Semla - Swedish Cream Buns for Mardi Gras Recipe
Semla - Swedish Cream Buns for Mardi Gras
Flavors of Sweden
Total time: 1hr to 2hr

Raising time: 30 + 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Average
Chef's Note

On Fat Tuesday, some people dance and others dress in costumes -  in Sweden they eat buns! In fact, 4 million Semlor are consumed in Sweden on that day.

The semla (plural: semlor, also called fastlagsbulle or fettisdagsbulle) is a traditional Swedish pastry. Consisting of a cardamom spiced wheat flour bun with the top cut off and the inside scooped out, an almond paste filling, whipped cream, and a dusting of powdered sugar, this treat has been delighting Swedes for centuries.

Semlor were originally consumed on fettisdagen, or Fat Tuesday, as a celebration before the Christian fasting period of Lent. In modern Sweden, since strict adherence to Lent has waned, semlor make their appearance in bakeries from about January through Easter. However, Semla Day, or semmeldagen, is still celebrated on Fat Tuesday every year. Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden, died in 1771 after eating 14 servings of semlor. So while indulgence is encouraged on fettisdagen, it might be best to keep your semla intake to fewer than 10!

How to eat a semla
A bun soaked in warm milk, known as hetvägg, was the first incarnation of these marvelous creations. While lacking the fancier garnishes and filling of the modern semla, eating semlor submerged in warm milk is still popular today. You can also go the more common route of eating your semla with a nice hot cup of coffee or tea on the side.

- For 25 semlor (approx)

- 2 packets of yeast
- 500 ml / 2 cups warm milk
- 400 g / 2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. cardamom
- 1 egg
- 750 to 1 kilo / 6 to 8 cups all-purpose white flour
- 12 Tbsp. melted butter

- almond paste
- 500 ml / 2 cups whipped cream, sweetened

For the glaze
- 1 egg
- brown sugar

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk with a spoonful of sugar. Test the milk temperature with your finger to ensure it is not too hot. Let stand for 5 minutes in a draft-free place.
  2. Once the yeast begins to bubble, add the remaining sugar, cardamom, salt and egg, and enough flour to form a smooth dough. Mix until soft and well-combined.
  3. Add approximately 250 g (2 cups) more flour and mix again. The dough should be elastic and have no lumps.
  4. Add the remaining butter and as much flour as needed to form a non-dry dough that holds its shape.
  5. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny. Divide into about 25 pieces.
  7. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on lightly buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a cloth and let rise about 20 minutes.

Baking and finishing

  1. Brush the semlor with beaten egg and sprinkle with brown granulated sugar before baking at 200° C/400° F for about 15 minutes or until the buns are nicely golden.
  2. Cool, then cut off the top part of each bun.
  3. Remove the crumb with a fork and combine it with almond paste and a little milk.
  4. Fill the semlor with this filling then pipe whipped cream on top. Place the tops back on the buns and serve. 
More recipe ideas

 Photo and history: Fika NYC where you can eat Semla, a speciality of this bakery chain.

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