As we head into the last weeks of summer, it means final chances to use up the last of the summer berries. And one berry that always intrigues me is the blackcurrant. It’s all at once sweet and tart and has a beautiful deep purple, almost black and glossy exterior. The taste is earthy and leaves you with a lingering aromatic experience. They’re divine eaten directly from their stems and are also a favorite in sauces, jams, jellies and sweet and savory dishes.
Blackcurrants have been known in Norway since the 17th century. They are very popular garden plants nowadays, and you won’t be hard pressed to find a neighbor with a blackcurrant bush if you need some. They are high in Vitamin C and have been a very important and valuable crop for a long time.
Europe produces 99.1% of the world’s currants (including red and white currants) with two-thirds of blackcurrants produced in Europe being used for juice. In fact, blackcurrant cordial played a vital role in England during WWII as it was given to children to prevent scurvy when boats filled with citrus fruits were unable to enter into the UK.
My first interaction with blackcurrants was when I lived in England during my university years. I had no idea what they were nor what they tasted like. I was quite surprised that this berry had eluded me in my lifetime, but was even more surprised at why. The reason, interestingly enough, is that blackcurrants were once outlawed in America in the early 1900s because they spread a fungus that killed white pine trees. White pine trees were extremely important to the timber industry so their survival was deemed critical enough to warrant the federal government from outlawing their commercial growth and ensure all plants within the Ribes species were eradicated.
The problem really had to do with the importation of seeds infected with the fungus, blister rust. Farmers with pine tree nurseries could not meet the demand and began to look abroad for cheap planting seeds. Blister rust does not move from one pine to another by itself. In order to spread across the trees, it needs to infect a Ribes specie before returning to the needles of the white pine. This in turn, led to saving the white pines and destroying the Ribes species. It also was followed by a ban on the importation of white pine seedlings from Europe. The battle for the return of blackcurrants and other Ribes is currently ongoing and now left to each State to determine. (Source)
Now that I have access to an abundance of the Ribes species, I really enjoy incorporating them into my everyday dishes and baked goods, highlighting their sweet and bitter sides. As the days are getting colder, it’s also nice to have the oven on with the smell of sweet buns in the air.
The snail-like shape of the buns gives them the Norwegian name, snurrer. Snurrer can be filled with various things, from cinnamon and sugar to custards and fruits. I also have a recipe for Snurrer with Plums and Almond Custard. This particular recipe has just the right amount of sweetness and tartness with a nice balance from the cream cheese spread.
If you do not have the ability to obtain fresh blackcurrants, then I suggest looking for a blackcurrant jam to substitute in this recipe. If you are unable to find a jam, you can use another fruit like blackberries, although you won’t achieve the sweetness and tang of each bite from the blackcurrants.
Blackcurrant Sweet Buns (Solbærsnurrer)
- 1 cup (224 dl) milk
- 1 stick plus 1 Tb (125 g) butter
- 5 cups (600 g) flour
- 1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
- 2/3 oz (17 g) dry yeast (about 2 packets + 1tsp)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 8 oz (200g) blackcurrants
- 2 Tb sugar
- 1 Tb water
- 8 oz (200g) cream cheese
- 1 cup (2 ½ dl) powdered sugar
Warm the milk and butter in a saucepan, until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat.
Place the flour, sugar, yeast and cinnamon into a kitchen mixer with the bread hook. Add in the milk and butter mixture and begin to knead. Add in the egg and continue kneading for 8-10 minutes on medium-low speed. Resist the urge to add more flour. If you do not have a kitchen mixer, just blend everything in a large bowl and knead by hand, around 15 minutes. The dough should be soft, smooth and elastic.
Cover and leave the dough to rise for 1 ½ hours.
Place the blackcurrants, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook just until the berries have softened and the sauce has thickened a bit. Try to keep the berries intact. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 425°F. Place the dough on a well-floured surface. Roll the dough out to a large rectangle, about 18×22 inches / 45×56 cm.
Cover the dough with the cream cheese mixture, right to the edges.
Spread the blackcurrant compote on top of the cream cheese in vertical lines (top of the rectangle down to the bottom), evenly spaced across the dough with a little spacing between each line.
Gently roll the dough horizontally, from left to right to form a log. When you have finished rolling, take a sharp knife and divide into approximately 12 pieces. It will be messy, but this is part of the fun.
Divide the buns between two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake one sheet at a time for 10-12 minutes.