My Grandma Wallin was a wonderful cook. A reluctant American, she never stopped eating and cooking like a Swede, despite living in the United States for the last 45+ years of her life. Many of my memories of her are centered around food. Amazing ham for Christmas Eve dinner, rice pudding with a hidden almond for dessert. Swedish meatballs for Sunday dinners. Cheese and hard bread every single day of her life. Despite all these food memories, my strongest by far is of cardamom bread. Officially called vetebröd, our family calls Swedish cardamom bread “bulle,” which means “roll” or “bun” in Swedish. Every time I taste cardamom, no matter what dish it is in, I immediately think of my grandma and her bulle.
Grandma Wallin served bulle pretty much every time we saw her. My memories of Grandma’s bulle involve buns that looked like cinnamon rolls, but flavored with cardamom rather than cinnamon. I remember one time when I was around 9 years old she came to visit and baked a batch, specifically making a cinnamon version for me. I laugh when I think that I would have asked for cinnamon bulle since I always liked the cardamom version anyway. Crazy 9-year-old Jane.
My mom has continued the tradition of making bulle, especially at Christmastime. While the little rolled buns remind me of my grandmother, the beautiful braided version of the bread reminds me of my mom and Christmas. Since I’ve been married and have started a family of my own, I always make bulle on Christmas Eve so we can have it Christmas morning. Like my mother, I braid the dough.
I was thinking about my grandmother’s version of the bread the other day, so I gave my mom a call to find out how Grandma Wallin made her bulle. My mom started to describe the process for making the braid. I stopped her and said, “Yeah, I know how to do that. That’s how I’ve always done it. How did she make the buns?” My mom laughed and said, “She switched to the buns when she was older. My memories of her bulle are of the braids!” While we both had the same Grandma Wallin bulle memories, it was funny to us that the shape of her bread was so different in our minds.
I was talking to my sister about these memories the other day. She’s nearly nine years younger than I am, so her memories are not always the same as mine. When I was telling her about how my recollections of Grandma Wallin’s bread were similar but different from our mom’s, she laughed and said, “I always thought that Grandma made cinnamon rolls…but now that I think about it, I’m certain it was bulle. I never even realized those buns were the same as the braided bread Mom makes.” I love that one type of food in the same family can have such different associations for the different family members.
As I write this, I have a batch of bulle baking, the familiar scent filling our home. I am delighted that my daughters love bulle as much as I do. I look forward to teaching them how to make the bread and then watching them one day make it for their own children. It remains to be seen what shape of bulle they will associate with me and ultimately make themselves!
Please share your own family food memories! Would love to hear them!
Note: I’ve shared the vetebröd recipe previously, but I’ve only ever made the bread into a braid. This was the first time I made bulle into buns like my grandma did and they turned out deliciously. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit here to tailor to the bun shape. If you want to try your hand at the braid, click here!
- 2½ cups milk
- 2 cakes compressed yeast OR 2 packets active dry yeast OR 4½ tsp. active dry yeast
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 cups sifted flour
- 1 cup melted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ~3 teaspoons ground cardamom
- ½ cup or so of butter, melted
- Powdered sugar
- Scald milk and cool to luke warm. Crumble yeast in bowl: add ½ cup luke warm milk and stir until yeast is dissolved. Add remaining milk and ¼ c sugar. Beat in 3 C flour and continue beating until smooth. Cover and set aside to rise until double in bulk, ¾ – 1 hour.
- Add remaining sugar, 1 cup melted, cooled butter and salt. Add about 1½ teaspoons of the cardamom and 4½ C flour to yeast mixture. Place remaining ½ C flour on board or pastry cloth for kneading. (I let the KitchenAid do the kneading, so add 5 cups of flour at this point if you are going to do the same.)
- Turn out dough and knead until smooth and elastic. (If you are using the KitchenAid to knead, use the dough hook and knead for 10 minutes or so on low.) Place dough in greased bowl. Cover with cloth and let rise until double in bulk, ¾ – 1 hour.
- Divide dough into four even pieces. Roll each piece out into a rectangle, about 15″ x 20″. Brush rectangle with butter, then sprinkle evenly with sugar and cardamom (dividing the remaining 1½ teaspoons of cardamom between the four rectangles…it may be more than that). Roll the dough up so you end up with a 20″ long roll. Slice off pieces so you end up with 12 pieces per rolled rectangle. Place rolls in buttered muffin tins. Let rise until double in bulk, 30-40 mins. Brush with egg. Bake in moderately hot oven (400 degrees F) 12-15 minutes, until tops and bottoms are golden.
- Drizzle rolls with glaze (see below).
- 1¼ cups sifted powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Milk or half-and-half or light cream
- Whisk sugar and vanilla together. Stir in enough milk/half-and-half/light cream to make drizzling consistency (a little goes a long way!).