Today is Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) and here in Sweden, the tradition wants that for this special occasion, we eat some lovely sweet buns called Semlor for fika, this typical Swedish coffee break as you know already if you read my blog on a regular basis.
These cardamom-spiced wheat buns have their tops cut off and are filled with a mix of almond paste and milk, topped with whipped cream. There are several variations of this recipe and I tried quite a few. Moreover, each year or almost, there is a competition for professional bakers to bake the best one. This year, one variant is very trendy in Sweden: the “wrap semla” (semla being the singular form of semlor in Swedish, just so you know), which has been crafted by Mattias Ljungberg from the Swedish bakery Tösse in Stockholm.
The name semla comes from the latin word similia which means the finest wheat flour. It actually corresponds to the oldest version of the semla which originally was a bread bun, eaten in a bowl of warm milk. Then, through trading with the Hanseatic League the Swedes got their hands on some rather exotic spices, which were used for special occasions only because they were expensive, and that’s how the finest wheat buns started to be flavored with cardamom. During the 18th century, Swedes also added some mixed almonds to the recipe, being inspired by the French Royal Court. Later, in the mid 1800’s the lid was introduced, as well as the almond paste, and in the 1930’s whipped cream was also added to the buns, just in between the almond paste and the lid.
Originally eaten on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) as the last festive food before Lent, the Swedes stopped observing a strict fasting for Lent with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation and the semla became a traditional dessert every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter. Here is an amusing anecdote: the King of Sweden Adolf Frederick died of digestion problems in February 1771, after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, smoked herring, champagne and… 14 semlor, the king’s favorite dessert! So please enjoy one semla or two at a time, and don’t eat too much caviar before!
The following recipe follows as much as possible the classical Swedish recipe of the semlor, and I suggest two options regarding the almond filling: you can simply use some marzipan (that you stir with some whipped cream to make it a bit lighter) like most of the Swedes do, or you can make your own almond paste and the recipe will be even better.
Hope you enjoy the recipe and Happy Mardi Gras to everyone!
- 1 oz fresh yeast
- ¾ cup milk
- ⅓ cup softened butter
- 1 pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 3⅕ to 3 3/5 cups wheat flour
- 1 tbsp freshly grounded cardamom
- 1 egg for brushing
- ¼ cup liquid cream
- 3 tbsp icing sugar
- - Option 1 (with marzipan) - easy option:
- 7 oz grated marzipan
- 2 tbsp whipped cream (from the whipped cream filling you made above)
- 1 tsp freshly grounded cardamom
- Vanilla beans (seeds)
- - Option 2 (homemade almond filling):
- ¾ cup almonds
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp liquid cream
- 1 tsp freshly grounded cardamom
- Vanilla bean (seeds)
- Heat the milk until it is lukewarm (99F degrees).
- Crumble the yeast into a bowl and dissolve it with the lukewarm milk. Add in granulated sugar, salt, butter, the egg and the cardamom. Add a little flour at a time to form a smooth dough (you might not need to use all the flour). Cover the dough and let it rise until it doubles in size; this takes about 30-45 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide into 12-15 pieces. Shape them into balls and display them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Let rise covered for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 437F. Brush the buns with the beaten egg and bake the buns in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until they are golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack.
- For the whipped cream: whip the cream with a stand mixer for a few minutes, then add the icing sugar. The whipped cream must be airy and not too thick. Transfer into a piping bag.
- - For the marzipan filling (option 1): grate the marzipan into a medium-sized bowl, add in 2 tablespoons of whipped cream from above, the cardamom and the vanilla beans, and stir. Transfer into a piping bag.
- - OR For the homemade marzipan (option 2): in a blender, mix the almonds together with the icing sugar, the granulated sugar and the cream (you can also add some water if needed). Add in the vanilla seeds and the ground cardamom. Stir and transfer into a piping bag.
- Cut a lid on the buns (I like to shape them into a triangle) and scoop out some of the bun so that you make enough space for the filling. Then fill in with ⅓ of the almond filling. Complete with the whipped cream, then put the lid on. Sprinkle some icing sugar on top of the semlor and enjoy!