Shrove Tuesday: Semla

Semlor (I still havn’t unpacked my battery charger for the camera so you have to stand with the cell phone photos)

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, and in Sweden we have a tradition eating a special bun called Semla on this day. It is a plain wheat bun with cardamom filled with whipped cream and almond paste. There’s a long story behind this bun, and I have to admit that I don’t know all about it even though I just bought a book called “History book for cookie lovers” (in Swedish though) where there’s a lot of history to read, including the history behind and about the Semla. The Semla is eaten in many nordic countries, with a few modifications and other names. For example you can read about Pille’s Estonian Vastlakuklid here.

Anyway, you either go to the nearest bakery and buy a Semla (which nowadays can be found from New Year’s to Easter) or you bake them yourself. Yesterday evening I did my own ones, for the first time. The bun is easy to do and was excellent, but I wasn’t quite happy with my almond mixture. I did my own almond paste, but as I don’t have any kitchen mill I first grated the almonds in my food processor and then I used the food processor knife. I didn’t get the almond paste as fine as I wanted but it was sufficient. I also (as usual) havn’t found my kitchen scales in any of the unpacked boxes yet so I just used the deciliter measure, even though I prefer to weigh my ingredients.

    (12 ones)

    100 g butter
    300 ml milk
    1.5 tsp cardamom
    50 g fresh yeast
    a pinch of salt
    100 ml caster sugar
    1 egg
    1 tsp baking powder
    900-1200 ml of plain wheat flour (about 540 g-720 g)

    To brush on the buns:
    1 egg + a small amount of water

    Almond paste:
    200 g sweet Almonds
    120 ml icing sugar
    1 drop of bitter almond extract

    To the Almond mixture:
    100 ml milk, hot

    500 ml double /whipping cream
    Icing sugar

    Melt the butter and combine with the milk. Make sure that the mixture has the right temperature, which is 37 degrees C.

    Crumble the yeast in a large bowl or a kitchen aid. Add the milk and egg mixture and stir until the yeast has dissolved. Add cardamom, sugar, salt, egg, milk, butter and baking powder, and combine. Then start to add the flour while you work with the dough. Make sure not to use too much flour. Knead the dough until it’s smooth. Then let the dough rise in its bowl for about 45 minutes.

    When the dough has risen enough, knead it again and add more flour if needed. Shape 12 round balls that you put on 2 baking sheets covered with parchment paper. Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and let them rise for about 45 minutes or until they have doubled in size. Beat the egg and add some water, then brush the buns with the mixture. Bake in the oven (225 degrees C) for 8 minutes, make sure not to burn them. I baked both baking sheets at the same time as I nowadays have a fan oven (yay!! ) Let the buns cool.

    AlmondsNow it’s time to start with the almond paste. Blanche the almonds by boiling them for 3 minutes. Drain off the water and slip the skins off by squeezing the almonds between your thumb and fingers. Be careful as they really are slippery! If you have a kitchen mill, then use it. If you don’t, first grate the almonds in a food processor and then use the food processor knife so that you get a very fine mixture. Now add the icing sugar and the bitter almond. Mix some more. Add some drops of water so that the almond paste binds together.

    Plain bun with a hole!When the buns have cooled completely it’s time to assemble them. Cut off a small lid on top of the 12 buns. Put the lids aside. Scoop out the crumbs from the buns, making a small hole. Mix the crumbs with the almond paste and the hot milk. If the mixture is too firm you can add some more milk and also some more icing sugar if it isn’t sweet enough. Whip the cream, but absolutely not to hard. You don’t want the semlor to taste like butter. Add a pinch of vanilla sugar to the cream.

    Cut the 12 lids, which you earlier put aside, so that they become triangular.

    Fill the buns with the almond mixture, about 2 tbsp for each bun. Now put some whipped cream on each bun and top it with a triangular lid. Sift each bun with icing sugar. Enjoy!!

Dagmar’s tip: Yesterday when I baked, I only assemled 4 semlor. The rest of the buns I put in the freezer so I easily can assemble more Semlor when I want, without having to bake new buns.

15 Responses to “Shrove Tuesday: Semla”

  1. Pille
    March 1st, 2006 11:14

    Hi Dagmar – I just blogged about my own semlor (well, vastlakuklid, actually, but it’s more or less the same thing:), adding links to other Nordic bloggers doing the same. I’ll go back and include you straight away!
    I like the way you cut the lids into triangles – haven’t seen that before!

  2. Dagmar
    March 1st, 2006 11:41

    Hi Pille,

    It was fun and interesting to read your post! I’ll add your link aswell.

    There are always big discussions on how the semla should look and be eaten: round lid / triangular lid,in a bowl with hot milk / just plain as it is, etc. I think that the triangular lid looks prettier but it doesn’t really matter, some people are dead serious about those things :-) But I never eat my Semla in a bowl of hot milk (that’s called Hetvägg in Swedish) as I don’t like it that way.

  3. Fran
    March 1st, 2006 14:16

    These look & sound so delicious. Your photo is beautiful.

  4. Clivia
    March 1st, 2006 14:30

    Wow, that´s really ambitious to make your own almond paste. Never tried it, but I have a mill though! I guess it is much more tasty, as always with making your food from scratch…

  5. Stacey
    March 3rd, 2006 21:03

    wow, this looks so good! well done, i’ll have to try it. I wonder if Latvia has this tradition as well– I’ll have to ask my (Latvian) mother… delicious!

  6. kelly
    March 10th, 2006 17:02

    mmmm. I love semlor. Thanks for reminding me of them.

  7. Waspgoddess
    February 21st, 2007 09:47

    Delicious, but god do I feel awful afterwards :)

  8. Dagmar
    February 27th, 2007 21:38

    Waspgoddes: They are wonderful, but quite rich :-)

  9. Annika Panika
    January 20th, 2009 19:45

    Happy to have found this recipe on your blog. Thanks

  10. Laurel
    February 23rd, 2009 01:27

    Shrove Tuesday is Feb. 24, 2009
    Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, when the
    people can party, eat rich foods
    have one last time of excess before
    having “to give it up for lent”

    Can someone send advice about Cardamom?
    I have entire pods…do i remove and
    grind seeds? or grind them whole? or??

    Laurel veraloe@gotsky.com

  11. Erik
    November 15th, 2010 05:00

    Perfect recipe.

    It had been close to 20 years since I had Semlor and prior to today, have never made it myself. After carefully following your instructions, the buns and almond filling turned-out so close to what I remembered my Grandma and Great Aunt making for me it absolutely made my day!

    Very enjoyable… Thank you!

  12. Barbara
    February 16th, 2012 13:08

    Hi Dagmar, thanks for your recipe! I changed it a bit and baked my own semlor yesterday, as I like eating them when I am in Sweden, but can’t get them anywhere here in Germany.

    Here’s my post, it’s in German. I linked to your blog post, of course and added your to my reading list.

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