26 January 2009


It is said that King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden (Adolf Frederick in English) died after having had a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, saurkraut, herring, champagne and then no less than 14 servings of semlor. That night, he had a cardiac arrest and died, 60 years old, in his bed. Not quite as exciting as his son - Gustav III of Sweden - who was assassinated (well, he died from the wounds some time later) . The semla, however, has survived and is still one of the most famous desserts in Northern Europe.

Originally, it was a sweet bun (baked with cardamom) served in a bowl with hot milk and they called it "hetvägg", which literally means "hot wall". These days, there are some more...let's say expensive ingredients, like almond paste and whipped cream, but some people still serve it with the hot milk as originally intended.

According to reliable sources (eh, Wikipedia), the name comes from the Latin "semilia" which was the finest wheat flour. There seems to be no translation to English for the words generally used for this fine product (semla, fastlagsbulle or hetvägg), so I'll just use the Swedish word for it - one semla, many semlor. There, you learned some Swedish today!

Traditionally, these baked little wonders were only served on the last Tuesday before lent, while Sweden was still a catholic country. Then, in the 16th century, protestantism came to the country and there was no more lent. These days, you can usually find it in pastry shops starting around Christmas all the way through Easter and I'm sure some places sell them throughout the year. Since they're not available in the US and I still have some of the almond paste my family sent me for Christmas, I decided to make some from scratch.

The only ingredient I have difficulty finding is fresh yeast. Luckily, it's not that hard to use active dry yeast instead. In addition, the recipes all call for ammonium carbonate (a predecessor to baking soda and baking powder), also called baker's ammonia, and that's not easy to find in normal convenience stores either. No bother, I modified a recipe a little and the end result tasted just the way I remember semlor should taste, so I will call it all a success. Now: let's get decadent!


4 1/2 tsp (2 packets) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 cup whole milk
1 pinch salt

almond paste (marzipan)
heavy whipping cream
powdered sugar

Start by melting the butter in a small pot over medium heat on the stove. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (or the stand mixer's bowl if using). Once the butter is melted, add the milk and heat up to around 115 degrees Fahrenheit, or a bit warmer than lukewarm. If you burn your finger testing the liquid, it's too hot! Add the egg to the dry ingredients and mix well (use the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer). Once the liquid is warm enough, add it to the bowl and mix well. You are looking for a slightly sticky, smooth dough. Add flour as necessary to achieve this - use the dough hook attachment for the stand mixer if using.

Once the dough is easy enough to handle without clinging to the bowl, knead it for another few minutes, then place in a warm place (free of drafts) under a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Once done, turn the dough onto a clean baking board (or your counter top, just...clean, ok?) and punch it down. Divide into about 15 equal pieces, roll them into smooth buns and place on a baking sheet (either greased or covered with baking paper). Make sure there's some space between each bun.

Turn the oven to 425, cover the buns with the towel and leave for 30 more minutes. The should roughly double in size again. Place in the middle of the oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until golden brown (but watch out, you don't want to burn them!). Let rest under a kitchen towel until cool. This is important, or the top of the buns might get too hard.

Once they are cool, it's time to assemble the actual semla! Cut off a lid (see picture above), then dig out the contents of the bun, making sure you don't destroy the "walls" of it. Place the bread you removed in a bowl and combine with roughly an equal amount of marzipan (almond paste) and a small splash of milk, just enough to moisten the contents. Mix this together, then place it back in the bun. Whip enough of the heavy whipping cream to cover the bun, replace the lid and sift powdered sugar on top. Enjoy!

As mentioned before, some people serve this in a bowl with warm milk. Me? I remove the lid, dip it in the cream and then eat the bun, one big bite at the time and it's extremely yummy.

Keep the unused buns in a zip lock bag in the freezer. When ready to use, remove from the bag and place in the microwave at low power for a minute or so.


  1. Okay this looks fucking delicious..

    /takes the Semlor from Andreas' freezer

  2. ÅÅÅÅ, du är otrolig! Så himla goda dom ser ut. Hur kom du på att göra semlor? Mums Mums från Mamma

  3. Tja...jag hade mandelmassa som ni skickade runt jul och så funderade jag på vad jag kunde göra med den. Semlor!

  4. And we haven't seen these at work why??