When I heard the names of some of the buns the bakers made in the Great White Tent for this episode, I knew I had to do some research. Skolebrod? Baumschnecken? Kanelsnurrer? Kolaches? Okay, I’ve heard of kolaches, but the rest were, as they say, foreign to me!
Just in case they are to you, too, let me break them down for you. Here’s a primer on European sweet rolls:
Skolebrod (or Skolebolle) means “school bread” in Norwegian. It’s a yeasted sweet roll filled with custard, covered with icing and dipped in coconut. These buns were traditionally put in children’s school lunches or sold at bake sales.
Schnecken (or, as Howard called his rolls in this episode, Baumschnecken) are a type of German cinnamon roll. Named after the German word for “snail” (or “tree snail,” in Howard’s case), these yeast buns are filled with cinnamon, raisins and nuts and rolled up like a snail.
Kanelsnurrer or Kanelboller (literally “cinnamon whirls” or “cinnamon buns”) are a Scandinavian version of cinnamon rolls that, instead of being rolled up like a snail, are tied into a knot. As with many Scandinavian sweet rolls, the dough is flavored with cardamom.
Kolaches come from Bohemia and Moravia, or what is now the Czech Republic. Made from a brioche-like dough, they are traditionally round, like a donut without a hole, and the center holds a fruit, poppy seed and/or sweet cheese filling. In some areas of the U.S. where Czech immigrants settled, such as Texas, kolaches may also be filled with chorizo, ham or cheddar.
The brief for this showstopper challenge was to make two different types of sweet European buns, 12 of each. As always, they had to be uniform in appearance and size, but this time the bakers were allowed to start their dough the night before to let it prove in the fridge overnight.
I chose to make St. Lucia buns like Ruby’s, as well as a poppy seed version of the schnecken known as Mohnschnecken (“poppy seed snails”).
St. Lucia buns are made with saffron and formed into a stylized S. They are traditionally served on St. Lucia’s Day, December 13, in Sweden, Norway and parts of Finland.
Saffron, known as the world’s most expensive spice, is actually the stigma of the saffron crocus, and it takes 150 handpicked flowers to produce just one gram of dried saffron “threads.” Fortunately, the recipe I used only calls for ½ teaspoon of saffron, but that’s enough to give the dough a warm golden hue and lend its delicate, almost earthy flavor to the soft, rich buns. The threads are steeped in milk, to infuse the flavor, which is then added to the dry ingredients to form an enriched yeast dough. The addition of cardamom provides warmth and a greater depth of flavor to the finished product.
For the Mohnschnecken, I adapted this recipe from CinnamonAndCoriander.com, omitting the plums in the filling and adding the zest of an orange instead. Taking inspiration from GBBO baker Frances, known for her fanciful cakes and “matchstick” breadsticks, I decided to make my poppy seed “snails” in the shape of actual snails. I have to admit this is a work in progress. The snails spread during the baking process, so while they look somewhat like snails from the sides, if you look at them from above they look more like butterflies! Next time, I will try baking them closer together in a pan with sides so they don’t have as much room to spread.
Forming the Mohnschnecken “snails”
As for taste, however, I would call it a resounding success! The bread itself was soft and buttery, creating a perfect foil for the dark, rich poppy seed filling. The orange zest in the filling, combined with an orange glaze on top, adds a sweetness that enhances the overall flavor profile. As they would say in German, “Die Schnecken schmecken!”
St. Lucia Buns
- ¾ c. milk
- ½ t. saffron threads
- ¼ c. + 1 t. sugar
- ¼ oz. packet active dry yeast
- 4 c. all-purpose flour, divided
- ½ t. kosher salt
- Seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground
- ¼ c. unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ c. quark* (or sour cream)
- 3 large eggs, divided
- Golden raisins (for garnish)
- Pearl sugar (optional)
- In a small pan, heat the milk, saffron and 1 teaspoon sugar until steamy. Remove from heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cool to 115°F, or warm to the touch but not hot.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.
- In a mixer bowl, whisk together 3½ cups of the flour, the remaining ¼ cup sugar, salt and cardamom. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast-milk mixture, butter, quark (or sour cream) and 2 eggs. Mix together until all ingredients are well incorporated.
- Switch to the dough hook attachment and, on low speed, knead the dough. Slowly add the additional 1/2 cup flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition. Do this until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but doesn’t completely stick to your hands when you handle it. (I like to finish kneading it by hand so I can tell when it’s reached this stage).
