The start of the year can be hard months, especially in Portland. In the years I’ve lived here, January/February is usually when the winter depression sets in — the realization that we’ve got another five months of constant endless drizzle and gray skies ahead of us, and that my subsequent days will be spent doing the exact same thing: going to work and biking in grim weather.
At this time of year, it’s easy for me to fall into a trap of hating the city, thinking mean thoughts that are unbecoming of a supposedly lighthearted and whimsical food blogger like myself:
I hate biking, I’ll think ragefully to myself as I don my waterproof pants and high visibility jacket to armor myself against the rain. I hate Portland cyclists. They’re the most smug and entitled; think that their paltry 3-mile bicycle commute is a friggin’ race for the yellow jersey. In addition to these jerks, why is Portland considered such a good biking city anyway, especially if it rains like 300 days out of the year? Terrible.
I hate Portlanders, I’ll fume in my head, as I stand hangrily in line behind a woman toting a yoga mat and lengthily debating the merits of different nutrient-dense vegan foods with the cash register at New Seasons, Portland’s local, pricier answer to Whole Foods. Everybody here is so smug and preachy about their alternative diets and their healthy exercises. Why does she have to discuss this with some rando person? It’s only so she can righteously declare that she eats kale everyday and publicly congratulate herself. Terrible.
This year, my solution to such stormy thoughts was to take a vacation. I bought a ticket to Texas to visit Kiron, one of my best friends, who is currently spending a semester abroad at the University of Texas in Austin.
Fun fact about me — I actually went to high school in Houston, where I had a pretty stereotypical childhood. My memories of the place are filled with hours of soccer practice in the blistering heat, blasting music during a long commute to the private school I attended, suburban pool parties turned sleepovers and driving to fast food restaurants with friends. When I graduated from high school, my parents pretty much high-tailed it out of the city, and a result, this past trip was my first time back in Texas in almost ten years.
It was physically and emotionally overwhelming. Physically because Kiron and I ate like kings, and I gained back most of the weight I’d lost in a month (on this sad, mostly carb-free diet I’m on) over the course of four days with unnecessary stops — NO REGRETS. Emotionally because, walking around, I would suddenly get nostalgic flashes as a long lost memory was resurfaced. Oh, this was the Chipotle my friend and I ate at when we toured UT’s campus together! or Oh, I’ve had Amy’s ice cream before after all, there used to be one next to my high school!
Although I enjoyed the trip, the reliving of my past and being immersed in a new-yet-familiar made me grateful for the things I had now; specifically, for living in Portland itself. The fact that good food and neighborhoods were separated by short bike rides instead of congested highways, and the fact that I could easily buy healthy, wholesome foods at small mom-and-pop stores instead of massive, generic grocery stores. It was strange to me that this was my life once, so long ago. And though I have fond memories of living in Houston and had a great time in Austin, the trip made me realize how much I’d changed, especially with regards to the things I value and the way I live my everyday life. I now compost regularly and get irritated if I spend too much time driving. All those Portlanders that I was hating on earlier — the jerk cyclists, the pretentious yogis and smug vegans — they had rubbed off on me after all.
People travel and vacation for many different reasons — to learn, to find new things, to explore, to escape. But my favorite reason for doing so is that for me, traveling somewhere new always reminds me of how lucky I am to have found Portland, a place that I ultimately love and chose as my home.
For those of you who have always found regular cinnamon buns to be too intense and sickly sweet, Swedish buns provide the perfect compromise. Swedish buns are basically cinnamon rolls topped with beautiful Swedish pearl sugar instead of icing. My version of the pastry is filled with marzipan, orange zest and generous pinches of cardamom. When baking in the oven, the buns fill the kitchen with the most wonderful, aromatic scent that really makes the house feel like home.
Some baker’s notes:
- Swedish pearl sugar is available online — I like the Lars’ Own kind, but King Arthur Flour also makes their own Swedish pearl sugar variety. Do NOT confuse Swedish pearl sugar with Belgian pearl sugar, which is significantly larger and is intended for embedding into doughs. In a pinch, you can make your own Swedish pearl sugar by using a rolling pin to crush sugar cubes into smaller granules.
- Plan ahead for this one! The dough needs to rise for about 3 hours total — the first hour and a half after the dough has just been mixed and kneaded, the second hour and a half after its been punched down and formed into rolls. If that seems like a lot of time, feel free to make the dough the day before and let it rise overnight in the refrigerator. This trick works better if you use instant/rapid rise yeast.
- If your kitchen is cold and you don’t want to wait forever for the dough to rise, one trick is to set your dough in the oven with the light on. The lightbulb will increase the temperature around 5 or so degrees. Don’t try to increase the temperature more than that, a slow rise is good for flavor development, a fast rise is bad.
Orange, Marzipan and Cardamom Swedish Buns
- an 18 x 12 “half sheet” jelly roll pan
For the Dough
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon instant/rapid rise yeast
- 2 1/3 cups whole milk, warmed to lukewarm
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
For the Orange, Marzipan and Cardamom Filling
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- zest from 2 medium oranges
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 4 ounces marzipan, chilled (place the marzipan in the fridge for at least 2 hours before using, preferably overnight)
For the Egg Wash and Swedish Pearl Sugar Topping
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 cup Swedish pearl sugar (see baker's notes)
- In a large bowl, whisk together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups bread flour, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 tablespoon instant yeast. Set aside.
- In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together 2 1/3 cups milk (warmed to lukewarm), 2 eggs and 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Set aside.
- Use a tall glass or a large liquid measuring cup to make a well in the center of the dry ingredients (from the 1st step) and add liquid ingredients (from the 2nd step), using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to stir until combined. As the dough starts to form, transfer to a lightly floured center and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticking, you can add up to 1/2 cup of extra flour as you knead, but be careful not to overdo it or you'll end up with tough, heavy buns.
- Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
- As the dough is rising, prepare the filling ingredients. In a small saucepot over medium heat, melt 1/3 cup cubed unsalted butter, constantly whisking. Stir as it bubbles, and after 2 to 3 minutes you should see brown bits appear on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat immediately and continue to whisk for another 30 seconds. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and zest from 2 medium oranges by using your fingers to rub the orange zest into the granulated sugar. This will help release oils from the zest and fully infuse the sugar with orange flavor. Set aside.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, transfer to a lightly floured counter and use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches.
- Use a pastry brush to brush the rolled dough with 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter (from the 5th step). Sprinkle the surface of the butter-slathered dough evenly with the sugar and orange mixture (from the 6th step) and 1 teaspoon ground cardamom. Use a hand grater to grate 4 ounces of marzipan over the dough. If the marzipan starts to stick to the grater, allow the marzipan to chill in the freezer for 5 minutes before grating over the dough again. Make sure you sprinkle the sugar, spices and marzipan evenly and completely over the rolled out dough, including the edges.
- Working lengthwise, roll the dough into a log, pinching its edges to seal. Cut the roll into 12 pieces, each about 2 inches wide. Place cut sides down on a parchment-lined 18 x 12 inch jelly roll sheet pan, spaced 3/4 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm places until the edges of each roll are rounded and touching, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- While the dough is rising, prepare the egg wash by whisking together 1 large egg and 1 teaspoon of honey in a small bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 (F).
- Once the rolls have risen, use a pastry brush to brush each roll with the egg wash, until the surface of each roll is completely covered. Sprinkle a generous amount of Swedish pearl sugar over each roll, making sure to use the entire 1/2 cup. Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for around 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges of each bun are golden in color. Let cool on a wire rack.