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How to Make the Cardamom Bun That Took New York


The scent of green cardamom will linger on your clothes for a couple of hours after a visit to Fabrique, the Swedish bakery that opened its first United States outpost nearly five months ago in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. You’ll wish it would never leave. The warming, resinous fragrance of the spice, combined with the buttery, yeasty fumes of the bakery, works like an enchantment.

The source is Fabrique’s kardemummabulle, or — a little less fun to say in English — cardamom bun. Suddenly, this summer, New Yorkers fell under its spell.

For some Americans, the buns might be their first unadulterated taste of cardamom, while those familiar with the global cuisines in which the spice is a common ingredient (Indian, Turkish and Iraqi, to name a few) may find this Nordic application a novelty.

“I think it’s quite unique to use cardamom in that way, actually, in a sweet thing like this,” said David Zetterstrom, who owns and operates Fabrique with his wife, Charlotta Zetterstrom. “But it works really well.”

It works so well that the bun is ubiquitous in Sweden (along with its counterpart, the cinnamon-forward kanelbulle, which is typically also made with cardamom). When he was devising the formula for Fabrique’s cardamom bun back in 2008, Mr. Zetterstrom understood that anything basic wasn’t going to cut it: “You have to find your own way to do them,” he said. “You have to have some sort of edge to them, you know?”

The “edge” he found is a buttery one; the dough itself doesn’t contain much fat, but he amps it up in the filling. Looking at the finished product, you might worry it could be bland or dry. Although the bun is golden, it’s not crowned with the kind of glistening, gooey caramelization we’re accustomed to seeing on American buns.

But there are intimations of what lies within. As that filling melts into the dough during baking, some of it seeps out, pooling around the bun in a molten mix of butter, sugar and cardamom. As the liquid cools, it hardens into a thin, crisp brittle, giving the bun feathery, candylike edges. The result is a tender, unequivocally moist pastry that would make the poor Pillsbury Doughboy weep in shame.

Mr. Zetterstrom whets that edge with extra spice. “Every bakery has their own recipe,” Ms. Zetterstrom said. “Ours contains more cardamom.”

Fabrique, which now has 19 locations in Stockholm and five in London, procures its khaki-colored cardamom pods from Guatemala through a Swedish purveyor that then removes the brown, pebble-hard seeds and coarsely grinds them. This is where the spice’s flavor is concentrated, and where the bakery’s bun gets its signature intensity and speckled appearance.

Johanna Svensson, who worked at one of the Fabrique bakeries in Stockholm before moving to New York to be the head baker at the new store, has yet to get sick of them. “I try not to eat them every day,” she said, before admitting she usually does anyway.

She hasn’t wearied of making them, either, of watching the dough get kneaded, teasingly tossed by the two robotic claws of an industrial mixer that reminds her of a spaceship; of rolling out the dough, then straightening it to remove wrinkles; of winding the dough strips layered with filling around her index and middle fingers as you would wrap a bandage; or of sprinkling a cone of cardamom sugar over the top of each flattened knot before putting it in the oven.

Replicating these buns at home poses a few challenges, none of which can’t be overcome. Civilian kitchens aren’t equipped with machines that have automaton-like limbs to bring together a dough. But a stand mixer will do, as will a pair of (human) hands. At the bakery, fresh yeast is the leavening agent; home cooks can use active dry yeast instead.

As for the prominent spice, it would take a lot of pods to get the amount of seeds necessary for a proper Fabrique batch. Not only is that an expensive prospect, but it’s a time-consuming one, and it’s hard on the kinds of grinders used in residential kitchens. (Ms. Svensson said the company that handles the task for the bakeries in Sweden changes its grinder blades once a week.)

For home bakers, the answer is store-bought finely ground cardamom. It’s not as pungent because it’s not freshly pulverized, and because the outer shells are duller in flavor. So you use a whole lot of it; buy the best quality you can find. Freshly grinding a few pods for the sprinkling sugar on top of the bun gives you a burst of that woodsy heat, and its aroma hits you as you bite in.

It’s important to manage expectations here. The cardamom buns you make at home aren’t perfect facsimiles of the Fabrique original. That’s impossible, and the reason we have bakeries. But they’re very, very good — so good you could eat them every day.

Recipe: Swedish Cardamom Buns


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