Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Perfect buns (re-posting)

Today (February 20, 2007) is vastlapäev or Shrove Tuesday again. All youthful Estonians are sledding down the hills tonight, eating copious amounts of bean or pea soup and maybe even some pig's trotters afterwards, followed by several fluffy cream-filled lenten buns. Not me, however. I'm skiing on the slopes of Italian Alps, checking out the restaurants in Valle d'Aosta and stuffing myself on Italian food. Life is good.

The post below originally appeared on March 1, 2006. I'm re-posting it to 1) mark the folk calendar occasion and 2) convince you to bake these. Believe me, these buns are perfect indeed!

Last night was supposed to be Shrove or Pancake Tuesday, but if you had visited any Nordic foodblogs, you'd realise that it wasn't Pancake Tuesday, but Bun Tuesday. There were buns all over the place. In Finland, Pastanjauhantaa and Axis of AEvil wrote about laskiaspulla. In Sweden, Dagmar, Clivia and Kinna blogged about semlor. And every single Estonian had one vastlakukkel - or two - during yesterday. Most schools would have included them in lunch, and many offices order trayfuls of lenten buns to savour during the day.

The Swedes have known the semlor-buns since the late 1600s, back home in Estonia it's a more recent treat. The Estonian vastlakukkel, Finnish laskiaispulla, Swedish semla, and Danish fastelavnsbolle are pretty similar. Lenten buns are basically fluffy yeasted caramom-scented buns, where the dough is enriched with eggs and butter. In Estonia, they are served with whipped cream alone. The Swedes include almonds, the Finns either marzipan and/or jam. Some Swedes eat them in a bowl of milk (and then call it hetvägg). Since learning that the Swedish King Adolf Fredrik died in 1771 after eating 14 of these semlor-in-milk (after a subtantial multi-course meal), I'll keep having mine without milk..

Here is a recipe I've used to make my lenten buns for the last few years, adapted from an old Estonian cookbook.

Vastlakuklid: Estonian lenten buns
(Hõrgud vastlakuklid)
Yields about 24

500 ml lukewarm milk
50 grams fresh yeast
800 grams plain flour (soft), sifted
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
200 grams butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, whisked

500 ml whipping cream (35-38%)
2-3 Tbsp sugar
200 ml lingonberry jam (optional)

Take all the ingredients to the room temperature about an hour before starting.

First make the dough. Crumble the fresh yeast into a bowl and add the lukewarm milk little by little, stirring with a wooden spoon until the yeast has dissolved. Add the sugar and about half of the flour, stir with the spoon. The dough is rather wet at this point, so no need to use your hands.

Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel* and put in a warm place to prove. Make sure there is no draught in the kitchen! Let the dough double in size (about 30-45 minutes, depending on the kitchen conditions). It will look like the picture on the right, with small air bubbles on the surface.

When doubled in size, add the salt, cardamom, melted butter and whisked eggs. Stir in most of the flour and start kneading. You will have to knead the dough for about 10-15 minutes, until it's shiny and elastic and doesn't stick to the bowl anymore.

Now cover again with the kitchen towel and leave to double in size in a warm place. This should take about 45-60 minutes. Knock the dough back and leave to rise again. By this time the dough will look nice and all puffed up, quite dry in consistency.

After about half an hour you can start the rolling. Every cook probably has their own trick for making perfect buns. Here's what I do. I twist off a small piece of dough (about the size of a small to medium egg), put it onto a large piece of parchment paper, cupping my hand over the piece of dough. A bit like holding the mouse (the computer mouse, I mean), with fingers touching the working surface as well. Then I start rolling "the mouse" on the table in small, firm circles. After about 10 seconds or so, you should end up with a beautiful and perfectly shaped ball under your cupped hand. Like this:

Transfer to a baking sheet. Let rise again for about 30 minutes.

Brush with milk or whisked egg (both are fine, the latter results in a shinier bun) and bake at 200-225˚C oven for about 15-20 minutes, until you have beautifully golden brown lenten buns.

[Just to recap: you pre-prove the dough, then add the rest of the ingredients and let the dough rise twice. Then you form the buns and let them rise a bit again. Then you bake:)]

Take out of the oven and cover with a kitchen towel to soften the tops. This is essential, as otherwise you'll make a mess when you start eating the cream-filled buns!

Make the filling. Whisk the cream with some sugar. I like to include some lingonberry jam in my cream filling, as this adds a nice tart touch to the otherwise very sweet bun.

Cut a small slice off the bun and fill with some cream. Put the "lid" back on.

Serve. Especially delicious after a night out on a snowy hill.

* It's a good idea to cover the bowl loosely with a cling film first, so if the dough rises very high, you won't end up with a sticky kitchen towel.


