Semlor and shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is the day when most Brits will be celebrating pancake day, but in Sweden it is known as Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday). The idea is similar – eating a lot of very rich food during the last day before lent. However, in Sweden rather than pancakes becoming the typical food for this day, we have a sweet roll called ‘Semla’ or ‘Fastlagsbulle’. The word semla has been around for a long time, since at least the 16th century, but originally it seems to have referred to the actual bread roll.[1]Nowadays, most people know it as a sweet wheat-bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Some people make variants of the semla by changing the fillings and/or bun, and they are often consumed way earlier in the year, but in the spirit of this article from 1952 where two bakers were arrested for selling these buns too early, I’m sticking with the traditional recipe! So, without further ado, here is the recipe for a traditional Swedish semla.

[1] ‘Semla’, SAOB, January 2019.

Makes 8 semlor | Prep: 1h 30min | Cooking: 15min

25g fresh yeast or 12g dry yeast
50g butter
125ml milk
1 small egg
1tsp ground cardamom
50ml sugar
A pinch of salt
300g plain flour
1 egg yolk for brushing
1 tbsp milk

300ml whipping cream
100g marzipan
1 tbsp milk

Melt the butter and stir into the milk in a saucepan. Gently heat the mixture until it’s room temperature. Stir in the yeast and leave for a minute.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, salt, flour, and cardamom and whisk the egg lightly. Mix everything into the yeast mixture and knead it until a dough is formed. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Continue to knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Divide into 8 equal parts and roll into round buns. Cover with the kitchen towel and leave to rise for another 30 minutes. At this stage, turn the oven to 225C.

Once the buns have risen, beat together an egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk and brush them with the mixture. Bake in the oven for around 10 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

Once the buns have cooled, cut the top of each of the buns and scoop out the insides. Grate the marzipan and combine with the crumbs and a tablespoon of milk. Fill the buns with the mixture. Whip the cream and pipe it onto the buns. Finish by placing the lid on each of the buns and dust some icing sugar on top.