Scandinavian baking and spelt flour

Cinnamon buns centre stage

It seems there’s no escape from all things Scandinavian at the moment. In restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen is at the top of 50 Best Restaurants list for the 2nd year, and Faviken is the new cutting-edge place that has the food critics flocking across the Swedish tundra.

When it comes to cookbooks, you can take your pick from Nordic Bakery, Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian Kitchen or Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious. And that’s without getting to The Killing and that famous jumper.

At the forefront of this wave is Signe Johansen. From Norway, but having lived in the UK for 13 years, with her blog and her first book ‘Scandilicious’, she’s melded Scandi tastes with British preferences to create recipes that are approachable and easy, and bring fresh new flavours into the kitchen.

Posing for the Times

When I saw that she was offering a Baking Masterclass, with recipes from her new book, Scandilicious Baking, I signed up pretty quickly. For one thing, I love to meet enthusiastic bakers and cooks that I’ve only met virtually through twitter and their blog posts. And there’s always something new to learn in baking, especially when dealing with that tricky beast, yeasted dough.

The venue was a new cooking school in East London, the Central Street Cookery School, part of the St. Luke’s Charitable Trust. It’s a light and airy space, with high ceilings, plenty of counter space and ovens, and well equipped for classes. Even better, income from hiring out the space supports cookery projects for the local community.

The Central St Cookery school

We cooked our way through four recipes, two of which were yeasted, in about 4 hours. We made a straight spelt bread dough, quite a bit stickier and faster to rise than a wheat dough. Next came super-sticky cinnamon buns, the dough enriched with butter, sugar, egg and ground cardamom. Again, these were made with spelt flour, and were quick to rise and prove. Below is a cinnamon bun cake made by jamming the bun dough into a cake tin to bake.

Cinnamon bun cake

Third on the list was a fluffy cake, topped with almond caramel praline to form a crust. This is Toscakaka, a Swedish favourite. The cake is made like a Genoise, whisking whole eggs with sugar, before folding in flour and melted butter. Once baked, a sticky caramel of butter, sugar, cream and flaked almonds is spread on top before baking further to form a golden crust. It’s a delicious combination, and the Dream cake in Scandilicious, made in a similar way, has gone straight onto my ‘to make’ list.


Finally came super-short butter biscuits, made like pastry with chilled butter and just a little egg to bring them together. A very full morning’s baking. For lunch we feasted on Signe’s homemade gravlax with salad, and tried out some of the spelt bread.

Scandi baking spread

The class was good fun, with a great atmosphere. Signe gave lots of helpful tips and advice as we went along, and there was time for everyone to get hands-on with the recipes. The cookery school at Central Street has only been open for a few months, and is a great space for classes. The counters are in a big U shape, with lots of counterspace for everyone, and the high ceilings kept everything cool until later in the session.

There was plenty to learn, even for experienced bakers. Using 100% spelt dough is new to me. When I use spelt flour, it tends to be in bread dough and not more than half of the total flour content. Using all spelt flour in a recipe tends to make for a stickier dough, that rises faster and doesn’t need to prove as long before baking. It feels different to handle, and I think would take some practice to get used to.

Cinnamon bun dough

Spelt is actually a type of wheat, but split off from the wheat we now use at an earlier point in its history. This means it has less gluten than normal bread flour, but still enough to make bread with. [Correction: Azelia has quire rightly corrected me here: it’s not that spelt has less gluten, but it is of a different type and can be tolerated better by those who have an intolerance to normal wheat. Coeliacs cannot tolerate spelt, because it still contains gluten]. You can also get pearled spelt or farro, which can be cooked a bit like pearl barley, but less sticky, and can be used for risottos and salads. Both wholemeal and refined white spelt flours are readily available. Sharpham Park in Somerset produce great spelt flour, grown in the UK.

Signe is continuing to do a Scandi supper club, and planning more classes as well, so make sure you check and follow her on twitter for the latest details.

Sugar and spice: Recipes for fruited buns

Hot cross buns, just glazed

In the last post, I talked about shaping buns and rolls. In this one, I thought I would review some of the components of a great fruited bun recipe.

I like buns, I have a stash of home-made hot cross ones in the freezer at the moment, and I think, like Azelia, that you can make them all year around, not just for Easter. All you need to do is leave off the cross, and have them for breakfast, a mid-morning snack, afternoon tea or something to finish the day when you get in late.