Anonymous said...

yummmm... they look great. i think the estonian whipped cream options sounds nicer than the bowl of milk :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille,

I'm not sure what happened with my earlier comment, it just didn't show up. So we'll se it there will be 2 comments from me...

It was really interesting to read about your Estonian Vastlakuklid. I've never heard about using jam in the lenten buns earlier, but it sounds interesting even though I would miss my Almond paste :-) But I definately think that the jam ones are worth a try!

Anna said...

In Finland "jam or almond paste?" is a kind of a personality test. I'm jam and my husband is almond paste. Do I see a continental rift ;)

Anonymous said...

Those look delicious, Pille! I think I'd take those over pancakes any day :)

Antti said...

This time of the year is such misery for me, from xmas to laskiainen... almost impossible to go shopping with all those yummy pastries around - runebergintorttu, laskiaispulla, you name it. And now I'm ambushed even at nami-nami :) Must. Resist. Difficult!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille, your buns look great. But Clivia's link does not work.

neil said...

There is something satisfying about working with a yeast dough, feeling a live thing under your hands as you knead and roll. Thanks for telling us about the buns, I thought everyone ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Ours were filled with cottage cheese, sultanas, sugar and vanilla.

Anonymous said...

They look really, really good! We have cream buns in Australia but they aren't a celbration food. I haven't had one in years and I am going to be dreaming of the now!

Anonymous said...

Your buns are lovely Pille :) I hadn't seen any recipes that proof the root before adding the rest of the flour...hmmm...I may have to try that as yours look softer and better than mine. :)


Gracianne said...

I had never heard of lenten buns before, yours look really tempting.

Fabienne said...

i think it's delicious... This recipe is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

What a great way to educate oneself. I am so glad I learn about those buns. I celebrated crêpes, but would go for those deliciously looking buns. Never had lingonberry jam before, so I am curious to the taste in comparison to the berries I know. Thanks Pille!

jasmine said...

Thanks for writing this! I had no idea about this tradition. I must try out the recipe


Pille said...

Shauna - I must admit I can't really imagine the 'soak in a bowl of milk' version of this bun either:)

Dagmar - I've never had semlor with almond paste:) In Estonia they are usually with whipped cream alone, but I really liked the ones with slightly tarter lingonberry-whipped cream filling myself. I think I'll stick to that next year, too.

Anna - who would have thought that a simple laskiaispulla filling can tell so much about people;)

Melissa - thanks! But pancakes are lovely as well - just not on the Shrove Tuesday:)

Antti - sorry to add to the misery:) Now you should be fine until the Easter thou, no?

Pene - thanks for pointing out the dysfunctional link. And next year you must make your own vastlakuklid, promise!? :)

Tankeduptaco - I so agree, especially if the dough works perfectly. Your cottage cheese and raisin pancakes sound yummy.

Clare - happy dreaming! We have various sweet yeast pastries and buns all year, but these cream filled ones only make an appearance during this time of the year.

E. - your lented buns looked delicious, both this year and last. But yes, it's advisable to pre-proof the root, as this yields softer buns. They were perfectly fine on the following 2 days as well, although I did pop them into the microwave for 15 seconds for extra softness and heat.

Gracianne - that's the added bonus of foodblogging - we all learn something new every day - I certainly have. It's a pity I don't speak French though:(

Fabienne - thank you!

Bea - lingonberry jam is great - a bit tart. We have 2 versions in Estonia - the slightly less sweet one is great with the black pudding sausages we have for Christmas, and the sweeter one is nice for desserts (I blogged about a lingonberry cheesecake back in December). I get mine from IKEA store here in Edinburgh.

Jasmine - oh please try the recipe, although it's not the simplest one. But the buns are worth it!

Anonymous said...

didnt know the scandinavians have bun day
can i try this?

lingonberry i lovvvvvvvvveeeeee it

Pille said...

Kalinichta, Sha! Lingonberry jam is nice indeed - do you get that in Greece?
I'm not sure if Norwegians eat pancakes or buns on Shrove Tuesday. I seem to remember that you've spent time in Norway? If that's the case, then maybe they don't do lenten buns after all? I'll check with my Norwegian friends..

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille,

Your vastlakuklid look very much better tham mine. I left the thou to rise whilst I took Maarja to Gymnastics and when I got back it had doubled in size and filled my kitchen floor... Will try your method next time!


Pille said...

Dianne - thanks! Sorry to hear that yours looked less than perfect. Maybe we can bake them together next time:) Also - it's important not to let the yeast dough to overrise - you can leave it to rise slowly in the fridge/cool place if you can't "guard" it..

Anonymous said...

i had them in norway and when we visited friends in stockholm

Pille said...

Sorry to hear that, Sha! But then I realised during my "Greek period" :-) that lots of berries are different to Greece and Nordic countries. I think raspberries - very popular here in Scotland as well as in Estonia - are also pretty much unfamiliar in Greece? As is rhubarb (not a berry of course, but nevertheless)?

loungetime said...