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, lightly greased bowl. Turn the dough once to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.
- The next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator and transfer it to a smooth, lightly floured surface. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes till it’s pliable enough to work with. Press it down and knead it a couple of times. Divide into 12-14 pieces, about 2-2½ oz. each, and roll into balls about 2 inches wide.
- Roll each ball into a long rope, about 14 inches long. Then curl the ends in opposite directions, forming an S with tight spirals at each end. Place the rolls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Once all the rolls are shaped, cover them with a dish towel and place in a warm spot to rise till double in size, 30 minutes to an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush the tops and sides of the rolls with the egg wash. Place a raisin at the center of each spiral (2 raisins per bun). Sprinkle with pearl sugar, if desired.
- Bake the rolls for 10-11 minutes until golden brown, turning cookie sheets 180 degrees halfway through cooking time to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
*Quark is a fresh, creamy, unripened cheese similar to cream cheese but with the consistency of Greek yogurt. It is popular in Germany but can be found in gourmet food stores in the U.S. Sour cream can be used instead.
For the dough:
- 1 c. milk
- 2¼ t. instant (fast-acting) yeast
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1 egg
- 3 drops almond extract
- 3¾ c. all-purpose flour
- 1 t. salt
- 5½ T. butter
For the filling:
- 1 c. powdered sugar
- Juice of ½ orange
- 24 whole cloves
- Heat the milk to 115-120°F on the stove or in the microwave. Add yeast, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 egg and almond extract, and stir to combine. In a mixer bowl, combine flour and salt together. Pour milk mixture into the flour mixture and, using a dough hook attachment, mix well until it starts to come together. Then add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, kneading the dough at the same time, for about 5-7 minutes or until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic. (Again, you may want to finish by hand so you can more easily tell when it reaches this stage.)
- Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to cover the dough with oil. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it overnight.
- To make the poppyseed filling, you can grind the seeds in a spice grinder, but I don’t have one, so I use this method with the food grinder that attaches to my stand mixer: First rinse the poppy seeds in a fine-mesh strainer (or line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth). Transfer drained poppy seeds to a medium sauce pan. Add 1½ cups water to the pan. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer. (Be careful not to let it boil.) Turn off heat and cover pan with lid. Let sit for 30 minutes. Drain poppy seeds through a fine-mesh strainer or several layers of cheesecloth. Push seeds through the food grinder fitted with the finest grinding plate. Make sure to push firmly, as the pressure makes sure they are ground properly. Drain off any excess liquid.
- In a large bowl, stir together the ground poppy seeds, cinnamon, melted butter, sugar and rum.
- Cut the marzipan into cubes and put in a mixer bowl with orange zest, egg and egg yolk. Use the whisk attachment to mix until smooth. Add the poppy seed mixture and whisk until well incorporated.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes until it’s pliable enough to work with. Divide it into 12 equal-sized pieces and roll them into balls. Roll each ball into a long rope, about 12 inches long. Flatten with a rolling pin, leaving about 1-2 inches at the end unflattened. This will be the head of the snail. Spread a tablespoon or two of poppy seed filling on the flat part of the dough and roll up tightly from the end opposite the “head.” Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bring the head of the snail over the rolled-up part and lay it flat on the cookie sheet (see photos). Use a bamboo skewer of the edge of a spatula to make an indentation between the head and the body. (Don’t be shy. I didn’t press down hard enough and some of the indentations disappeared in the final proof.) (NOTE: Because my snails spread out so much, I would place them closer together next time so they don’t have as much room to spread. I would also put them in a pan with sides so they can’t spread any further than the edge of the pan.)
- Cover the rolls with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place for 35-45 minutes or until doubled in size. If desired, press a poppy seed on each side of the heads of the snails for eyes, and insert two cloves in the top of each snail’s head for its tentacles. (Fun fact: In looking up the correct word for the snail’s tentacles I discovered that its eyes are actually on the end of the tentacles, so they don’t really have eyes on the sides of their heads!)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake for 18-25 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 190°F. Turn baking pans 180 degrees halfway through baking time so rolls brown evenly. Cool on a wire rack.
- To make glaze, add juice a little at a time to the powdered sugar, stirring to form a smooth paste. Once the rolls are cool, brush glaze over the tops of the snails, leaving the heads unglazed.