Appetites: Swedish chef talks Nordic cooking, baking and experimenting

Magnus Nilsson
Magnus Nilsson, author of "The Nordic Baking Book."
Photo by Erik Olsson courtesy of Phaidon

Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, author of "The Nordic Cookbook" has completed another book of recipes — "The Nordic Baking Book" — which you might have guessed focuses on baked goods, for the most part.

Book cover for The Nordic Baking Book
Book cover for "The Nordic Baking Book"
Courtesy of Phaidon Press

The first step, Nilsson said, was figuring out the difference between baking and cooking.

"It might seem like something easy to do, to define what baking is, and it turned out, at least for me, it wasn't. It was really difficult," he said. "And in the end, this book should probably have been named differently because it contains all the baking but it also contains all of the other grain-based dishes — pancakes, porridges, granolas, things like that."

The book also has recipes for making jams and cordials.

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Nilsson also considers himself a cook, not a baker.

"Professionally speaking, there is a big difference," he said.

When he cooks he feels he can be more experimental, but when baking he needs the recipe, he said.

"I think that's the case for most people who are going to use (the book), actually."

However, that doesn't mean there isn't any room for experimentation when baking.

"That's where it often goes wrong with baking recipes," he said. "People follow it to the dot, and they get the good results, and then they do exactly the same thing forever."

Which is a pity, Nilsson said, because then you can never make a recipe your own.


Adapted from "The Nordic Baking Book" by Magnus Nilsson

Preparation and cooking time: 2 hours
Makes: 30 buns Kardemummabullar (Sweden)


1 quantity any one of the three basic Sweet Wheat Bun Doughs (below)
Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting

For the filling 1 50 g/5 oz (1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature 90 g/3 1/4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons finely ground cardamom seeds

For the topping 2 tablespoons golden syrup 50 g/2 oz (1/4 cup) sugar 1/2 tablespoon finely ground cardamom seeds


Follow the instructions for one of the sweet wheat bun doughs on pages 258-9. While the dough is rising, make the filling by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Line 2 baking sheets with baking (parchment) paper. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work counter and knead it for a minute. Divide the dough in half and roll out each half into a rectangular shape about 1-1.5 cm/1/2 — 3/4 inch wide and the length of a baking sheet. Spread the filling onto the dough rectangles and fold one half of it onto the other, then cut the folded dough rectangles into 4-cm/ 1/2-inch wide slices. Make a cut in each slice, almost all the way to the end, creating the shape of a pair of trousers (pants). Twist each "leg" and then tie them together as a knot, tucking the end pieces under the bun. Put the buns on the prepared baking sheets and leave to rise for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F/Gas Mark 7.

Make the topping by mixing the golden syrup and f tablespoon water together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar with the cardamom.

Bake the buns for about 10 minutes. Remove the buns from the oven and brush them with the syrup, then sprinkle the sugar-cardamom mix on top. Leave to cool on wire racks.


Adapted from "The Nordic Baking Book" by Magnus Nilsson

Vetedeg (Sweden)

The first of the three following recipes is probably the most common recipe used for cinnamon buns in Scandinavia — it is the one that has been on the back of the wheat our packets since forever. But slowly this version is losing ground to newer recipes, which are mostly a bit richer.

The second recipe is a bit richer than the classic recipe above. My wife Tove uses it, and I am a bit unclear on exactly where it came from originally. Tove is very good at baking; she has a natural feel for it, and most of her recipes have evolved from classics to emphasize the particular characteristics that she likes (and that I do too, for that matter).

The third recipe is the richest most briochey, buttery sweet recipe for buns that I know of. It's by no means classic, but it is truly delicious. Like many other recipes that have been updated and made even more delicious in the last ten years, this recipe was put together by Swedish baker Leila Lindholm. I have changed the last recipe a little by increasing the size of the batch to roughly the other two basic recipes, meaning that they can be interchanged throughout the book.


Vetedeg, basrecept (Sweden) Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
Rising time: 30-40 minutes 

Makes: enough dough for 30-40 buns


150 g/5 oz (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter
500 ml/17 oz (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) milk
50 g/2 oz fresh yeast
1 teaspoon salt
90 g/3 1/4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar

2 teaspoons finely ground cardamom seeds (optional)

800 g/1 3/4 lb (5 3/4 cups) strong wheat flour


Melt the butter in a pan, add the milk and heat to body temperature (37degrees C/98.6 degrees F). Dissolve the yeast in the milk and butter mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt, sugar, cardamom, if using, and then the flour, little by little, while you knead the dough with the dough hook. Set aside a little of the flour for dusting later. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes, or until it comes clean o the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise for 30-40 minutes, or until doubled in size.