You know how some foods, with one bite or even sniff, can plunge you instantly into a different time and place, immersing you in memories and a flood of sensations beyond just the surface sensory experience of eating that food? More than any other food, boller do that for me. The spicy smell of cardamom as I break one open, the pillowy soft texture, the mild sweetness and the bursts of plump raisins as I eat one, conjures up granite rocks warm from the sun under foot and the salty cold north sea splashing up into my face. I’m a little girl, scrambling in the mountains of Norway and playing on the beach, swimming and fishing for crabs. My mom, sitting with an ever present cup of coffee, has just called to us that she has brought boller with her, and we can have a snack if we’re hungry.
Boller are one of the most common and beloved snacks in Norway. Kind of as chocolate chip cookies are to Americans, boller are to Norwegians. But, given the choice between a bolle and a chocolate cookie, I’d take the bolle any day! They are a milk based bread, so they are very soft and chewy. They’re slightly sweet, but not overly sweet like so many American baked goods are. And, they are lightly scented with cardamom, the most delicious spice in the whole world, so how can you go wrong? You can find them fresh baked daily in any bakery and even any gas station. You can also buy bags of them in the grocery store, which is very convenient for taking to the beach. (Yes, there are beaches in Norway, and as soon as it’s sunny and above 65F it’s a national duty to start tanning!)
But of course, the very best boller are the ones my mother bakes, which we would snatch, as they came out of the oven, to munch on ecstatically. My mother has shown me a number of times how to make boller: “about yay much milk, some sugar, then you just have to add flour until it looks right…” Mine have never turned out quite as perfect as hers, that might be an impossibility. But, I’d say I’ve got the technique down pretty darn well at this point.
However, right now I’m working on a children’s book in which I’m including recipes, and as I began to write the recipe for boller, I realized that while “flour until it looks right” might work as a measurement when you’re showing someone what to do, it probably won’t quite cut it for a recipe in a book. So I decided that I’d better make a batch of bolle over the weekend and try to measure the ingredients out more exactly. A fresh batch of bolle around the house? Well, if I must I must! If it’s for the children.
So, here after some hard work measuring and tasting, is the resulting recipe. In Norway, boller are pretty much always available with or without raisins. I always make mine with raisins because I think it’s way better, and I think people who prefer them without raisins are crazy and have very poor judgment. Of course, I’m also related to quite a few of said crazy people, so I understand that they really do exist. Meaning, feel free to leave them out if you prefer. On Fat Tuesday, which we’ve already passed by I’m afraid, we bake these buns, and after they’ve cooled enough we split them in half and pile sweetened vanilla whipped cream in the middles and sprinkle them with powdered sugar. Beware if you choose to do this, you will have been introduced to the ultimate experience of gustatory delight and deliciousness of all time (in my opinion). Your dreams may be forever populated by whipped cream and cardamom buns, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Boller med rosiner (eller uten, hvis du må)
- 2 ½ cups warm milk (I think it’s about 100 degrees F, I usually use milk that’s nice and warm, but not too hot to leave your finger in)
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 Tbs. active dry yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. cardamom
- 5 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
- 1 egg white, for an egg wash
- In a large mix bowl (or standing mixer with a bread hook) mix together the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, and yeast. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is good and foamy. Stir in the salt and cardamom. Then stir in the flour until all incorporated (stir in the raisins at this point too). The dough should still be a bit sticky.
- Cover the bowl with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about hour (until about doubled in size). Grease two cookie sheets.
- Punch down the dough, turn it out onto a lightly flour surface, and knead it very briefly, just a minute or so. Then, break off pieces of dough and form them into balls a bit bigger than golf balls, and place on the cookie sheets. You should be able to make about 14. Cover and let rise somewhere warm for another 30-45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Before baking, brush the buns with egg white. Bake one sheet at a time for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and if you tap one on the bottom it will sound hollow (this can be accomplished if you scoop one out with a spatula and turn it upside down in an oven-mitted hand). (Also as a note, the boller in my picture are a little lighter than they normally are because I accidentally brushed them with whole egg, rather than egg white.)
- Allow to cool on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before you dive in. They are also good reheated or toasted for several days. Serve plain, or with butter, or with butter and a little Norwegian gjetost (the brown goat cheese that’s kind of a caramelly-savory flavor). Or serve with whipped cream for special occasions, and prepare to be transported!