Toasted Hot cross buns

Before chemical leaveners, like baking powder and bicarbonate of soda became available, a bit of yeasted bread, perhaps with extra butter and sugar added to it, and some currants thrown in, was what a cake was made of. Eliza Acton’s book ‘Modern Cookery for Private families’ , first published in 1845, featured many more yeast-risen buns and cakes than butter and sugar ones. Before sugar became inexpensive and easy to buy, adding dried fruit to bread was a good way to add sweetness. You can find these ancestors of modern cakes in every part of Britain. The Irish Barm Brack, Welsh Bara Brith and Scotch Black Bun were all based, at least originally, on a yeasted fruit bread. Some of these developed into tea breads and tea bracks, where cold tea was used to soak the fruit, and the whole mixed with flour and an egg to make a soft sliceable loaf.

Most fruit or spiced buns will aim for a soft texture, with a thin, soft crust, and a slightly sweet flavour, complemented by the fruit and spices. Getting a good soft texture can be tricky, especially if you’re used to making bread with thick crusts and open, holey textures.

Here are the important elements for a fruit bun dough that I’ve assembled from advice in a whole series of sources (see References), as well as my experiences.



I used to make bread and discover that although the result seemed pleasing, sometimes the coarse, rustic nature of the bread, with big jagged holes and chewy crumb, wasn’t what I was after. What I needed for those loaves was a little fat. Even just a tablespoon of oil will make a big difference to the softness of the bread. A small amount of fat is needed for fruit buns – butter is good – to keep the crumb soft, and also to make sure it stays soft a little beyond the first day.

You can rub butter or another hard fat into the flour at the start of mixing, or add melted butter or oil with the liquid to the flour. In both cases, the fat will be evenly distributed and will have the effect of coating the flour granules. This gives them a little raincoat, waterproofing them a little so that the water on those granules doesn’t create gluten, or creates less of it. Remember, flour + water + time = gluten.

The effect of this in the finished loaf or roll is to give you a softer crumb, something that feels fluffier. For some reason, it also helps the bread to last after it’s baked, keeping it soft for longer, and delaying staling.

You can also use fat to coat the dough at the shaping stage, giving you separate pieces of pull-apart dough when it is baked. This is what helps to separate the layers in a Chelsea or a cinnamon bun, and what makes monkey bread pull apart. Those streaks of fat prevent the dough from meeting and sticking together, so you still have separate pieces of dough, nestled into each other.

You can see these layers dramatically in the Nordic bakery cinnamon bun.
Cinnamon bun layers


You can also get the effect of a soft crumb by doing something different to part of the flour: heating it to explode the starch granules. When you make a roux or a white sauce, you heat the flour with butter, then add milk (or stock) and create a thickened sauce. The thickening comes from the starch granules that burst in the heat and swell with the water added to them. This starchy gel can be used, when cooled, as an ingredient to make fluffy white rolls or burger buns. (Dan Lepard has a great recipe that he developed for the Hawksmoor restaurants).


Small amounts of sugar will speed the dough along as well as sweetening it, so be careful that it doesn’t over-rise or over-prove, and then collapse. However, larger amounts act to dehydrate the yeast cells, slowing down their growth. For this reason, be careful when adjusting the amount of sugar in a recipe, and keep a careful eye on the dough as it rises – if it over-rises before you can get to it, you may find the yeast is exhausted before it can get to the final rise.

Spice bun dough


Dried fruit can absorb moisture from the dough as it rises, drying things out. For this reason, you can soak the fruit overnight first, as Dan Lepard does in his stout buns recipe in ‘Short and Sweet‘. Alternatively, you can increase the liquid in the recipe to compensate. Fruit also adds sweetness, and will not affect the yeast in the same way as sugar added directly to the dough (I think), so it can be a good way to make a sweeter bun without affecting the yeast too much.

Of course, you can always make a fruit bun without fruit – using just spices or perhaps chocolate chips, as they do at Gail’s bakery for their Soho bun.

Gail's Soho bun


Spices including cinnamon and cloves have an anti-microbial effect, so they will slow down the yeast, by killing off or slowing a proportion of the cells. A long, slow rise before you add the spices can help giving the yeast time to get going. Or the spices can be rippled through when shaping, as they are when making Chelsea buns or cinnamon rolls.


