So you want to make a Semla?

Semlor Header

That subject line should be read to the opening line of  the song Do you want to build a Snowman? from Frozen – you’re welcome for me putting that song in your head for the rest of the day!

This will be a fairly lengthy post, but if you do decide to try this for yourself I promise you it’s worth it! Pete just told me today that this might nip his previous favourite, the cinnamon rolls I make to out of the top spot, and I have to admit I don’t know how I feel about that! But they are both made from the same base, so it’s all good!

Anyways, to give you a brief presentation of the Semla, it is pretty much as Swedish as it gets. Of course with anything “Swedish as it gets” it seems to have its roots in Germany. Pretend you didn’t read that!

A Semla is was usually eaten on Fettisdagen, aka Fat Tuesday,aka Shroves Tuesday, aka what you English speaking people know as p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-pancake day, however as Sweden converted to Protestantism and moved away from observing lent, they started eating it around every Tuesday between Shroves Tuesday and Easter. Why deny yourself of the good stuff when you can just keep on eating? These are actually common in the rest of Scandinavia as well, but the recipe vary from country to country so I will stick to the Swedish version.

To make these I suggest you make it in 2 stages, unless you have a whole day devoted or something. The recipe for the bun makes around 20 servings and these can be frozen, then you could take out as many as you need on the day you want to assemble your Semla. These are quite rich, and very filling, and VERY calorific, so you probably do not want to make 20 in one go. Fun fact – in 1771 the King of Sweden died following digestion issues, after having had a meal consisting of Sauerkraut, lobster, caviar, smoked herring, and 14 helpings of Semla. Don’t do what he did! Just don’t.

Anyway, on to the recipe.

For the buns 

You will need:

  •  7-10g dry yeast (about a pack and a half)
  • 150g butter
  • 500ml milk
  • half a teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom, or one and a half if you use cardamom pods, release the seeds and use a mortar and pestle to crush them up
  • 1 egg (plus one for brushing the buns)
  • approx 1,3 to 1,5 liters of plain flour

Melt the butter, and add the milk and let this cool down until it’s sitting at or just above body temperature (it should feel neither hot or cold when you put a finger in the milk – make sure hands are washed!)

Mix all the ingredients together, preferably using a dough hook and leave to mix for at least 10 minutes, letting the gluten develop in the dough. Don’t add in all the flour at once, just as much as you need for the dough to let go from the side of the bowl. (I usually find that 1,3 litres  is enough)

Leave the dough to proove for at least 30-40 minutes, until it has doubled in size. When I do this, I usually cover the bowl with a plastic bag, and leave it to stand over a sink / tray with boiling water, this really helps, but I also have a very drafty and cold kitchen, so you may not need to do this.
Once the dough has prooved, take it out, give it a bit of a kneading, and divide into around 20 pieces of equal size. Roll these out to buns, and set to proove again for about 20-30 minutes, again till they are about twice the size. Brush them with some whisked egg, and bake in the middle of the oven, at 250 degrees C for around 8 – 10 minutes. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.
How about them bunsDid you end up with something like this? Good – Freeze or eat or whatever you fancy!

So the next thing you will need is to transform your cardamom buns from plain buns into a Semla, I chose to use 4 because a – I do not want to die like the king did, but also b  – if they were gonna end up a success I wanted to make sure there were more than one available to eat both for me and Pete.

Now here is what you will need for the rest

  • Approx 200grams of almond paste. (You can either make your own  or be lazy and buy it from a shop, like Scandinavian Kitchen. I was lazy, and I have never tried to make my own, but I am sure it is tasty if you do)
  • Whipping Cream – a small pack
  • Some milk
  • Icing sugar

First thing to do – grate your almond paste, cut a lid (the top) of each of your buns and dig out the dough to make a hole. The dough should then be mixed up with the almond paste, use a splash of milk until you get the consistensy you want. Then, you want to place your dough / almond  / milk mixture back into each bun, like so:Semlor2Whip your cream and layer on top of each bun:
Semlor3Try to remember which lid goes with which bun, and put back on top, dust with icing sugar (I may have bought a brand new sieve just solely for this purpose only to realise a tea-strainer does the trick beautifully) and you are done – Ta-da!

Serve just as they are, or you can heat up a splash of hot milk for these to swim in, If you like soggy bottoms on your cakes. I definitely prefer them plain.

Next you should probably sign up for a spinning class and go for a run!

Have you ever heard of these before, or come across any traditional bakes for Lent / Shroves Tuesday in your country?

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23 Responses to So you want to make a Semla?

  1. These look yummy! I can’t believe you have never made them for me! Some friend you are! 😉


  2. bevchen says:

    Yummmmmm!!! I may need to give these a go.
    I have never seen anything like these in Germany. Where I am they eat jam doughnuts (“Faschingskrapfen”) on Shrove Tuesday (“Faschnigsdienstag”). I eat pancakes… I have to keep at least some of my traditions alive 😉


  3. wow! These look incredible. Honestly i’m an awful baker but i’m always up for giving something a go and then laughing at my failed attempt. I may give these a go for valentines evening, that would be super sweet! x


    • You should try it – I think Valentines day falls pretty close to shroves Tuesday this year so it would be a pretty good opportunity – and you can decorate with a heart stencil for your ising or something, and make the cream pink / mix some raspberry jam into it!


  4. sweetangel says:

    I love this post so much. I have to bookmark this post. Wow!!! Semla seems very delicious!!! Wish I could taste it.


  5. I’ve never heard of these before but I seriously want to make them now – those buns and the filling and the cream, oh my they look so good! Definitely would need a run afterwards, but I’d probably refrain from following in the footsteps of the King of Sweden and his Semla binge! Yikes! I don’t know how he wouldn’t managed that. Didn’t turn out too well in the end though I suppose!


  6. Kerri says:

    These do look really tasty! But I’m not a fan of almond paste, marzipan or anything a strong almond flavour. Kris would no doubt like them 🙂 I’ll stick to my pancakes!


    • Yeah if you don’t like almond flavours then this would be a no go – you could go for the norwegian version and use jam instead of almond paste though, or some people substitute with nutella or custard.


  7. danniellek says:

    this is way to involved for me, I think I need to hire someone to just make me lengthy delicious things haha


  8. Holly says:

    Wow – I can see how the King died after eating 14 of them!! They looks so good. Even plai they look amazing. It is nice to know the background behind them too!


    • They were probably smaller when he ate them, but still.. 14.. that is a tough job.. Yeah I like knowing a bit about the background of things too, it basically just gives me another excuse to bake things.. “but this is keeping me connected to my roots” kind of thing! haha. any excuse 😉


  9. Kathryn says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Cecilia! I love how you included some of the history and interesting facts with the recipe. I’m so tempted to try to make a vegan version of these – or would that be playing around too much with a classic?

    x Kathryn
    Through the Thicket


    • No worries – definitely play around with the recipe if you want – there are loads of different versions of these at the moment, everything from a Nutella Version to wraps instead of bums so a vegan version would definitely not be out of place!


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