Their history is a mystery. It is an abomination to put raisins in and an abomination to leave them out. They are eaten for breakfast lunch and dinner. If you haven’t eaten one you cannot call yourself Norwegian. Their name just means ‘bun’ and they are a national icon. Welcome to the land of the Boller!
To me, a bolle just seems like a hot-cross bun without the hot-cross and eaten everyday rather than just Easter. But to a Norwegian the bolle is a way of life.
The small bun is a sweet bread flavoured with cardamom and fits in the palm of your hand. It is enjoyed on its own, with butter and jam, Norwegian brown cheese, coleslaw, and even as a savoury meal with cheese, salami and cucumber. Some boller are made with custard on top with icing and coconut – these are called skoleboller (school Buns). Below is a Bergensk kanelbolle (Bergen’s cinnamon bun).
There are also boller for special occasions. The solboller (sunbun) is made to celebtrate the return of the sun after the long winter. It is coloured with saffron and has a yellow custard centre. The Lent bolle is made during Lent (of course). It is cut in half and a big spoonful of fresh whipped cream is piled on inside before closing the lid and sprinkling icing sugar on top. This one is very fun to eat!
Boller are the cheapest bread you can buy in the store. You can also buy ready-made mix packets but I think the home-made boller are best. There is a continuing discussion of whether the bolle should have raisins in it or not. I think it is really just a matter of taste but Farmor always makes ones with and ones without to please everybody.
Farmor’s boller are famous in Alta. She has won many competitions for her cakes and breads. She has been trying to teach me her Norwegian secrets but it can be a little difficult some times. You see, Farmor never uses recipes. Instead she dances her boller-dance around the kitchen and so I have to watch her carefully, writing down every move she makes. A handful of sugar and a sprinkling of spice, she has a way of making all things nice. She has danced this bolle routine so many times that it is hard to keep up. I must say, some of her tricks of the trade are very smart. Technique is key and even though I’m going to give you the recipe, it is only years of experience that makes this recipe turn out just perfect.
This recipe is made with love and so I’ve kept the ‘bolle-dance’ intact for you to enjoy some special Norwegianess:
Warm the oven to 240oC.
Fill a 2 litre jug with white flour and put into a large plastic bowl. Sift in about 1 cup of whole wheat flour for some extra goodness. Add in about 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of cardamum, 2 sachets of bread yeast. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk. Rub in about 200 grams of butter with your finger tips.
In a pan warm 500mls of full cream milk and 250mls of water.
Put aside some of the flour mixture. This is so you can manage your dough. If the dough is too wet then you can add some more flour mixture. Add the milk and water to the flour mixture and mix with a whisk. Add in extra flour as needed. Put in 1 table spoon of olive oil and now mix by hand. Again, add in extra flour as needed. Mix until doughy. The dough is ready when it doesn’t stick to the plastic bowl at the bottom. The longer you knead it the better.
Let the dough rise for 1 hour in the bowl. You can put the plastic bowl over a pot of hot water – but make sure you use something like chopsticks to rest the bowl onto of the pot, otherwise the plastic can melt.
Make a well in the dough. Light a match and hold it in the well. If the fire is extinguished then the dough is ready. (This lets you know that the yeast has done its job and fermented.)
Spread dough out on a flour board (and sprinkle with raisins – if you like). Cut into 32nds by halving five times. Roll each piece into a ball.
The technique of rolling boller is quite an art. The boller are made into tight balls but they also need to keep the air inside so they will rise in the oven. Farmor has been teaching me how to roll them but I’m still just a beginner. It’s hard to explain but here goes: ball a dough piece in the palm of your hand against the flour board. Your palm adds pressure while your thumb shapes the dough. You use a circular motion against the board until the surface of the boller becomes smooth.
Place on a butter and floured oven tray. Let the boller rise for 15 minutes. Glaze with whole beaten egg. Put down oven temperature to 200oC and place tray in oven. Bake for about ten minutes or until centre is dry. The tops of the boller turn dark golden brown.
Boller are beautiful to eat warm with just butter. Cool on a rack. They will last for a couple of days in a sealed container (if you can save them from the hungry hordes) and you can also freeze them. Serve with home-made jam or cheese and salami.
Boller goes perfect with home-made hot chocolate. Stay tuned for the secret Norwegian recipe.
For a more conventional recipe see our Norwegian Christmas page: Boller (Conventional Recipe)