Hello, ıt's very beautiful blog

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

They do indeed look perfect and I'm sure that they also taste fine!

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

I'm sure they'll have something similar in Poland, too. I'll have to ask my wife.

thepassionatecook said...

wow... you estonians indulge over lent??? all we're allowed to do is give up this and not eat the other for 40 days on end - but then we're catholic, aren't we? we're not supposed to enjoy life! ;-)

Zarah Maria said...

I made fastelavnsboller this weekend! I'll have to get the post up fast, eh? The recipe looks a lot like yours, but I put in a creme patisserie and strawberry jam instead - and because I'm awfully kitchy, had to top them with purple icing - yours look so regal! Pretty ones, Pille!

lobstersquad said...

Hi Pille
I´ve tagged you for a meme, I hope you don´t mind.
I´ll be looking forward to it when you come back.

Valentina said...

Pille, these are gorgeous. I have to make them. They asked to be tasted.Thank you!!I love the instructions. If I get it wrong it will be only my fault.

Mia said...

Hi Pille, I've really enjoyed poking about various blogs and learning about different versions of Shrove buns all over the Nordic countries. Yours look divine!

We do the hetvägg thing in Finland, too. At least in Swedish-speaking circles.

Anonymous said...

Pille, those look delicious. I love cardamom and I love cream. Out of curiosity, lingonberry jam is almost impossible to find in Canada, any thoughts on a suitable substitute?

Anonymous said...

Pille, they look terrific!


Pille said...

Lounge time - thank you!

Rosa - they're delicious - I was so sad not to have the real things in Italy!

Scott - I believe the Poles eat paczki - not exactly the same, but the idea is similar indeed.

Johanna - nope, we indulge before we start Lent:) And then a little bit more...

Zarah Maria - your fastelavnsboller look soooo girly-cute - I love the pink topping!

Ximena - thanks for tagging me, hope I won't disappoint you!

Valentina - I'm sure you'll do just fine:)

Deinin - I didn't know about hetvägg in Finland, thanks for telling me. Do you know if it's only the Swedish-speaking Finns who do that or all Finns? It would be good to know. Your lenten buns look pretty perfect, too!

Rob - oh, lingonberry jam is my addition, as I like my cream slightly sour and not just sweet. I'm sure you can find lingonberry jam in every IKEA store (any nearby?), or simply omit it. Or use some cranberry jam.

Paz - thank you!! PS I like your new avatar!

Anonymous said...

This pancakes(buns) looks so beautiful with the colors, I'm sure it'll be a big hit with the kids! Nice colors! Although I'm to a big fan of pancakes, this sure looks yummy!

Anonymous said...

All this food looks so delicious, and i hope tested zoom. I'd like to make it alone. Maybe you and I can share more recipe like this one. Generic Viagra

Anonymous said...

Just made these, the texture is nice but found the buns quite plain, with little flavor even after using double cardamom. The bun dough has no sugar, is that a possible oversight? The tart fruit-cream combination is wonderful.

Pille said...

Anon. - I do add 3 Tbsp of sugar to the dough - that's not a lot, but I don't miss the sweetness in the bun, as the whipped cream filling compensates nicely for that.

Erika Longman said...

After years of thinking about it, I finally got 'er done!

العاب said...

Those look delicious, Pille! I think I'd take those over pancakes any day :)

Jane said...

I made these buns for the kids of our Washington Estonian School yesterday.
The buns turned out delicious, I very much recommend the recipe.

Kairi said...

I also used this recipe last year and they came out very well. These look yummy :)

Oks said...

Baked them today for the Russian Maslennitsa holiday!
I was a bit concerned initially because Pille, you mention in the recipe that the buns are very sweet, and mine were far from being even remotely sweet with just 3tbsp sugar. But with addition of the sweet whipped cream, they turned out to be perfect, although I'll make them 2x smaller next time.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure these buns taste delicious. I didn't know you make them in Estonia. I'm Finnish, from a Finnish speaking family. Lenten buns with hot milk remind me of my childhood. I'm from a Finnish speaking family and we used to have the buns this way. Only my father had coffee to them.

I like my buns filled with whipped cream with a hint of vanilla in it, mixed with almond paste, enjoyed with a cup of coffee or served with some hot milk on a plate. NB you don't drink the milk, it is absorbed by the bun. Milla

Tirlittan said...

I grew up with vastlakuklid/laskiaispullat in my Finnish/Estonian family. Now I am introducing them to my American friends but rather than calling them Lenten buns, which is slightly misleading, i call them Shrove Tuesday buns or Mardi Gras buns...

Küllikky from Canada said...

That's how we had them in Sweden when I was a child (from an Estonian family).