Cardamom memories.

From M., 13 January 2010, Cardamom: bringing back memories.

Q: Growing up, we used to go to a delicious Swedish bakery in Jamestown, NY, called Ecloff’s. They made the most delicious sweet rolls with cardamom sugar on top. I remember the wonderful smell of those rolls so well and have always loved cardamom ever since. Do you have any recipe suggestions for sweet or savory foods made with cardamom?

A: Thanks for your question! Cardamom is such a classic Swedish flavor. I’ve had those sweet rolls you mention – not at Ecloff’s, but living in Minneapolis, another Scandinavian hub, and I know the addictive potential. The rolls are yeasty and just a little sweet, not cloying like cinnamon rolls, with the little sugar crunch on top.

I’m not a natural baker and need to rely on recipes for breads and such. A couple of years ago, I picked up this great book – A Baker’s Odyssey, by Greg Patent – after reading a review on NPR.com. The book canvasses different baking traditions from around the world, and it contains a recipe for Cardamom Coffee Rolls.

If you’re a coffee drinker, you might consider adding a little ground cardamom to your coffee, or placing a whole cardamom pod to your coffee cup before pouring in some strong, espresso-like coffee. If you have the means to produce Turkish coffee, the cardamom adds a classic taste.

In our home, cardamom often finds a place in Indian dishes, which I’ll post about separately.

Cardamom Coffee Rolls, abridged from A Baker’s Odyssey

Patent received this recipe from Pam Knutson, who uses a two-step process to make the dough. First, you need to make a sponge (basically a pre-dough), which ferments before addition to the rest of the dough. The sponge-making process contributes to flavor development and a light texture. Then, you combine the sponge with the other dough ingredients, including egg, sugar, more flour, and butter. Egg wash helps the cardamom sugar stick to the rolls, and provides a shiny, glazed surface.

According to Knutson, to achieve a moist, light texture, be sure the dough remains fairly wet and do not be tempted to add too much flour in an effort to achieve a workable dough – if you do, you’ll end up with dry rolls. And try to grind your own cardamom from seed – it’s far more fragrant that way.

Knutson’s recipe specifies almonds in the topping. If the rolls of your memory did not include almonds, try using a pearl sugar (large, white, round sugar meant for decorative purposes), or coarse, sanding-type sugar (more crystalline), and increase the amount. Also, if the rolls did not contain cardamom in the dough, you might consider adding a little extra cardamom to the topping, omitting it from the dough, and substituting a little almond extract – maybe 1/2 tsp.

Sponge

1 c whole milk
1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry or instant yeast

Dough

1/2 c sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter, soft and room temperature
1 tsp ground cardamom (slightly more if you use pre-ground)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour

Topping

1/4 c slivered almonds, chopped finely
2 tbsp granulated sugar [see my note above]
1/4 tsp ground cardamom [see my note above]
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water, for the egg wash

For the sponge, whisk together the flour and yeast in a medium bowl. Scald the milk in a small saucepan – the temperature should be between 120F and 130F. Add the milk to the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth. Be sure to scrape all the batter from the sides of the bowl and the whisk, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to double in volume (about 1 hour).

Turn the sponge into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add all the dough ingredients EXCEPT the flour, and beat, using the flat beater paddle, on low speed for one minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat for five minutes until the dough becomes ropy and masses onto the beater, pulling away somewhat from the sides of the bowl. Scrape the sides and remove the paddle. If you lack a stand mixer, undertake this entire step by hand using a wooden spoon, beating vigorously. Stir the flour into the dough with a wooden spoon.

Using the dough hook, knead the mixture, increasing the speed from low to medium, and then to medium high, for about five minutes until the dough is soft, elastic, and somewhat sticky. If you need to perform this step by hand, beat the dough with a wooden spoon. Then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead by hand, adding a little flour if necessary, to achieve the same texture.

Wash out the rising bowl, dry it, and lighty oil the bowl. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour (about 1 tbsp), return it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Oven 375F

Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and flip the dough to coat with flour. Divide, using a pastry scraper or very sharp knife, into 15 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place seam side down, separated by an inch if possible, in an oiled 13x9x2 pan. Drape a piece of plastic wrap over the pan and allow to proof/rise one hour, to double in size. The rolls will be touching.

Combine the topping ingredients in one bowl, and the egg wash in another.

When the rolls have proofed, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with the topping, and bake 20-25 minutes until browned and springy when pressed lightly. Cool on the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

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