Celebrate Fat Tuesday Swedish style with this classic recipe.
By nature, I am not a follower of recipes. This is most likely my mother’s influence. Just as creative in the kitchen as she is with her artwork, the most common response to “What’s in this? It’s delicious! Can you write down the recipe for me?” is “Oh, I don’t really know exactly what I put in it.”
She does of course have some standard recipes that she can recite off the top of her head, but for the most part, she is a student of serendipity and chaos theory.
As it turns out, like mother like daughter.
When friends ask for recipes I actually have to go home and remake whatever food they’re looking to add to their cooking repertoire, simply so that I can figure out the exact measurements. Apparently “just enough of [insert ingredient]” doesn’t work for most people.
But there are those dishes for which I throw habit out the window, and commit to taking time to being a diligent cook that sticks to a recipe. Sometimes, there is no room for error.
If there’s one baked good that has to be made perfectly, it’s the Swedish semla. Also known as fastlagsbulle or fettisbulle, it is a flour bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar. Historically it was made for fettisdagen, Fat Tuesday. But we live in the modern day Western world, where eating decadent food doesn’t usually come with too many restrictions, so in Sweden, you can find semlor decorating the bakery shop windows just after the New Year all the way through Easter.
Having learned last year the danger of trying to tweak a recipe to my own standards – even my mother still cringes that I thought using whole wheat flour instead of pastry flour would be a good choice – I pulled out my copy of Swedish Cakes and Cookies, the modern and translated version of a classic that you can find in any Swede’s cookbook collection.
I was committed to making a good semla. Which meant of course measuring perfectly. But you can only veer from regular habits so much. I soon realized that the recipe didn’t call for cardamom.
I added in two teaspoons.
Oh, there’s no recipe for almond paste? I certainly wasn’t going to trek to the gourmet food store and buy some (I do have my limits after all). So I made my own, purely guessing on what almond to sugar ratio I should use.
Plenty of mixing, rising, kneading and oven to cooling rack transfers later, I had a kitchen table full of semla buns and a full French press. If there’s one baking production that pays off, it’s a semla. Especially one made with ample cardamom and homemade almond paste.
Note that this recipe makes 10-12 buns. Unless you have a crazy coffee get together for an army planned, don’t make the semlor all at the same time. The buns store well in the freezer, and can be defrosted for when you want to fill them with almond paste and whipped cream. Which means you can make one now for yourself, and serve your friends later. Smaklig måltid!
Classic Swedish Semlor
- 100 grams butter (7 tablespoons)
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 4 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar (if you want a sweeter version, you can use up to a ½ cup)
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons powdered cardamom
- 2 cups blanched almonds + ¼ cup sugar blended in food processor
- Inside of buns
- ½ – 1 cup milk
- Whipped cream
- Powdered sugar
1. Melt butter in a saucepan and add the milk. Heat until the liquid is warm to the touch.
2. In a bowl beat the egg and add in yeast, salt, sugar and milk mixture. Combine baking powder and flour and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let rise for 30 minutes.
3. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into round balls and place on greased pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise until double the size.
4. Brush the balls with a beaten egg. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 450F. Let the buns cool.
5. Cut off a circular “lid” off of each bun and set aside. Scoop out inside of bun with a spoon or fork. Mix in a bowl with almond paste and add enough milk to make a smooth mixture. Fill buns with mixture and top with whipping cream. Place lid on top of whipping cream and garnish with powdered sugar.
Illustrations by Johanna Kindvall