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Semlor Day

by Chris O'Brien on February 25, 2020

Created in the 16th century, there is a yearly tradition celebrated in Sweden where on “Semmeldagen” (the day of the Selma) the most beloved pastry in all of Sweden, the semla is celebrated. The semla is a two-layered bun made of wheat and cardamom, which is studded with an almond paste under a cover of thick, layered whipped cream. The Swedish Semla is referred to as “semla” in singular form and “semlor” in plural. The tradition has been going on for centuries with new creative variations of the semla popping up each year. Each semlor is typically around 400 calories. The semlor can be eaten alone, but also with coffee and tea or it can be served in a bowl of warm milk. When the bun is soaked in warm milk, it is referred to as hetvägg, the oldest known way of eating Semla, which typically is eaten as a dessert between Shrove Tuesday and Easter. In Sweden the pastry is only made for two months out of the year with an estimated 40 million of them being sold over that time period. An estimated six million semlor are sold on Semal Dag and according to an old Swedish tale, King Adolf Fredrik supposedly died after eating too many of them. While semlor are traditionally eaten on the last day before Lent, nowadays Selma enthusiasts nationwide eat them from Christmas until Easter. Much like Christmas in America, Swedish natives feel as if semlor are being put onto the market earlier each year. Selling semlor during a specific time period is taken very seriously in Sweden, as there’s an old newspaper article from the 1950s where the police had to deal with someone selling semlor outside of the accepted period. Starting in 2013, an anonymous Stockholm based blogger named Semmelmannen (the semla man) has become the go to source for reviews of Selma’s in the capital of Sweden. Semmelmannen usually eats one semla a day at different bakeries across Stockholm, while remaining anonymous and grading the semla by the quality of the bun, the cream, the almond paste and the overall appearance.

Baking Semla is relatively easy, usually taking an hour and a half or so in total. Preparation for the Semla typically takes around half an hour with the cook time between eight to ten minutes. The following ingredients and step-by-step recipe will allow the delicious buns to be able to be homemade.

Ingredients for bun:  

  • 25 g fresh yeast (if using dried, read instructions on packet for equivalent)
  • 80 g melted butter
  • 250 ml whole milk
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 0.5 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 300-400g plain flour (depending on the type of flour you use, this can increase or decrease)

Ingredients for filling:

  • 200 g ‘50%’ Marzipan (also known as ‘Mandelmassa’). If you cannot get hold of this, get the highest almond percentage paste you can get.
  • 1 good dollop of custard (or use a dash of milk)

Ingredients for topping:

  • 400 ml whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 cup icing sugar to dust

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  1. Melt the butter and add the milk, ensuring a lukewarm temperature between 36-40 degrees. Add the fresh yeast and stir until dissolved.
  2. Add sugar and stir again. Add half of the flour as well as the salt, baking powder and ground cardamom. Add the ½ egg (preserve the other half for brushing before baking).
  3. Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated and then start to add more of the flour, bit by bit, until you have dough that is only a little bit sticky. Take care not to add too much flour: you will get dry buns.
  4. Knead the dough for at least five minutes in the mixer, longer if doing it by hand. Leave to rise in a warm (not hot) place until doubled in size – this will take about 30-40 minutes.
  5. Turn the dough out to a floured surface. Knead again for a few minutes, adding more flour if needed. You want a firmer but not dry dough. Cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Take care that the balls are completely round and uniform in size.
  6. Place on baking tray with good spacing, as they will rise again. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
  7. Gently brush each bun with the remainder of the egg wash and bake in a hot oven (200-210 degrees) for about 8-10 minutes – keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly.
  8. Remove from oven and cover the tray with a light damp tea towel immediately – this will prevent the buns from forming a crust.
  9. When the buns have cooled down completely, cut a “lid” in the buns – about 1 ½ cm from the top. Scoop out about 1/3 of the inside of the bun and place the filling in a separate bowl.
  10. Mix or blend the almond paste with the inside from the buns until it forms a very sticky mass – you can add a dash of milk or custard at this point to help it along.
  11. Spoon the filling back into the buns, equally divided.
  12. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff, and then use a piping bag to pipe cream on all the buns. The cream should be piped on top of the filling and bun surface, in a large round circle, ensure every bit has a good amount of cream. Put the “lids” back on and dust lightly with icing sugar.
  13. The buns themselves freeze well – but once made up, should be eaten on the same day.
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