Semla, a traditional Swedish delicious cake or pastry, recipe and history!
At this time of the year, in late winter and until Easter, the Swedes eat semlor for almost 1 billion Swedish kr per year! In 2010 the Swedes eat about 5 million semlor in one day or 40 million semlor per year! When you consider that the Swedish population is almost 9,5 million people you understand that we just love this pastry! With this facts I am trying to tell you how delicious a semla is and give you reasons to try them out your self!
BUT, a bit of fair warning is in place here; this isn't a low calorie cake, it is a treat!
And another thing; it is said that a Swedish king, King Adolf Fredrik, died on February 12, in year 1771, after eating to much, and one of the thing he eat was too much semlor! So be cautious!
What is a Semla?
A Semla is just one word for these pastries and we also call them “fastlagsbulle”, “hetvägg” and “fettisdagsbulle”! The name semla comes from the Latin word “simila” which means “a bun made of wheat flour” and that is almost precisely what it is! To be more precise; a traditional Semla is about 10 cm big round wheat bun with cardamom that is filled with almond paste and whipped cream and on top decorated with powder sugar! Further down I will give you some recipes on how to make them.
The Swedish National Food Administration provide recommendation that one should not eat more than 1 semla per week! With 5 semlor you fill your body´s minimum daily energy needs, but with just fat and sugar!
There is some great history behind our semlor that I must share with you!
Semlan has a long history, at least back to the 1700s. Initially Semlor was only eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day preceding Ash Wedensday) as a last festival food before Lent and Shrove Tuesday occurs according to the church calendar 46 days before Easter. During the fasting they then ate only one meal a day, and it was forbidden to eat meat, cheese, eggs and other diary products. One shouldn’t drink milk or wine either. According to a story the semla was from the beginning a flat bun. That was one of the few things that where allowed to eat. In order to reliance on food people started to make holes in the buns and started to fill them with different tasty goodies. Over time, this has evolved into whipped cream and almond paste. That semlan contains fat and that it will make you filled and satisfied does have its explanation!
Now days the season for sales of semlor has been moved and now we can eat semlor for a longer period of time. The sales begin at Boxing Day and continue all the way to Easter, with a sales peak during the Shrove Tuesday!
The Swedish king Adolf Fredrik!
The history of King Adolf Fredrik tells that the king had been on a resting home/health home for a period. It doesn’t say for what reason, but one can imagine that he wasn’t totally healthy from the beginning.
After his return to Stockholm he did eat a pretty normal royal dinner that consisted of: Russian caviar, kippers, lobster, a dish of sauerkraut and boiled meat with turnips. Since semlor was one of his favourite dishes and since it was Shrove Tuesday he had semlor for dessert. The dessert was washed down with milk and at least one bottle of champagne!
A few hours later the king had severe stomach cramps and dizziness and died from a stroke!
Other ways to serve Semla!
The name “hetvägg” in Swedish (translated it means something like hot- wall) was more common in the past but some Swedish prefer a hetvägg even now. Back in the 1700s it was a common filled wheat- bun served floating in a deep dish with hot milk. You can still order a “Hetvägg” done in the old way in some patisseries in our bigger cities.
Now, a semla can also be made as a Danish pastry. Then instead of a wheat bun you put the filling on a Danish pastry which is one of my favourite!
There is also an old and sweet fairy tail about the origin of the Semla!
Once upon a time there was a small, small country far away! The small country was a beautiful country. There where some mountains but something that could be seen everywhere was billowing yellow cornfields. And everywhere in the small country people grind wheat into flour. This wonderful and fine flour was used for baking the finest cakes and breads. The King of the little country had a great interest; to eat good bread and delicious cakes. He also loved variety. So, the bakers in the small country had to constantly invent new breads and cakes. But one day their fantasy ended and they couldn’t invent any new variety of cakes or bread!
“I want variety”, complained the King. “You have to invent some new cakes”
But the bakers could not. Then the King got an idea! As it happens, the king had a beautiful daughter. She was so sweat and men from the whole country stood in line wanting to marry her. But the king had not promised here to someone yet.
“I announce a contest” said the king. “Anyone who can find the most delicious cake shall have my daughter”.
Now it was so, that a young soldier in the king’s guard has loved the princess for a long time but he had no chance in seeing her.
“What should I do”? He complained too his friends, “ I can only bake wheat buns, nothing else”
“But you bake the world’s best tasting wheat buns,” said his friends.