Milk seems to be beneficial for soft buns, but I can’t really pin down the reasons why. Harold McGee does highlight that scalding the milk and then cooling it before using in the dough helps to destroy an enzyme that would otherwise interfere.
Elizabeth David notes Eliza Acton’s insistence that milk makes a big difference when you want bread or rolls with a thin, soft crust. This effect seems to be mainly due to the fat in the milk.

Some good fruit bun recipes:

Dan Lepard’s Cider Hot Cross Buns

Azelia’s Dairy Free conversion and notes on the same recipe

and if you don’t want fruit you can always try:

Nordic Cinnamon buns from Nordic Bakery

Debs’ Hot Choc Buns


  1. Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery is a comprehensive look at all sorts of breadmaking, covering the role of different ingredients, the history, and lots and lots of recipes.
  2. Dan Lepard, ‘Short and Sweet‘ is full of all sorts of baking recipes and advice, but has good section on sweet breads, including fruit buns, teacakes and sticky buns.
  3. Harold McGee, ‘On Food And Cooking‘ is the bible for finding out exactly what’s happening with your ingredients and recipes

Round and round: making buns and rolls

Spice buns

There are many types of bread that you might want to make into rolls. Enriched doughs can make soft white baps or burger buns. Fruited and spiced doughs can make hot cross buns, teacakes or cinnamon rolls.

Getting neat and even shapes for these things can be tricky. Yeasted dough which has just has its first rise can be puffy and uneven.

Spice bun dough

Going from that lumpy mass to a tray of neat and even shapes can take a little practice.

I recorded some video of making rolls some time ago, and I have now finally got around to editing it together with some instructions to show the steps involved:

In addition to the video, I wrote a few tips that provide some more detail:

  • Make sure you dimple and pat the dough down to remove and redistribute the large air bubbles. You don’t need to ‘punch it down’ as some recipes say, but you do want to make the texture of the dough more even so that you can create even shapes out of it. You can also
  • Use this process to make a symettrical shape out of the dough which will make it easier to divide into even pieces. This can be a rectangle, a round boule shape or a long stick. You can also weigh the pieces as you cut them off to be sure they are even.
  • Try and preserve the skin of the dough when you’re shaping. This is a tip I got from this video of Richard Bertinet with Tim Hayward. The surface of the dough after it has risen is smooth and even. If you can use that surface as the outside edge of all your rolls, it will make it easier to get a smooth surface.
  • Start with this smooth section face down for each piece of dough, and draw the edges into the centre to make a ball.
  • To tighten the surface of the dough and make a really neat round shape, you should rotate the dough on the work surface. This motion (demonstrated in the video) draws the surface of the dough down, stretching it out and tucking it under at the same time.
  • Place the rolls and buns a little distance apart on a baking sheet. When they start to touch, you will know they have risen enough to bake.
  • To get really crusty bread, you should start at a high temperature, and then turn down and bake for longer at a low temperature. With rolls you’re usually after a soft texture and thin crust, so bake at a fairly hot temperature – 200C or so – and don’t overbake or the crust will start to dry out. Little buns might need only 10 minutes; larger burger buns more like 20 minutes.


Beginning to bake #8: A simple loaf of bread

White bread baked in a pot

I’m going to give cakes a bit of a break – too much sugar around here. Instead, let’s turn to bread. Bread is probably the baking area with the greatest gap between myth and reality. It seems hard and unachievable, the sort of thing only crazy obsessives or domestic goddesses attempt. Actually the process is easier than making a cake.

So how did breadmaking acquire this intimidating aura? A few things get in the way:

It takes time

Unlike the soda bread, which came together in just an hour, yeasted bread will need at least 2 or 3 hours from start to eating. However, for most of that time, you don’t need to do anything. What you really need is a few hours when you’ll be at home so you can dip in and out of the process. One useful thing is to make bread while you’re making something else like a casserole. That allows you to chop some carrots or stir the pot while you’re waiting for the next bread step.

You can even stretch the time out so you can start it off one evening and continue the following morning or even the next evening. There are a number of tricks to use to speed up or slow down the dough and make it work to your schedule.

Briefly, you can speed things up by using more yeast or by keeping everything warm so the yeast multiplies faster. Conversely, you can slow things down by starting with less yeast or using the fridge to store the dough for a while.

