Originally eaten only on Shrove – Fat – Tuesday, Semla buns are a rare treat of pastry, almond paste and fluffy cream.
The Protestant Reformation meant that Swedes stopped observing a strict fast during Lent and thus semla are usually available in Sweden from shortly after Christmas right up until Easter – although Shrove Tuesday is still the most popular day of the year to indulge in these delicious buns.
King Adolf Frederick died of digestion problems as the result of ending a rather rich and hearty meal with the consumption of 14 semlor. Swedes today show slightly more restraint, eating an average of five bakery-produced semla each year – and countless more that have been made at home. This recipe makes roughly 20 of the buns, which we recommend either sharing with friends and family, or else parceling out to yourself carefully; we don’t want any King Fred repeats.
Pre-heat oven to 190 C
700 g flour
140 g sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
350 ml milk
2 x 7 g dried yeast (2 envelopes)
1 large egg
250 g skinless, blanched almonds
225 g sugar
A few tablespoons of milk
A little icing sugar to dust
750 ml whipping cream.
What you do:
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the milk and heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and add the yeast.
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt and ground cardamom. Pour onto a large flat surface and make a well in the middle. Slowly add the milk and butter mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the whipped eggs. Bring the dough together gradually and knead until well mixed. Place in a bowl, cover and leave to prove in a warm, dark spot for 45-60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface, dividing it into 18-20 pieces (about 80 g each). Roll each piece into a ball and place on a lined baking sheet. Lightly brush the buns with either beaten egg or milk and bake on the centre shelf for ten minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
While the buns are baking prepare the almond paste: mix the almonds and sugar thoroughly in a food processor, then add a few drops of milk until a thick, smooth paste forms. Chill in the fridge until firm.
When the buns are cooled cut a triangle out of the top of each and scoop out a small amount from the insides to make a hole for the filling. Set the breadcrumbs aside in a separate bowl. Grate the chilled almond paste into the breadcrumbs and mix into a creamy paste using a few tablespoons of milk. Fill each bun with a tablespoon of the filling, then top with whipped cream. Place the little triangles you cut earlier on top, dust with icing sugar and there you have it: Semla.
Judi Lembke is an experienced journalist who, when she’s not shackled to her computer, enjoys reading, cooking and sometimes watching embarrassingly bad reality TV. Judi also works with communications and thinks coming up with clever ideas is about as much fun as one can have without taking off one’s clothes.