, add sugar to taste.


Personal note: on taking a break

I used to think taking breaks (or following productivity habits like the Pomodoro technique) was silly.  I like being engaged in tasks for long, uninterrupted periods of time—I find an increase in creativity and nuanced understanding that comes the longer I immerse myself in the matter at hand.  But in engaging in deep work, I’d often end up spending too much time on a task—lost in the intricacies of a particular subject—and it didn’t necessarily make the end product of my task that much better.  I’d keep going for hours without discerning my own gradual decline in productivity and focus.

My productivity declined most in the afternoon.  So, I tried setting break times—either whenever I felt my focus wavering or after 2-3hrs of work, whichever came sooner—and have felt better about my work ethic as a result.  Fika, as the Swedes say, is much more than a chance to have coffee and indulge in a sweet treat: it’s a chance to slow down, spend some quality time with someone else, reflect in a world full of distractions.  In setting aside time for a break, I find myself more cognizant of my time in the day and how I wish to spend it.  So here’s to taking a break—to fika—and increased awareness of self, others, and time.

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