It’s not predictable

Cakes can be tricky, but you can have a reasonable expectation that if you use the right ingredients, weighed accurately, and baked at the right temperature, it should do exactly what it’s supposed to. Bread making is more unpredictable, in that factors that are hard for you to control at home (like room temperature and humidity) have a much greater influence. This is fundamentally because you’re cultivating a live organism, the yeast, to do the work of aerating the bread. It’s more like gardening than cooking. The trick lies in understanding the processes and recognising what they look like, so you can proceed until the dough is ready, rather than watching the clock.

You need to know what you’re aiming for

One reason people can be disappointed with their breadmaking is that it isn’t like their favourite bought type, and there are many different types of bread. Whether you like rough, chewy sourdough, nutty wholemeal sandwich loaves or soft white rolls, you can create each of them at home, but you’ll need to use not just a different recipe but a different approach for each one.

So, with that in mind, this recipe is for a white loaf with a crust that can be baked in a loaf tin, on a baking sheet or in a pot to make a round ‘boule’ shape.


  • Bowl
  • Wooden spoon
  • A little sharp knife

For baking:

  • A large round casserole dish with a lid (Pyrex or cast iron – it needs to be able to withstand high temperatures)

For the best first-time results, I would recommend the casserole approach, but you can also use a preheated baking sheet, or a loaf tin and put a roasting tin of hot water on the shelf beneath to create steam.

Basic recipe:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 300g water
  • 3 tsp dried yeast, or one sachet
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

I’ve covered lots of other tips and tricks for making bread in a previous post, so I’ll go through the recipe fairly straight. This method is adapted from Dan Lepard’s technique and a really great blog post by Azelia’s Kitchen.


1. Mix

Flour, yeast, salt

Put the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl and mix briefly to distribute the yeast and salt. Add the oil and water. The water doesn’t need to be warm, but if you want things to move fast, then that will help. Mix into a rough dough with a spoon, stopping when there’s no more dry flour.

Shaggy dough

2. Rest

Rest the dough

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes. This step starts the gluten working (remember that water + flour = gluten) by allowing the flour time to absorb the water properly.

3. Fold

Bread folding

Instead of kneading to develop the gluten, this approach folds the dough to develop and stretch the gluten. You can do this in the bowl if you’re short of space, but it’s a little easier to do on the counter. If you’re putting it on the counter, use oil rather than flour to prevent the dough from sticking. This means you won’t change the overall balance between flour and water in the recipe.

Just scrape all the dough out, push it into a single ball and then fold each side into the centre, as if it had 4 sides.  Do this three times, for 12 folds in all. This should create a nice tight ball, with a smooth surface on the side away from the folds.

12 folds

4. Rise

Ready to rise

Turn the dough so the smooth side faces up in the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for a few hours or until doubled in size.  To speed this up, put the bowl in a warm place, or to slow it down, if you need to leave it alone and come back later, put it into the fridge. If you do that, you’ll need to let it come back to room temperature before you carry on.

Risen dough

5. Shape

Once it has risen, it will be very puffy, with big bubbles. To redistribute these and form the shape of the loaf, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured counter. Try to make sure the smooth upper surface is preserved, and ends up face down on the counter. Press all over with your fingertips to push down the big bubbles and flatten the dough slightly. Fold the sides into the centre again to reform the ball.

Shaped dough

6. Proof


Put the dough onto a floured tea towel, this time smooth side down. Fold the towel over it, and leave to rise again, for somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour, until it’s expanded again and become puffy again.

Proofed dough

7. Bake

While the dough is proving, put a large casserole dish with a lid into the oven (Pyrex or cast iron are good). A good 20 minutes before you think the dough will be done (start after 20 minutes if you’re not sure) turn the oven on and set to 220c or 200c for a fan oven.

Into the hot pot

Once you’re ready to bake, take the scorching hot pot out of the oven, remove the lid and tip the dough, fold-side down, into the hot pot. Use a small sharp knife to slash the top of the dough. Replace the lid (don’t forget to use oven gloves) and put into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes to get the top brown.

First bake

Finished loaf

8. Cool

Tip out onto a rack and leave to cool. Be as patient as you can – important things happen to the interior of the loaf as it cools, and you’ll find it is quite doughy if you cut it early.

The bread will keep well for a couple of days because of the oil in it, but if you don’t think you’ll get through it wrap the whole loaf or a half before freezing. You can also hand-slice it and then freeze so you can toast it straight from the freezer.

