Blog by Suzanne Prichard, Cancer Hope Network support volunteer.
With inspiration from The Best Bread Ever by Charles Van Over http://tinyurl.com/lzowu5k and Cookwise by Shirley C. Corriher http://tinyurl.com/pjnt82c
Every time I make this delicious Danish Butter Ring, everyone is almost giddy with happiness at how good it is. “Stupid Good” is one descriptor. The only people who don’t like it are those who don’t care for Cardamom. My beloved niece Graciela is one, but even for her, I cannot say I would substitute Cinnamon, or another spice. Instead, I’ll make some perfect Danish or Swedish Cinnamon Rolls just for her, every time I make Smorkage for everyone else.
The flavor of Cardamom, which I liken to a slightly peppery and warmer version of Cinnamon with a hint of Vanilla, is found in a lot of Scandinavian recipes. Many people probably think of it as an Asian spice, as found in Indian rice dishes. The presence in these sweet treats makes sense when you think about where Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark are: situated at the end of the ancient spice route, way up North and truly in need of warming elements. Cardamom and hot coffee are ideal companions to their long winters. Cardamom bits were in the Bulla rolls that my best friend brought back to our college dorm room, made by her Swedish grandma. I always thought of it as “Swedish Pepper.” Unlike the green pods used in Indian Rice Pudding, these recipes use the seeds, found inside each pod. Interestingly, Cardamom also contributes to the production of gluten, which is crucial to helping bread rise.
In addition to the inspiration from Beatrice Ojakangas’ Great Scandinavian Cookbook, a gift from my Bestie, Britt, which is currently out of print, I have also listed above, two resource books that demystified baking for me, and helped to make me a better home baker. Although it’s nice when people think you can make magic in the kitchen, the new friends you can make with recipes, and the fond memories like mine, of Grandma Henriksson’s Bulla Rolls: great baking comes down to practical, rather than romantic matters.
Even more so than cooking, baking depends upon Science: particularly, Chemistry. In addition to being a cook and baker, Shirley O. Corriher is a scientist: she explains what really happens when you bake. Her books helped me understand how yeast, flour, butter, and all the other ingredients in recipes work. All recipes are roadmaps for a dish, and it helps to know which elements are rules and which are more like guidelines. Once you know the reasons behind the rules, it opens up a whole world of techniques.
I am a purist when it comes to baking. I don’t do a lot of substituting of things that are fundamental to a recipe. Thus, the concept of “gluten free bread” is pretty much an oxymoron to me. This is a buttery, rich and delicious treat. It cannot be made low fat or low calorie. My philosophy is to eat the real thing, but not too much. Make at home and enjoy it. The more you share, the more friends you make, and the fewer calories you’ll need to burn.
“The Best Bread Ever” by Charles Van Over offers a unique technique for breadmaking that does most of the kneading (which distributes the gluten) in a food processor, and utilizes Instant Yeast, which is superior to “Active” or cake yeast, (the kind you buy in packets at the supermarket) since you never have to proof it, and it keeps in the freezer, in an airtight container indefinitely.
I still remember an unrisen pizza dough I made with one of those infernal yellow and red packets, back in the days when I was still learning to bake. It was rock hard: inedible. When friends say they are “awful bakers” I tell them to keep trying if they want to bake. I understand the giant handicap that a novice would have trying out a yeast bread recipe, which can be a bit tricky at the start. I’ve learned the Science behind the magic, and I am confident, despite mistakes, I can always try again. If you follow this recipe, you should have great success, especially the second time around.
The type of flour you use, the humidity of your kitchen, the type of oven you have, and even the brand of butter and food processor can vary any element of a bread dough, so, for example, you might find you need a bit more milk, or a bit less. You might need to add more flour as you roll it out. After you try breadmaking a few times you’ll get a feel for it. If things don’t turn out well, try again and don’t get discouraged. Home Bakers are made, not born!
Smorkage is best served warm, out of the oven, with coffee. One of the many great things about this recipe is that the first rising happens in the refrigerator overnight: perfect timing for serving at breakfast, providing you are an early riser, or if, like me, you are a late riser, brunch.
1 1/4 cups (2.5 sticks) chilled unsalted butter
3 cups bread flour (King Arthur is best)
3 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast (such as, SAF)
¾ cup whole milk
½ teas freshly crushed cardamom seeds (not pods, which are green, these are small reddish brown chunks). Crush in a mortar/pestle or pulse lightly in an electric spice grinder, or even on a countertop with a heavy pan. Don’t skip this step by buying it pre-ground.
2 teas salt
¼ cup sugar
Filling & Decoration
½ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup almond paste, room temperature
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
½ cup sliced almonds
Cut butter into ¼ inch slices; add to flour in food processor with metal blade; process in pulses until butter is size of kidney beans. Gently mix the rest of the bread ingredients in another bowl; add to flour mixture in food processor and process just until blended. It should be slightly sticky. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of milk. Dump mixture into large bowl and chill, covered, four hours to overnight.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured board. Lightly dust with flour. Pound and flatten into a large square shape and roll into a 20-inch square with a rolling pin. Fold dough into thirds. Turn dough so short side faces you. Roll dough out a little more, and fold again into thirds again. Roll into 20-inch square. Chill dough if necessary.
Butter or spray (with vegetable oil spray) a 10-inch Bundt pan and sprinkle sliced almonds evenly over the bottom of the pan and up the sides, if you wish. To prepare filling, cream together rest of ingredients and spread evenly over the dough. Roll dough into a log and cut into 8 equal slices. Place slices, cut side down, evenly into the pan.
Cover and let rise in a warm, (not hot) draft-free spot until almost doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. (It can take less or more time so don’t panic, but also, don’t keep checking it, as you’ll just introduce possible drafts. I like a sunny spot like a table or corner. Don’t be too worried about how big it is, the next rising is the most important – the one in the oven). If you let it rise too much – like it’s too warm or you leave it too long, it’s not a total failure, but it will be full of bubbles and will spill over the pan and will look terrible.
One hour before you are ready to bake, place pizza/bread stone on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat it to 375º. Remove any other racks at this time.
Just before you put the Smorkage in the oven, place a shallow metal or glass pan under the stone, on the floor of the oven, or, if this is not possible, place it to the side of the pizza stone. The stone should remain in the center of the bottom rack, so use something narrower, like a loaf pan if your oven won’t accommodate putting something under the bottom rack. Boil about 3 cups of water. When you’re ready to go, pour the boiling hot water into this pan, and put the Bundt pan on your stone & shut the door. This will create a steam that will assist in the final rising. You can use this technique for any yeast bread, by the way.
Bake the Smorkage for about 40 to 55 minutes, or until golden. The time needed will depend on your oven, and on your pan, and the humidity of the day, and even the ingredients, so check on it, but not before the first 30 minutes, since you want to leave that steam in there. If you tap the top (which eventually becomes the bottom) it will sound hollow, but it’s full of butter and almond paste, so don’t overbake it and don’t overthink it. If it’s golden, it’s done. If it seems to be getting too brown too fast you can cover with aluminum foil for the last 10 min or so. Make sure your oven isn’t actually a whole lot hotter than 375º – a decent oven thermometer will help with that.
Allow the Smorkage to cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before turning it out onto a serving plate. Serve warm and dust with powdered sugar if you wish.