Swedish “vacuum cleaners”, or dammsugare, are probably the best way to talk about cleaning equipment, ever.
It is even popular enough to have it’s own celebratory day, on the 7th of March.
To be fair, this sweet treat has more names than one. Puschrulle,
So what is it, really? Expect a thick batter of cake crumbs mixed together with cacao, butter, and arrack. The batter is formed into logs that are covered with marzipan, cut into pieces, and have their ends dipped in chocolate.
The name ”vacuum cleaner” could have two meanings. The most common explanation is that it looks like an old vacuum cleaner. The second, sadder explanation, is that the rolls function as vacuum cleaners as bakeries make them of whatever old cookie crumbs and leftover cake they have.
How to solve the (unlikely) dilemma of leftover cake
Bakers of all times have tried to minimize waste and take care of any leftovers. In Konditorn from 1892, Carl Johan Grafström has a thorough discussion of how to use crumbs and leftover cakes and cookies. Any crumbs should be dried until the next day, and then ground into a fine powder,
Not unlike Charles Emil Hagdahl, who in 1896 suggested that leftover cakes could be cut up and cooked into a thick porridge together with red wine, then mixed with sugar and egg and baked in the oven. So, maybe the Swedish approach to taking care of leftover cake seems to be ”add alcohol and you’ll be fine”?
In Den praktiske konditorn by Ehrnström from 1922, there’s a recipe for Sveabollar, Svea balls, that consist of crumbs that are mixed with sugar syrup until it forms a smooth paste. The paste is shaped into balls that dry
The birth of vacuum cleaners
So when do the vacuum cleaners enter the picture? I don’t know. The actual birth of the vacuum cleaner treats is difficult to trace.
Svensk Konditorbok features a recipe of “ankarstockar” that is based on crumbs and rolled out—but it doesn’t contain any arrack, is baked, and covered neither with marzipan nor with chocolate.
After having tested and reviewed at least 290 punch rolls all around Sweden, Mats Karlsson has to be considered one of Sweden’s most knowledgeable experts on punsch rolls. The tenacity! His research suggests that the punsch roll might have been developed by several different people, independently of each other. The time seems to be in the early decades of the 20th century, likely the 20s or 30s.
So far, the oldest recipe I’ve found of vacuum cleaners is Carl-Einar Mellerstedt’s recipe for thread rolls in Småbrödsboken from 1945. Crumbs, almond paste, sugar, and potato starch are mixed with custard powder and apricot or apple jam. It is rolled into long logs and covered with green marzipan before the logs are cut into five centimeter long pieces and the ends are dipped in chocolate.
So what’s in a Swedish punsch roll, or vacuum cleaner?
Leftovers. In the case that you have any, that is. This makes dammsugare a perfect choice when you’ve cut a cake into fantastical shapes or tire of a plain box of cookies. Of course, in the case that you really want to make vacuum cleaners from scratch, you can bake or buy a sponge cake just for the occasion.
But what more than crumbs? The answer is (maybe somewhat annoyingly) “whatever you want”. You simply adjust the batter until it has a thick consistency and a flavor you like.
But, back to Mats Karlsson, there seems to be some do’s and don’ts. His biggest source of annoyance seems to be if dammsugare contain mostly oatmeal and butter, making them not unlike chocolate oatmeal balls.
Karlsson notes that the color varies depending on the chocolate content, but even the simple batter consisting of plain sponge cake drenched in arrack and mixed with butter is delicious.
Butter or buttercream helps the batter’s consistency, and jam can be added for flavor.
How to make mighty fine Swedish dammsugare
“Mix things you have handy until it tastes good” makes for a very short recipe. This is a great way to use any leftover cake or cookies. If your leftovers include pearl sugar or marzipan, try to blend them in a mixer to remove hard lumps in the batter. This makes about 20 vacuum cleaners, depending on the size:
100g (2/5 cup) butter, room-temperature
1/2-1 dl (1/5-2/5 cup) powdered sugar
2 tbsp cacao powder
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
3 1/2 dl (1 2/5 cups) leftover sponge cake and/or cookie crumbs
about 1-2 tbsp arrack, punsch, or rum (to taste)
300g (10oz) marzipan
food coloring (green, or any color you prefer)
75 gr (3oz) dark chocolate (I tend to use 60%)
- Stir the soft butter, the lower amount of powdered sugar, cacao powder, and vanilla powder in a bowl until it is smooth.
- Crumble the cake and/or cookies into the bowl and stir.
- Add a little bit of arrack or punsch and blend it all.
- Test the flavors and adjust until you have a thick batter and a flavor you enjoy. Add more sugar if needed.
- Form the batter into long logs, about 3 cm (1-1 1/2 inch) thick, depending on how large punsch rolls you want.
- Color the marzipan with a little bit of food coloring. I tend to use gel-based food colorants, with a bit of green and a dash of yellow. A little goes a long way.
- Roll out the marzipan between two baking sheets or sheets of cling film, so that it is wide enough to be able to cover the logs.
- Place the logs on the marzipan and cover them. Let the marzipan overlap slightly and place the logs with the seam facing down.
- With a sharp knife, cut the long logs into smaller logs, about 6 cm (just over 2 inches) long.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over boiling water in a heat-proof bowl. Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the heat and place it next to a baking sheet.
- Dip the vacuum cleaners in the chocolate. The edges generally get the prettiest if you dip all of them on one side first, then start over and dip the other side when they have dried slightly. Gently scrape off the excess chocolate from the underside before you place the dammsugare on the baking sheet if you want to avoid that it floats out and creates “chocolate feet”. Let the chocolate set.
- Admire your vacuum cleaners and enjoy!
Sponge cake is easier to work with than cookies — cookies may require a bit more of liquid or butter.
If you don’t have arrack or punsch, flavor the vacuum cleaners with arrack essence, or try rhum, or a liqueur of your choice. For a kid-friendly version, test a little bit of strong cordial.
If you’re using chocolate sponge or cookies as a base, start by omitting the cacao powder before you have tested the flavor.