STOCKHOLM - It's easy to fall in love in Stockholm.
With pastries, that is.
Pastries and cookies are a way of life, a part of the Swedish fika -- coffee break -- that's so ingrained in the country that it was the first thing Stockholm native Fredrik Claesson wanted to do when he arrived back home. I had already tried it out, with Claesson on a walk around the city, but one particular part of the fika appealed to me more than the coffee.
That was the kardemummabullar, a cardamom bun that's a much sweeter cousin of the cinnamon bun, the latter of which is so traditional in Sweden that there is actually a Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens Dag, on October 4). It has no frosting and, instead of cinnamon, uses cardamom, a spice that comes from the ginger family.
It can be a strong taste, but an interesting one, especially paired with the butter and sugar in the buns. I was in.
I had already had my first one, on a fika with colleague Dan Rosen on our first afternoon in Sweden, when we stumbled into an Espresso House famished and unknowingly participated in the country's tradition. The second came on a walk through Gamla Stan with my husband, warmed up for us at a café on the way to the Vasa Museum.
But that wasn't enough for me. I am, of course, the same person who ate two chicken parmesan sandwiches to honor Jean-Gabriel Pageau last spring during the playoffs. I did have the excuse of being nearly eight months pregnant then, but I'm never one to shy away from a challenge.
So I found an article from a couple of years ago naming the best kardemummabullar in Stockholm and set out to find as many as I could. I made it to Urban Deli and Fabrique before bowing to the needs of time and, uh, actual work, and picked up my third at Starbucks as a test case. I also grabbed a traditional cinnamon bun -- kanelbullar -- at Urban Deli to compare.
To me, there was a clear winner: Urban Deli.
The kardemummabullar had the right mix of cardamom and sugar, which wasn't overpowering the way the Starbucks bun was. It was lighter than the others, too, not as dense and heavy. Their kanelbullar was killer, too, and so much less sweet than the frosting-basted ones from back home that trigger immediate sugar shock.
They were all delicious, though, in their own spicy, buttery way. But my favorite memory of the kardemummabullar wasn't likely to change based on my taste test in the media room of the Ericsson Globe on Saturday before the second game of the NHL Global Series.
No, none of them could unseat my favorite cardamom-laced memory of the week: taking the warmed pastry in its brown paper sack through the streets of Gamla Stan to the ferry landing, getting on board and heading out back to look over the water with my husband, alternating ripped bites of the sweet-and-spicy treat as the sun set over the water.
Maybe someday I'll be back here on Kanelbullens Dag and, if so, I know exactly what I'll be doing.