In the last few years, interest in Scandinavian food has risen enormously. It is easy to attribute this popularity to the influence of Noma, Børgen or Ikea and, whilst this may still be the case, it is part of London’s culinary history to look to other parts of the world for inspiration. Whilst on the savoury courses, we are often divided; many, for example, happily devour the meatballs but are hesitant about idea of some of the more extreme pickled fish; the sweet dishes are another story. The success of Signe Johansen‘s book Scandilicous Baking speaks volumes, and the opening of several Scandinavian bakeries across London has sent us clamouring for the lingonberry tarts and spiced biscuits that we could only otherwise find in the freezer section of the local Ikea.
The biggest craze of all, though, has to be for the Scandi cinnamon buns. These are so popular that many of the London cafes sell out daily. They are bread buns, rolled with a cinnamon filling and often topped with pearl sugar or a glaze. Many people in my office cannot survive a week without one.
Luckily for us, we have two Scandinavian cafes within walking distance: the Marylebone branch of The Nordic Bakery, on New Cavendish Street and Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street. There has been a great deal of disagreement among those who work in the west end about which cafe makes the best cinnamon bun, so I decided to settle this with a ‘cinnamon bun-off’; a blind taste test of the two buns from which, I hoped, there would be a clear winner. Fortunately, I was not short of volunteers for this experiment among my colleagues.
The Test: a simple blind taste test of the cinnamon buns, purchased on the same day, from The Nordic Bakery and Scandinavian Kitchen. Each taster chooses a winner. That’s it.
The Nordic Bakery, 37b New Cavendish Street, London W1G 8JR
The Nordic Bakery has three sites across London: our New Cavendish Street Local, the original on Golden Square, Soho and another on Dorset Street. These beautiful little wood-panelled cafes are designed to be “a peaceful meeting place in a frantic city” and sell a range of coffees, sandwiches and baked goods. A cinnamon bun costs £2.40.
Scandinavian Kitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP
This very busy cafe, with its amusing street-front chalkboard offering, among other things, ‘free hugs’ is a Fitzrovia lunchtime favourite. They sell coffees, a range of baked goods, sandwiches and a mix-and-match smoregsboard of various nordic delights. A cinnamon bun costs £1.70.
I bought three buns from each bakery, which were cut into quarters and places in two piles, each labelled simply ‘A’ and ‘B’. 12 taste testers – all cinnamon bun aficionados from my office – tried each of the buns and gave their verdict. Some devoured one of the pieces of bun before starting on the other; others alternated bites between the two. There was a lot of head-tipping and thoughtful noises. Work stopped momentarily to discuss the beauty of cinnamon buns and argue about whether tea or coffee was the best accompaniment. One by one, they gave me their scores and, the winner is….
Scandinavian Kitchen, by nine votes to three!
The main winner for Scandinavian Kitchen was the texture of the buns – the dough was soft and almost brioche-like, compared to the more tightly rolled dough of the buns from The Nordic Bakery; most felt the latter was a little too dense and they would struggle to eat a whole one. The panel was, interestingly, divided over what was the best topping for a cinnamon bun; some preferred the sticky glaze of The Nordic Bakery’s buns, whereas others preferred the pearl sugar topping used by Scandinavian Kitchen. They all agreed that both buns were excellent and had a good cinnamon flavour, but the lightness of the dough was what swung it Scandinavian Kitchen-wards.
If you want to have a go at making your own, Signe Johansen’s recipe from Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect… can be found here.