Frozen sourdough

As a follow up to my post on bread, I just wanted to point out Dan Lepard’s excellent video of reviving a lump of frozen sourdough into an active starter:

Awakening the frozen sourdough

Great to see it in action. For anyone wondering, sourdough is simply bread leavened with yeasts from the air and the flour, raised into a starter that you keep alive, instead of by adding dried or fresh yeast. Freezing this mixture is a great way to be able to make sourdough without having to do it every week to keep the starter active. I have some rye starter in my fridge right now, and I’m going to have a go at freezing some this week – will let you know how it goes.

Principles of bread – and a video

Whole books are written about making bread (I should know, I own quite a few of them). It is often seen as something quite daunting – a serious, difficult topic, with a major sense of accomplishment from producing a loaf. And while there is definitely a ‘staff of life’ thrill about producing your own loaf, bread is unusually accommodating, and will cope with a surprisingly wide amount of variation and approximation. So I thought I would try and distil the essentials down into a few principles, and see how few I could get away with. This list doesn’t talk about everything you need to know – that’s what all those books are for. And for more resources, see the end of the post. But hopefully these principles give some context for the stages in the recipe books, and more of a feel for what you’re aiming for.

  1. Any sort of baking with yeast means that you have to be flexible: you need to watch the dough and see what it does. This is why the instructions always give vague directions like ‘until the dough has doubled in size’ – that can take very different times depending on the amount of yeast you started with, the temperature, how much sugar the mixture has in, and many other factors. So you have to do what the dough says (at least up to a point – and see point 7)
  2. The basic process is: mix: to combine the ingredients; knead: to develop the gluten; rest: to allow the gluten to relax, and the yeast to develop air bubbles in it; shape: to redistribute the air bubbles and create the final loaf shape; proof: to let the final air bubbles reemerge; bake: to set the protein and give a nice brown crust.
  3. The ratio to use is 5 parts flour (by weight) to 3 parts of water. For example, 500g to 300g, with 1.5 tsp salt.
  4. Bread flour is useful but not essential. Plain flour is fine for many breads. Brown flours are harder to work with, and need more water.
  5. Adding fat to the dough makes the crumb softer – so if you want soft rolls, use milk instead of water, and add some butter; for a more rustic loaf, you don’t need to add any.
  6. You can use any amount of yeast – use a 1/4 tsp instant dried yeast, and let it rise over 18-24 hours, or 2 tsp for a very quick rise.
  7. If you want the process to happen slower, put it in the fridge; if you want it to work faster, put into a warm place. Use this along with the quantity of yeast to make the process happen at a speed to suit you.
  8. Kneading is optional – you can also leave the dough for a longer time – this will develop the gluten as well. However, kneading does repay the effort – you will almost always get something better out if you knead it a little more.
  9. You need to bake bread very hot – 200C/400F or more. About 45 minutes for a loaf made with 500g of flour, or 15-20 minutes for rolls.

Here is a video I made of me kneading bread. A couple of things to know: I started this dough off in the mixer, so it’s quite well developed here – when you start, it is much stickier and harder to handle.


Dan Lepard – bread baker extraordinaire, creator of loaves at Locanda Locatelli, Baker & Spice and many other locations. He has a lovely website with lots of useful resources, and writes every week in the Guardian – bread but also yummy cakes and biscuits. @dan_lepard on twitter.

Richard Bertinet – has a cooking school in Bath (which I keep meaning to go to) and has produced some great bread books, including Dough, which comes with a DVD of the kneading technique. @BertinetKitchen on twitter.

See also previous post on no-knead bread – really, no kneading required, but you do need to let it sit for at least 18 hours, so that the gluten can develop that way instead.

Ugly Baguettes

Ugly Baguettes

Originally uploaded by louise_marston

Aren’t these the ugliest baguettes you’ve ever seen? I think not careful enough punching down, and incomplete shaping are to blame. However, I’m hoping the big ugly bubbles on the surface are a promise of nice big irregular holes in the crumb. I’ll find out when we eat them next weekend (going into the freezer today).

Other things that came out of the Marston kitchen over the long Easter Weekend:
– Brasato (beef pot roast) from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
– Fairy cakes with orange icing (How to be a Domestic Goddess)
– Banana splits with ice-cream and chocolate sauce (like on the Sainsburys ad)
– Camembert baked in the box
– Roast chicken, potatoes roasted in duck fat, spring cabbage
– Chocolate gingerbread from Nigella’s ‘Feast’
– Italian Spinach and Ham Tart from Jamie at Home (but without the ham… or the spinach..)
– Chocolate Granola from Orangette