Fall is officially here. The air has gotten crisper, the leaves are starting to turn, and the days all of a sudden have become shorter. This is my favorite time of year, and when I get back into the kitchen to do some serious baking. Scandinavians are known for their baking skills and enthusiasm for all things pastries, breads, cakes and cookies. I’m no different, having grown up in the northwestern region of Sunnmøre, where having 20 different cakes on the table during festivities like confirmations, baptisms and weddings is not unusual. Quite a legacy to live up to!
One of the pastries you will see most frequently when visiting bakeries and private homes in Norway is definitely cardamom buns. I’ve written about them plenty of times before, but there seems to be new inspiration every year to make them. There are endless varieties, one of my favorites being “skoleboller”, a popular version with vanilla custard in the center, decorated with confectioner’s glaze and coconut flakes.
But in the spirit of the season, I wanted to make a spin off these with something more fall inspired, hence apples. Although I grew up in Norway, I now live in the gorgeous Hudson Valley of New York, and this region is known for their many delicious types of apples. By the 1940s, New York was the largest apple producer in the world, and the state still prides itself on growing the most varieties of the fruit worldwide. Farms organize apple picking where you can go and harvest your own apples, in between the many pumpkin patches and vineyards… it is truly one of my favorite things to do this time of year.
Back to the recipe: this is a pastry that will wow your guests! The combination of the soft, fluffy cardamom buns with the rich vanilla custard and the tangy, sweet and cinnamon scented apples is perfect for a weekend afternoon with a cup of coffee or hot tea. Feel free to use pears instead of apples too, I bet it will be equally tasty. Alternatively, you can leave out the fruit entirely if you want to skip a step, and enjoy the home made vanilla custard on its own.
I never thought I would be able to enjoy vanilla custard again when going vegan, and was shocked at how easy it is to make thanks to a secret ingredient: agar agar. This is a vegan alternative to gelatin, but 100 times more powerful, so a little goes a long way. It’s obtained from red algae and is a good source of calcium and iron, as well as rich in fiber. It contains no sugar, fat or carbohydrates and is used in vegan versions of puddings, panna cotta, marshmallows, jello and jam. It should be noted that agar agar contributes to a much firmer consistency than gelatin, and experimenting with quantities used is best, but always use less than what you think you need.
These cardamom buns are definitely going to be a staple in my household, and I hope you will enjoy them too!
NORWEGIAN CARDAMOM BUNS WITH VANILLA CUSTARD AND CARAMELIZED CINNAMON APPLES
For the vanilla custard:
2 cup (500 ml) oat milk or soy milk
4 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp agar agar
Pinch of turmeric
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
Pour the milk into a shallow sauce pan, add the corn starch and agar agar and whisk together over medium heat. Add in the turmeric, maple syrup and vanilla paste and keep whisking until it starts simmering and thickens. Once it does (should only take 3-4 minutes), then pull it off the heat, and pour into a shallow glass pan or other container and place in fridge and let it sit for about 1 hour until it thickens.
Note: Be careful not adding too much turmeric, otherwise the custard will turn a more brownish color than yellow. It’s only added for color, not taste (and a little pinch won’t leave a taste).
For the apple-cinnamon filling:
3 large apples (I used a mixture of Golden Delicious, Honey Crisp and Rome apples)
1/2 cup (125ml) brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbsp plant-based butter
Pour the lemon juice into a large bowl. Core, peel and slice the apples into thin half moons (I used a mandolin), and throw them into the lemon juice and mix in the brown sugar and cinnamon with your hands, until well combined. Heat up the butter in a large sauce pan, add in the apple mixture and sauce for 10 minutes until the apples start to soften and the mixture caramelizes. Set aside to cool while you make the buns.
For the cardamom buns:
Makes about 16 buns
1 stick/8 tbsp vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups (375ml) almond milk or other plant based milk
1 cup (250ml) confectioner’s sugar
1 packet dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
about 4 cups of all purpose flour
almond milk/other plant based milk for brushing buns
Preheat oven to 450F (225C) . Butter/oil two sheet pans.
Melt the butter in a small sauce pot, then add the milk. Whisk in the confectioners sugar until smooth and heat until the mixture reaches around 125F (60C). Be careful not to let the liquid get too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast.
Pour the milk mixture into the bowl of a standmixer and add the yeast, salt and cardamom. Fit the standmixer with a dough hook and gradually add the flour and beat for about 10 minutes on low-medium speed until a firm dough forms. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot for about 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
Turn the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface, divide dough in half and roll each half into two equally long links. Using a dough cutter, divide each link into 8 equal parts, and roll into a bun. Place the buns onto the greased sheet pans and cover with a towel. Let rise again for about 30-40 minutes.
Using your fingers, dig a circle in the center of each bun. Brush the buns with a little non-dairy milk, fill with a spoonful of the homemade custard, and top with a little of the apple-cinnamon mixture.
Bake in the oven for about 12-14 minutes until golden and let cool on a rack. Best the same day with a nice cup of strong, black coffee, but keeps for 2-3 days.