Notes from a Bitter Baker: Swedish Cinnamon Rolls

Swedish Cinnamon Buns—they're small, they don't have frosting, and they're not for breakfast! (Photo by Yvonne Rogell)Real Swedish cinnamon rolls: They’re small, they don’t have frosting, and they’re not for breakfast!

Cinnamon rolls aren’t breakfast food.

There, I just needed to get that off my chest. I feel much better now.

I thought I knew everything about cinnamon rolls. When you’re from Sweden, the birthplace of kanelbullar (literally ‘cinnamon buns’), you kind of automatically become a self-proclaimed expert on these sweet treats whenever you go abroad.

So the first time I heard about people having cinnamon rolls for breakfast here, I was shocked.

It must be a misunderstanding, I thought. You have cinnamon rolls with coffee, or a glass of milk—in the afternoon (or maybe, just maybe, on your first coffee break at work—still after breakfast though).

And what is with the sticky white thing on top? Glaze? On cinnamon rolls? Even IKEA can’t seem to get it right over here.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the sticky American cinnamon rolls. I even remember the first time I had one. It was at the Las Vegas airport, at a Cinnabon a little over five years ago. We needed forks and knives to eat those giant monstrosities, covered in frosting, caramel sauce and pecans.

They were good, but I would never think of a cinnamon roll and picture those.

(Photo by Yvonne Rogell)
(Photo by Yvonne Rogell)

In Sweden these sweet rolls are so pervasive they can even cause a bit of a childhood trauma. One of my best friends didn’t like them growing up, so she was left out at the birthday celebrations in kindergarten where they would always serve kanelbullar and lemonade. Finally, she had to have her dad—a baker—bring them home from work every day and put her in “cinnamon roll training,” and build up her tolerance.

It worked—very well in fact. Now they’re on top of her list.

I don’t think you’ll have any trouble liking the version I’m sharing the recipe for here (in case you do, it’s always good to know that you can learn to like them). I would choose them over the sticky American version any day of the week, but that’s just me. You think I’m biased? You’re probably right. So you should just see for yourself.

Your house will smell like heaven when you’re done. Just saying.


Swedish cinnamon buns (kanelbullar)

Total time: 2-2.5 hours. Makes about 44 cinnamon rolls.


0.5 l milk (17.6 oz, not fluid! or slightly more than 2 cups)

2 tsp active dry yeast

1.5 stick butter (170 g)

a pinch of salt

½ cup sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 egg

800-850 g (28.2-30 oz) all-purpose flour, take as much as you need—you don’t want a sticky dough.



1.5 stick (170 g) of butter, room temperature

1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon

¾ cup sugar



1 egg

sliced almonds (pearl sugar is the traditional topping, but can be hard to find in the States)



Heat up the milk to about 110-115 °F. Dissolve the active dry yeast in the milk and let it sit for a few minutes. Melt the butter and mix in with the milk. Add a pinch of salt, sugar, cardamom, egg and flour. Mix to a dough. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise until double the size, about 1 hour. Mix the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and set aside in room temperature.

Roll out half of the dough (unless you have a really large working bench; then you can roll out the whole thing) to a large, thin rectangle. Spread half of the filling over the rectangle (or all of it if you rolled out all of the dough), then either roll up the dough to a cylinder and cut the dough in half an inch thick slices, or make these twirly tops.

Enjoy with milk in the afternoon. (Photo by Yvonne Rogell)
Enjoy with milk in the afternoon. (Photo by Yvonne Rogell)

Place the cinnamon rolls in muffin forms and put them on an oven tray. Now roll out the second half of the dough and do the same thing.

Let the rolls rise for another 30 minutes (up to 1 hour is okay) while you preheat the oven to 460°F. Brush the rolls with egg and sprinkle some sliced almonds on top. Bake for about 10-14 minutes until they are golden brown.

Let cool on a rack with a kitchen towel on top. Now treat yourself to a Swedish fika (coffee break) with a cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk.

This recipe was brought to you by Bitter Baker.

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  1. HI Yvonne, I much enjoyed your post and am keen to try out the recipe for our “Good-Bye- France-Hello Sweden-Party” next weekend (We’ll be moving to Sweden soon…), but I am not sure I can bake sufficient quantities just on the day. Have you ever tried freezing them? Do they still taste nice when defrosted?
    I’d be grateful for your advice, thanks and best wishes, Birgit

    1. Hi Birgit!

      How exciting, these kanelbullar would be perfect for that party theme! That’s a really good question, and I think you’ll like the answer as well. You can absolutely freeze them. If you’re not making them to serve the very same day, then I would actually recommend freezing them as soon as they have cooled down (that way they don’t risk getting dry). They still taste very nice when they are defrosted, and even better if you heat them up in the microwave just a little bit before serving so they are lukewarm.

      Have fun at your party and I hope you really like living in Sweden!!

      Best, Yvonne

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