Mormor's Boller

July 15, 2013

Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.

Today: Emily Vikre (a.k.a. fiveandspice) shares her family's recipe for bollertraditional Norwegian cardamon snack buns.

My mormor, my mother’s mother, grew up in Norway amidst the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II. Her father worked in the government, and while most officials escaped the country and fled to England, he chose to stay with his wife and two young children. Unfortunately, this meant that Nazi soldiers came to their house weekly for an inspection and complete search of the house. One of my mormor’s proudest moments was the day when a Nazi soldier offered her a chocolate bar during a routine inspection. It was mormor’s favorite thing in the world and she missed it desperately -- because of the drained food supply, chocolate was nowhere to be found in Norway. Even so, she looked the soldier in the eye and told him, “no thank you, I don’t like chocolate:" a small but magnificent act of resistance.

Such a childhood, combined with a few other little family scandals, led to my mormor becoming a deeply anxious person. She developed an uncontrollably jumpy wrist that made daily activities like knitting, writing, and cooking an enormous challenge. From almost as soon as she could walk, my mom helped my mormor in the kitchen with tasks like stirring the gravy (almost all Norwegian food involves gravy of some sort) because if mormor tried it, her jumpy wrist would send food flying everywhere.

Cooking in post-war Norway wasn’t exactly easy, anyway. Ingredients were extremely limited: chicken was something you ate once a year, if lucky, and garlic was virtually unheard of. My mom vividly remembers the first time she ever ate pasta, which mormor topped with her improvised version of tomato sauce -- some tomato paste mixed with a cup or two of cream.  Mormor was not one of those powerful grandmothers whose cooking is the stuff of legends, nor was she a bad cook.  She was just a normal woman who cooked meals for her family every single day. Well, with perhaps a few more mishaps than usual.

Maybe it was the way her hand shook, preventing her from kneading properly, or maybe she was too impatient and always killed the yeast, but my mom says that mormor could never get her boller – the traditional Norwegian cardamom snack bun – to rise the way everyone else’s mothers’ did. Mormor’s were always flat and dense.  One day when she finally got the dough to rise a little, she was so excited that she ran out into the yard to call my mother and all the other neighborhood children to come over for snack. The buns still weren’t as fluffy as other women’s, but my mom couldn’t have been prouder of her mother than she was that day. 

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My mom learned mormor’s boller recipe, but she learned proper technique from her best friend Anne Marie’s mother. My mother’s boller are always as light and lofty as if angels had kneaded them. I learned to bake boller from watching my mother, but for several years when I started trying to make them on my own, my buns turned out more like my mormor’s than my mom’s. They would rise only the tiniest bit and I would present my college friends with trays of doughy cardamom rocks. Happily, I didn’t give up, and with persistence and practice, my boller vastly improved.  Now I can make them without getting a nervous pit in my stomach, and I feel proud to share them with anyone who would like a taste. (They’re still not as good as my mom’s though!)

My mormor died of cancer when I was only five. I don’t remember her much except for some hazy memories of visiting the statue park in Oslo with her, playing on a playground, and splashing in the fountain. Still, I feel like I know her well from the stories my mom tells and from all the many hearty, traditional Norwegian recipes we cook today.

In a few short months my own mother is going to become a grandmother.  I can’t wait to get into the kitchen with her and my little one when he comes, so we can keep passing these recipes along.

Mor's Boller

Makes about 16 to 24, depending on what size you make the buns

2 1/2 cups warm milk, at about 100 to 104° F
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom (or 1 teaspoon of freshly ground)
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 egg, for an egg wash

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ryen
  • Dia Sherman
    Dia Sherman
  • Jenny Maria
    Jenny Maria
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    Matilda Luk
  • Lindsay-Jean Hard
    Lindsay-Jean Hard
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


ryen September 11, 2013
My mom and I went on something of a heritage trip and spent 2 weeks in Norway in May, and we pretty much lived on boller. I was so happy to see this recipe pop up on my tumblr dash from food52, and I just tried making these last night. They came out wonderfully! I found I had to use closer to 6 1/2 cups of flour to make it cohesive enough to knead by hand without major sticking, but they still came out fluffy. Thank you for the recipe!
Dia S. July 18, 2013
So intriguing. My mother made "Sugar Plum Loaf" (a braided loaf) at Christmas from a recipe from the Michigan Gas Company. My sisters and I carry on the tradition. The dough is very similar (including cardamom) with apricots and pecans in addition to raisins. Dense and slow to rise! Any additional tips for fluffiness would be gratefully appreciated!
Jenny M. July 18, 2013
The recipe looks similar to my grandmothers. She was from Sweeden and I alway tourgth them typically sweedish. I am from Denmark, and ours are a littel different.
Sorry abouth the spelling, I have a spelling proble
fiveandspice July 18, 2013
No need to apologize for spelling. :) Anyways, I do think that each of the Scandinavian countries has their own version of buns like these, but they're all pretty similar, and all delicious!
Matilda L. July 16, 2013
What a sweet story! I love WW1/WW2 grandmothers-and-their-cooking stories, how they dealt with wartime scarcity and atrocity. Sadly, my own WW1/WW2 grandmothers are both gone, along with their stories and recipes (or lack thereof). Good luck in Minnesota and your growing family!
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Oh so do I! They did remarkable things with so little. Thank you so much.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 16, 2013
What a fantastic story (There's going to be a follow-up for the "other little family scandals," right?)! Thank you for sharing, and congratulations in advance!
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Ooh, I wish! It kind of all deserves its own novel, complete with losses of family fortunes through bad investments, overbearing and conniving older sisters, being shipped to the country to hide an out of wedlock pregnancy, and other juicy tidbits.
gingerroot July 16, 2013
I loved reading this tribute to your mormor, Em, and I can't wait to bring a bit of Norway (a bit more, I should say) to the lives of my children. And what a lucky boy your son will be, with all the amazing women in his family, especially his mom.
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Thank you so, so much Jenny! I hope the kiddos love them as much as we did growing up, if you give them a try. Also, we already have a tiny toddler sized apron and rolling pin that a friend gave us at my baby shower, so we'll be ready to get in the kitchen as soon as we can!
Fairmount_market July 15, 2013
What a lovely piece. And I can't wait to try the recipe. I've been trying to master Scandinavian dishes for my husband, who is of Swedish heritage, and boller have eluded me so far.
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Thank you very much FM! I do hope you try them. I've had several people say that they were finally able to make boller by using my recipe (most of them, actually, were neighbors who tried to learn by watching my mom, but couldn't quite get down the "a little bit of this and just enough of that" style, so they were helped by measurements!). If you do try it I hope you'll let me know how it goes! Oh, and if your husband has a good recipe for kanelbullar in his family share it please! :)
Kenzi W. July 15, 2013
I absolutely love this piece.
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Thank you Kenzi!
creamtea July 15, 2013
what a lovely story & recipe!
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Thank you so much!
ingefaer July 15, 2013
I enjoyed your article very much. I grew up in Denmark and have a recipe for Hast Boller - quick Boller - with cardamom and baking powder instead of yeast.
Good luck in Minnesota.
fiveandspice July 16, 2013
Thank you so much. I've never heard of hast boller but I'll have to look into them! I would have loved to have that recipe back when I still was terrible with yeast. Love your user name, by the way! :)