“It is not enough” said the soldier. “There must be something even better.”
“I know, said one friend, almond paste is very good.”
“No, whipped cream is tastier” said another.
And then the soldier got an idea! A loaf of white bread that contained both the almond paste and the whipped cream has to be the tastiest ever existed! So he baked the buns. And he made a hole inside them. And he filled the hole with almond paste and whipped cream.
When tasting them, the king went mad with delight! He ate so much that he almost got sick. Therefore the King’s advisers decided that the new cake would only be eaten once a year; on Shrove Tuesday. One couldn’t risk the King’s health! The princess fell in love too. “You are not only good at baking. You are also resourceful” she said to the soldier. And they married and lived happily ever after…
So, there seems to be stories of Kings from both reality and fiction that involves Semlor! I hope the message is clear: Do not eat too many of them! Enjoy them only now and then!
First you make wheat buns and to the dough you need:
75 g margarine or butter
A little more than 1 cup milk (a cup and a tbsp)
25 g yeast
¼ teaspoon salt
almost 1/4 cup sugar or light syrup (0,5 dl)
1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
3,2 cup plain flour (7,5 dl)
Proceed as follows: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add milk and heat to 37 º C. (finger warm). Crumble yeast in a bowl and mix the yeast with little of the milk and butter. Add the remaining liquid, salt, sugar or syrup, cardamom, and almost all the flour. Crack an egg in as well for juicier and tastier dough.
Let the dough rise under a cloth for about 30 minutes.
Knead the dough smooth again. Bake it and shape it into 10 pieces round Semlor. Let them rise under a cloth in 30 minutes more. Brush them with beaten egg or milk. Bake them, about 15 minute in the middle of the oven at 200-225 º C until they are nicely browned. Allow buns to cool on a rack under a cloth.
Some thinks that an ordinary wheat bun is a bit dry. If you are one of those you can try this luxurious recipe of semla! An extra rise and proper kneading gives extra fine texture to these buns.
25 g yeast for sweet doughs
a little more than a cup milk (2,5 dl; a cup and a tbsp)
almost 4 tbsp sugar (0,5 dl)
1,5 cup plain flour (3,5 dl)
After initial formation:
75 g butter
5 tbsp sugar (0,75 dl)
1 tsp cardamom
0,5 tsp salt
1,5 cup plain flour (3,5 dl)
Do like this: Heat the milk t 37 ºC. Dissolve yeast in a bowl. Add sugar and flour. Work the dough significantly, about 10 minutes in a food processor. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and let the dough rise under a cloth for about 30 minutes.
While the dough rise, stir butter and sugar porous and add cardamom. After 30 minutes, stir butter mixture, eggs, salt and the rest of the flour into the dough. Work it together in another 10-12 minutes. The dough should be soft in texture and smooth. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise once again. From here it is just like in the classic recipe, work the dough and form it into 10 buns. Let is rise for another 30 minutes before you bake them in the oven.
200 g almond paste
almost ½ cup milk (1dl)
a little more than 3/4 cup whipping cream (2 dl)
Cut off a small lid on each bun. Remove some of the content in the lower bun with a fork. Crumble it into a bowl. Mix with the grated almond paste. Then add milk and stir into a fairly loose batter. Spread the filling into the buns. Whip cream and add on top of each bun. Add the lids and sift powdered sugar over the buns.
Other types of filling
Examples of other fillings that taste very good is:
- Exchange the almond paste with vanilla cream or vanilla cream and raspberry jam.
- Fill the buns with nut cream instead and top them with chocolate mousse.
- Add cocoa to the whipped cream for at great chocolate taste.
- Add lightly sugared cloudberries or cloudberry jam to the whippet cream.
Recipe, Almond paste!
Almond paste can be bought at the store but you can also make almond paste yourself if you have a food processor or a blender.
Almond paste contains
almost 50% almonds and 50% sugar.
If you want a finer almond
paste it contains a bit higher percentage almonds. Usually the mandel content must be at
least 50% for it to be known as almond
Do like this:
If you want nice light almond
paste, one must first scald and peel
the almonds. You do
that by adding the
almonds in boiling water for a while and then let them
cool a bit before
you scale the
Then run it in a
food processor or blender:
200 g almonds
0,4 cups powdered sugar
0,4 cups granulated sugar
When the almonds are finely ground, add a little water, cream or milk in mixing until the almond paste have the right consistency.
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