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Opera House Arts’ co-founder conjures her gram’s rolls



Editor’s Note: Linda Nelson is Portland Ovations’ deputy director. She previously served as the Maine Arts Commission’s assistant director and co-founded Stonington’s Opera House Arts, where she served as executive director and producing artistic director.

 

By Linda Nelson

Special to The Ellsworth American

In 1973, Signe “Gram” Petterson is shown with granddaughter Linda Nelson en route for a month’s stay in Sweden. 
PHOTO COURTESY LINDA NELSON

My paternal grandmother — or Gram, as we called her — Signe Petterson sailed out of Sweden’s western port of Goteborg when she was 19. Bound for the United States, she was going to join her sister and help care for her twins. She landed in a thriving Swedish immigrant community in New Britain, in central Connecticut.

Growing up in New Britain, we yearned for Christmas for all the usual reasons, but also because holiday was when Signe made her buns. That’s how we ever knew the twisted, faintly sweet, distinctively spiced rolls simply as Gram’s buns.

Gram made them directly on her kitchen table — no bowl, no mixer — just making a well in the flour — throwing in by hand sugar and whatever other mysterious ingredients made the rolls so special. No measuring cup and no written recipe.

After Gram died unexpectedly of a heart attack on my 22nd birthday, I was left to research and experiment to try and re-create those heavenly rolls we could never stop eating. Since the word “cardamom” had never been spoken in our household, I had no idea that this was indeed the super-secret, special ingredient that made the buns not only distinctive, but my own Proustian madeleine.

Gram’s Swedish Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls
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This recipe takes about two hours and 15 minutes to make. Most is rising time. Makes about a dozen. Courtesy Linda Nelson
Servings
12 rolls
Servings
12 rolls
Gram’s Swedish Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
This recipe takes about two hours and 15 minutes to make. Most is rising time. Makes about a dozen. Courtesy Linda Nelson
Servings
12 rolls
Servings
12 rolls
Ingredients
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsps. warm water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 vanilla pod halved and scraped,
  • Dash of almond flavoring
  • 6 Tbsps. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 extra yolk reserve white
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsps. freshly ground cardamom (you should see dark flecks in your buns)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsps. milk
  • 3 tsps. cinnamon
Servings: rolls
Units:
Instructions
  1. Stir one package yeast into the 2 tablespoons warm water. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and set aside for about 5 minutes until foamy.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of milk with 1 vanilla pod, halved and scraped, and dash of almond flavoring. In the simplest version of these, you can melt 6 tablespoons of butter in with the milk at this stage, too. In another, you mix the softened butter in with the dough as you knead it.
  3. Once the butter is melted, cool the milk mixture to 110 degrees F, remove the vanilla pod and add the yeast mixture.
  4. In a large mixing bowl (electric is fine), whisk 1 egg and 1 extra yolk (reserving the extra white for the wash) with 1/3 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom. It’s important that it be freshly ground. You should see dark flecks in your buns), and 1/2 t salt.
  5. Add the milk-yeast mixture. Mix until well combined. Slowly add in 4 cups flour, kneading or using your mixer's paddle or bread hook to knead it all together. Once a soft, silky dough forms, roll it into a ball.
  6. Place 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl and roll the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and place in warm location until it doubles in size, about two hours.
  7. While the dough is rising, make the filling if desired (the cardamom rolls are good and often served plain, without the cinnamon filling, too. The steps are the same either way). For the filling, make a paste from 1/3 cup softened butter, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup sugar (this can be reduced or even omitted), 2 tablespoons warm milk and 3 teaspoons cinnamon.
  8. When the dough has risen, divide into 2 sections and roll each into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. If using the cinnamon filling, spread half over the bottom half of each rectangle, then fold the top half over the bottom and roll again (you still do this even without filling. Be gentler with the filling so as not to squeeze it out!)
  9. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough the long way into ½-inch strips. The strips can be rolled up, with the top end poked through the middle to “tie” the roll at the end. They can also be elegantly twisted around your hand like you would create a yarn ball. This is the traditional Swedish way and there are videos for this online.
  10. Place the rolls on parchment lined baking sheets. Whisk the reserved egg white with a little water and give the tops an egg wash. If you're not using the cinnamon filling, do as my Gram did and sprinkle a bit of sugar on top of each roll.
  11. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven for 20 minutes. Cool on rack and eat warm or store in airtight container.
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