Written by a gal from NYC living in Sweden, this blog dabbles in Swedish food and culture!
Many many moons ago, I used to to celebrate Fat Tuesday at Mardi Gras in New Orleans – a place where one drinks way too much alcohol and acts like an idiot. Nowadays, or at least for the past two years, something else and something totally different has replaced the alcohol…Semla…or I like to call them in English, Cream Buns. The first few times I tried them, I was a little skeptical. They tasted way too creamy and way too fatty. But then when I was pregnant last year and tried them again, they suddenly became something I’d imagine heaven to taste like. The same thing this year, with my (ehem) second pregnancy. I wonder what will happen next year. Perhaps the miracle of pregnancy isn’t just about the baby growing inside of you, but what you will and want to eat during this time.
Semlas are usually and traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Lent, the 47 days before Easter. But now you can buy them from the first of January all the way until Easter (at least in Sweden). I’m not sure how many I have eaten so far this year but I think it’s hovering around… 5 or 6. According to Aftonbladet, Swedes eat on average four to five semlas a year. That’s nothing….All I know is that there are 47 days left before Easter and that I am probably going to be stuffing more creamy buns into my mouth during this time, so I’m going to beat that average. I’m not Swedish, so it doesn’t count.
A semla, or cream bun, is a sweet wheat bun with the top cut off to form a lid. Under that lid is a filling of almond paste and whipped cream. Before the second half of the 1900s, semlas were traditionally eaten in a dish with warm milk. Sounds like something one would feed a cat. But when bakeries started serving them, they became more of a pastry. Personally, I’d much rather buy a modern-day semla. They taste and just look a little more….luxurious….even though I am not one to fast for Lent.
You can, of course, buy semlas at any Swedish bakery, or konditori (even in New York, I have heard!), and yes, it does take a bit of time to bake your own, but it’s kind of fun to try making them yourself. I must admit though, that my buns don’t look like “professional” cream buns at all. They’re a bit heavier and don’t taste that great either.
But anyway, I like them so much that I can only guess that by the time Easter arrives, I will have eaten 20. Let’s hope not, but I can’t. promise. anything.
Happy Fat Tuesday!
recipe adapted from http://www.leila.se/leilas-semlor/recept/bakverk/index1,23.htm?id=2853
1 batch of dough
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
3 dl (ca 1½ cups) milk
50 g fresh yeast
1½ dl (ca ¾ cup) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
150 g butter, room temperature
11-12 dl (ca 5 cups) flour
extra egg for egg wash
400 g almond paste
dash of milk
8 dl (ca 3½ cups) heavy cream, whipped
1. Finely ground the cardamom seeds with a mortar and pestle. Warm with the milk until it is lukewarm, about 98 F (37 C).
2. Crumble the yeast in a bowl and add the warmed milk, sugar, salt, butter and egg.
3. Add the flour, a little at a time and work into a smooth dough.
4. Let the dough rise in the bowl under a tea towel for about 45-60 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
5. Flip the dough onto a floured surface and roll out into buns.
1. Divide the dough into 18 pieces and form into round buns.
2. Place the buns on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper with the seam (if there is one) facing down.
3. Let rise under a tea towel for 45-60 mintues.
4. Preheat oven to 390 F (200 C).
5. Brush the buns with the whipped egg and bake them in the middle of the oven for 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
6. Cut off the tops of the buns and scoop out the bread from the bun, creating a little well for the filling.
7. Mix the scooped out bread with the almond paste and a dash of milk until smooth and creamy.
8. Fill the buns with the almond paste, whipped cream and top with the lid. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top and it’s now ready!