I-ATE FOOD TERM OF THE WEEK: Swedish Semla

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Svensk Semla

Semla, or fettisdagsbulle, is one of Scandinavia’s and therefore Sweden’s culinary trademarks. This sweet fluffy roll produced in various forms, is associated mostly with Shrove Tuesday. The etymology of the word semla is quite interesting: It’s a loan from the German semmel which derives from the Latin simila (meaning flour), which derives from the Greek σεμιδάλις (groat).

The oldest version of the semla was simply a bread bun, consumed in a bowl of warm milk. In the beginning, the semla was eaten only on Shrove Tuesday. This tradition started as a way to empty the home from anything sweet, as fasting was quite common during Lent. Nowadays, semlor (plural of semla) are available in all Swedish shops and bakeries every day from shortly after Christmas until Easter. It is one of the most popular pastry of the country and there is no limit for the amount of semla each Swede consumes on average each year (the more, the better!).

Today, the classic Swedish semla consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top removed (although shapes might vary), and is filled with a mix of milk and almond paste. It is topped with lots of whipped cream and decorated with powdered sugar. The whipped cream version was introduced in 1926 with a recipe published in Svenska Dagbladet. It is mostly consumed during a fika (the Swedish coffee break), accompanied by tea of coffee. However, there are multiple modern versions of the semla: You can find a semla-burger and even a semla-wrap! Plus, the fillings might differ as well. Instead of the traditional (yet super tasty) almond cream paste, you can find semlor with chocolate filling or raspberry and strawberry jam.

Interesting Facts

  • Did you know that Swedes buy around 5 million semlor on Fat Tuesday? You can imagine the amount of semlor being baked at home…
  • Semlor are often associated with an unfortunate event, giving them a more sinister and dark side: In 1771, The Swedish King Adolf Fredrik was on a feast and consumed a lot of semla. Unfortunately, he died because of severe indigestion, caused by the fact that he enjoyed a meal with 14 of them!

How to make the classic Semla?

Buns:

25 gr fresh yeast

1 1/3  cups milk

3 ¾  cups wheat flour

1 ½  tbsp baking soda

1 pinch salt

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp freshly ground cardamom

75 gr butter

1 egg, for brushing

Filling:

3/4 cups almonds

2/3 cups sugar

Milk or cream

A bit of cardamom

Decorating:

1 1/5 cups whipping cream

Icing sugar

Heat the milk in a pan until it is lukewarm. Crumble the yeast into a bowl and stir it with some of the milk to dissolve it. Add the rest of the milk. Mix most of the flour with salt, baking soda, sugar, and cardamom. Add the flour mix, the egg and the butter to the food processor with the milk and yeast, and let it rest for around 10 minutes. Always check if you need to add more flour since the dough should be normally sticky and not runny.

Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rest for 40 minutes. The dough needs to be doubled in size. Take the dough out onto a flat and clean surface. Divide it into equal parts of 50 grams each. Place the buns on a baking sheet on a baking tray with a towel for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 225°C. Gently brush the buns with an egg. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the buns get this golden color.

Cut a triangular lid off the bun using a small sharp knife. Then put almonds and sugar together in a food processor until they become a fine mixture. Add cardamom next. Then proceed with the almond and sugar and mix them together with some cream or milk.

Whip the cream. Start filling the buns with the cream evenly. Put the lids back on, press them lightly into the cream, and dust some icing sugar on top. That was all! Your delicious semlor are ready. The recipe needs accuracy, but when done properly, it will give you the ultimate culinary ride to Sweden’s most favourite pastry!


References:

Swedish Spoon. 2022. Semla — the mighty Swedish Lenten bun – Swedish Spoon. [ONLINE] Available at: http://swedishspoon.com/semlor/. [Accessed 24 June 2022].

Royal Djurgarden. 2022. All about the Swedish Semla – Royal Djurgarden. [ONLINE] Available at: https://royaldjurgarden.se/en/all-about-the-swedish-semla/. [Accessed 24 June 2022].

sweden.se. 2022. The semla | sweden.se. [ONLINE] Available at: https://sweden.se/culture/food/the-semla. [Accessed 24 June 2022].

Ioanna Mavridou

Written by Ioanna Mavridou

Ioanna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Translation from the Ionian University in Corfu and has also studied her Master’s in Communication at Gothenburg University in Sweden. A digital communications enthusiast, she has completed a professional Social Media & Digital Marketing certification. She speaks Greek, English, Swedish, German and Russian. She is a Communications Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.