Fika – or, taking a coffee break – is firmly embedded in Swedish culture. But it’s more than just stopping for a hot beverage – it’s away of life. The Swedes love coffee. Per capita, they gulp down an average of 39 gallons a year.
The practice of fika is adhered to religiously, daily. Swedes plan their days around it – whether they take it at work or at home, with family, colleagues or friends. Fika is not simply about a cup of coffee, it’s a social event. And having something to eat is just as essential.
“In Sweden, when there’s company, you serve coffee; and serving coffee without something to eat alongside is simply unthinkable,” explains Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall, authors of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
What’s more you’ll find this ritual across the country. From enjoying a cuppa and cake in a farmhouse in the hinterlands of Värmland, to drinking java with a slice of mandelkaka (almond tart) in Malmö or munching on kladdkaka (sticky chocolate cake) with your coffee in a bustling Gothenburg café.
When entertaining, the rule of thumb is to provide seven types of cookies – if you make six, it’s an insult, and eight is seen as too flashy.
But with pastries, there’s one undisputed champion: kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns. As Anna and Johanna put it, kanelbullar is “the quintessential component to a Swedish coffee break”; the buns even have a day devoted to them (Kanelbullans Dag, 4 October).
Makes 30 buns
7 tbsp unsalted butter (for dough)
2 tsp active dry yeast
638g all-purpose flour
50g natural cane sugar (for dough)
1½ tsp whole cardamom seeds, crushed
¼ tsp salt
7 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp (for filling)
99g natural cane sugar (for filling)
3-4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp crushed cardamom seeds (for filling)
1 egg, beaten
Pearl sugar or chopped almonds
1. Dough: melt butter in a saucepan, then stir in milk. Heat until warm. In a bowl, dissolve yeast in 2-3 tbsp of the mixture. Stir and let sit for a few mins until bubbles form on top of the yeast.
2. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and cardamom. Add yeast mix and the remaining butter and milk. Work together until you can make the dough into a ball.
3. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic (3-5 mins). If it sticks to your fingers, add a pinch of flour. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a draft-free place for it to rise until double in size (about 1 hr).
4. Filling: cream the butter together with the sugar and spices with a fork until it makes a spreadable paste.
5. When the dough has risen, take half and roll into a 28 x 43 cm rectangle. Spread half of the filling on top of the rolled-out dough. Roll the dough upward and divide into 15 slices and place rolled side up on a greased baking sheet. Repeat with second half of the dough and cover the buns with a tea towel and let them rise for 45 mins.
6. Brush buns with a beaten egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake for 8-10 mins at 225°C. Add 10 mins baking time if baking more than half of the buns.
Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall is out now.
Main image: Cinnamon buns (Shutterstock)
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