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Basic Finnish sweet yeast dough

Sweet buns Buns, pastries, cakes and pies made with sweet yeast dough are very popular in Finland. Indeed, if there is one food item we Finns know how to prepare better than any other nation, it is the sweet yeast dough and the many pastries and cakes created from it.

Although low in fat and cholesterol, they are still tasty and delicious, and a much healthier alternative for the various bakery products made with puff pastry, shortcrust pastry, cream puff pastry, phyllo pastry, etc.

This is the traditional and authentic basic recipe found in almost every Finnish cookbook (the only minor alterations may be found in the amount of butter or sugar used). The dough can also be used to make such traditional Finnish delicacies as braided sweet yeast bread, cinnamon rolls, Shrove buns, butter-eyed buns, Boston cake, quark pies and bilberry pies.

To make "even healthier" buns, see the recipe for low-cholesterol buns.

Important notes:

It is despairing to see the multitude of distorted, faulty recipes circulating the Internet, published in foreign cookery books or concocted by ignorant celebrity chefs under the name of "Finnish" or "Swedish" sweet yeast dough, cinnamon rolls or buns. Grossly misinterpreted recipes like these give a bad name to the already little known Nordic and Scandinavian cuisine :-(

  • Unlike stated in many faulty foreign recipes for sweet Finnish yeast dough, proofing of the dough must always be performed twice  —  firstly for the kneaded dough and secondly for the readily-formed buns, rolls or cakes. There are no shortcuts for this procedure.
  • Using cardamom as flavouring is what makes these Finnish pastries special. Cardamom is never used powdered, but the individual seeds are coarsely crushed. In Finland, you will find readily crushed cardamom seeds of just the right texture sold in every grocery store.
  • Butter and egg are absolutely essential additions to the dough, as are milk, fresh or dry yeast and sugar (water, baking powders or sugar substitutes must never be used).
  • In spite of the simple ingredients and preparation method, it takes quite a lot of practise to produce a successful sweet yeast dough  —  if you are experienced as a bread baker, you will have no difficulties in understanding how the yeast dough "works".
  • Like bread, pastry items made with sweet yeast dough are best eaten fresh on the day they were baked  —  however, they can be frozen as soon as they have cooled down, although freezing somewhat worsens their texture.

basic sweet yeast dough:

250 ml milk
25 g fresh yeast
100 ml sugar
¼ - ½ tsp salt
1 tsp coarsely crushed cardamom seeds
1 egg
100 g butter, softened
about 800 - 1000 ml flour
1 egg for glazing
chopped or flaked almonds for garnish
sanding sugar for garnish

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Add the sugar, salt, cardamom and the egg and whip until smooth. Add about half of the flour and beat or mix the batter, since incorporating some air in it will help to produce a stronger gluten web in the dough.

Add the soft butter and start adding the rest of the flour, little at a time, mixing and kneading until the dough is elastic and starts coming away from the side of the mixing bowl. This is most easily done with a heavy-duty tabletop mixer fitted with a dough hook.

Add just enough flour to get a soft, no too sticky dough. Remember that during leavening, the flour will absorb liquid and swell, making the dough somewhat harder. Especially coarse wheat flour will absorb more moisture than fine wheat flour, so adjust the amount of flour according to which type you are using (ie use less coarse flour and more fine flour).

If you are unsure about the correct amount of flour and texture of the dough, it is better to leave the dough slightly too soft and sticky, than too dense and hard. Cover the bowl tightly and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size.

Kneaded dough Arrow Risen dough
Kneaded dough   Sufficiently risen dough

Punch down the dough and lightly knead it. Form the dough into small (à ca 45 g), medium-sized (à ca 80 g), or large (à ca 110 g) buns and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover the buns with a damp towel and let rise until they have approximately doubled in size.

Buns before leavening Arrow Leavened, decorated buns
Buns before leavening   Leavened, decorated buns

Arrow Baked buns
  Baked buns

Glaze the buns with lightly beaten egg, sprinkle with sanding sugar and/or chopped or flaked almonds, if you like, and bake at 225 °C for 8 - 15 minutes, or until the buns are golden brown. Place the buns on a wire rack and let them cool slightly, loosely covered with a tea towel. Serve the warm buns with coffee or tea, or with hot cocoa or a glass of ice-cold milk.
Makes about 8 to 10 large, 12 to 14 medium-sized, or 20 to 24 small buns.

Serving suggestion:
If baking larger-sized buns, you can use them to make the traditional Finno-Swedish Shrove buns.

Recipe source: traditional Finnish recipe.


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