Fettisdagen, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras; whatever you call it, the Tuesday before the start of Lent is traditionally the time for penance and confession. It’s also the time to stuff your face before fasting commences.
Tomorrow Swedish believers and non-believers alike partake in the ritual munching on semlor, buns filled with cream, cardamom and mandelmassa (almond paste). I decided to join them and help the Your Living City readers narrow down where best to invest their calories. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.*
Address: Patentgatan 7, 11267 Stockholm (on Lilla Essingen, bus 49 to stop Luxparken)
Dessert och Choklad is an experience, serving everything sweet from cakes to pralines. Since they have windows looking on to the kitchen, you can actually watch your semla being freshly prepared… and when it’s handed to you it’s still warm. The only downside of the bakery is that there’s nowhere to sit. I had to enjoy my semla on the bus stop in the snow.
Bun: Just the right amount of cardamom and surprisingly moist.
Cream: Heavenly. Rich, thick and fresh fresh fresh. I reckon they store a cow in their kitchen.
Almond paste: An unsparing amount of chunky yumminess.
Overall: The balance is perfect between bun, cream and mandelmassa. None of the components overpower one another. These semlor are obviously homemade with care and top-quality ingredients. This is what earns them my first place prize.
Address: Kungsgatan 55, 111 22 Stockholm (nearest T-bana: Hötorget)
Vetekatten is a firm favourite amongst Swedes and foreigners alike. Its eclectic décor and old-world charm only add to the decadence of its freshly baked treats. Vetekatten is always a pretty safe bet if you’re in the mood for cake and its semlor have won numerous foodie’s hearts (and stomachs).
Bun: Moist, fresh and sweet. This is, in my opinion, the best part of the semlor from Vetekatten.
Cream: The bun isn’t drowning in cream, which seems to be the point de friction of many bakeries. It’s also nice and dense, adding richness and texture.
Almond paste: Finely ground and pretty damn perfect.
Overall: Vetekatten gets the balance just right and I can see why their semlor are so popular. My one complaint is that they do, however, seem a tad mass-produced…
Address: Karlavägen 77, 114 49 Stockholm (Nearest T-bana: Karlaplan)
Tössebageriet is another popular choice for semlor in Stockholm. It is unpretentious and the quality is tops; in fact they recently won ‘Best konditor’ for 2012 . It also has the charming nummerlapp system just in case you forgot you were in Sweden.
Bun: Slightly bland as not much cardamom is used, but still nice and not too dry.
Cream: Light and fluffy. The amount of it is proportional to the size and amount of the bun and the paste.
Almond paste: Tössebageriet did something sneaky and added cardamom to their filling, which along with the finely ground almonds, makes this paste the one to rule them all.
Overall: The lack of cardamom in the bun is made up for in the paste, so the overall ratio is maintained.
Address: Götgatan 92, 118 62 Stockholm (Nearest T-bana: Skanstull)
There are several different semlor at Gunnarssons, ranging in size from “large” to “satisfies a family of ravenous gorillas”. I wimped out and went for the “classic”.
Bun: Not too bland and not too much cardamom. Also surprisingly moist. Overall the bun balance is just right.
Cream: Too much of it. I could have painted my entire (40 square meter) apartment with it and still had some left over.
Almond paste: A generous amount of almondy goodness. Sweet, but not too sweet with sizeable chunks of almonds.
Overall: The bun/cream/filling ratio was a bit out of whack. I think the excess cream detracted from the other two components and made them seem blander than they actually were.
Address: Hantverkargatan 28, 11221 Stockholm (Nearest T-bana: Rådhuset)
Sockerbagaren feels very personal and intimate, which is great when you are frequenting it alone, with a friend or a significant other. Not so great when you have a great big stroller and the tiny bakery is filled to capacity with a three o’clock fika crowd demanding their semlor.
Bun: A bit too much like burger bun, so there is an excess of breadiness. It also doesn’t contain enough cardamum, so it tastes a bit bland.
Cream: Sockarbagaren makes the fatal flaw of over-doing it on the cream, which ultimately upsets the precious ecosystem of the bun:cream:filling ratio.
Almond paste: Lovely and bitty, but too little of it. This only further contributes to the upset of the oh-so-precious and volatile ratio.
Overall: I thought this place would surprise me. I wanted it to be the runty underdog who triumphed over the alpha Katten. But I was wrong and it didn’t.
So there you have it. Go forth and indulge while indulgence is (quite literally) the order of the day. Although try not to be like King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden. He died, after a feast including 14 helpings of semlor in hot milk; we can’t prove it was the semlor, but it’s a tale of caution.
*Disclaimer: I am not and do not pretend to be a semla expert. I’ll leave that up to the extremely dedicated Semmelmannen