Word has got around that I have a weakness for spices – together with herbs, I find them indispensable for capturing and recreating the flavours of the world. Right at the top of my list of favourite exotic fragrances are cardamom and cinnamon. So uniting them in a sweet, oven-warm pastry is a special treat.
What’s unusual about the wonderful diversity of spices is not just that they can transport a dish and you yourself to a particular region of the world in the blink of an eye. I also like the thought that spices have literally changed the world. There were times when entire continents were discovered by explorers on the search for the treasures of the ancient world, and pepper was as valuable as gold. I am fascinated by the idea of the enormous value of a few tiny yet highly fragrant grains, berries and seeds.
The origins of my cinnamon and pistachio knots are not quite as ancient as the intrepid history of spices. I got the idea for these pastries, which originate in Sweden, from my friend Sanna, who has proved indispensable in designing my cookery books. These Christmas-scented knots, which I have supplemented with my favourite spices, are soft and buttery, and a boon to body and soul. Here’s how you make them:
For the dough: 250 ml milk at room temperature, 25 g fresh yeast, 75 g soft butter, 50 g sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 420 g flour
Gently warm 50 ml of the milk and dissolve the yeast in it. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a smooth dough. Cover and leave for an hour to double in size.
For the filling: 85 g soft butter, 50 g sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 vanilla pod with the seeds scraped out, 80 g roasted chopped pistachios
Mix together all the ingredients for the filling except the pistachios.
Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to form a rectangle. Spread the cinnamon and butter mixture smoothly on top of the dough. Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the mixture. Fold one of the longer edges over two-thirds of the dough, then fold the remaining third over, and then cut the dough into 2 cm-wide strips. Cut lengthways down the middle of each strip, but leave the two halves attached at one end. Intertwine the two parts to form a knot. Place in a greased muffin tin and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Brush the dough with beaten egg and bake in the oven at 220°C (hot air) for 10-12 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool a little. Best enjoyed warm.