There is something very special about the Nordic baking craft. It lies in the sheer simplicity of mixing basic ingredients to create something so enticingly good. I am particularly enamored by their yeasty breads and buns, probably because of the liberal use of warming spices like cardamom, cinnamon and even saffron. There are no frills, no frosting or glazing. It is back to the basic of yeast, flour, eggs and co. … and of course a good dose of cardamom.
These treats are always served with a cup of strongly brewed coffee. The Swedes call it “Fika”. But it is more than just coffee; it is a social phenomenon that is uniquely Swedish. It is a time to take a break with colleagues or friends, over coffee and usually something sweet to eat and in many Swedish workplaces fika is a statutory break just like lunch. You got to love fika time!
Bakeries will stock up on their sweet buns during the day to entertain the fika goers. Workers in the morning before heading to work, pensioners in the late morning and afternoons and then children after school on their way home – will congregate in their groups to indulge in this daily ritual. It is the kind of ritual I could get used to.
Besides the very popular Kanellebullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns) the Swedish love a Semla or rather a few Semlor, because truth be told who will want to stop at eating just one. Traditionally these sweet doughy balls are filled with oozing marzipan cream and slathered with lashings of vanilla whipped cream and they are one of the most popular items at bakeries across Sweden.
It used to be only on Fat Tuesday (Fettisdagen), the last day before Lent that one could eat a semla in Sweden. Fat Tuesday was the day when people would fill themselves to their hearts’ content, for after that followed a long fast in remembrance of Christ’s 40 days in the desert.
According to history books, semlor started off as cross-shaped buns with no filling. It was not until the 18th century that semlor were filled with a cream made with lovely almond paste. In the 19th century, the Swedish began eating semlor as “hetvägg” (hot wall), placed in a bowl of milk with an added pinch of cinnamon. Hetvägg is a word that stems from the German “heisse Wecken”, or hot wedges and indeed you will find a variation in German speaking countries which consists of yeast sweet bread soaked in vanilla milk called Dampfnudeln or Germknödel.
In the obituary of Sweden’s King Adolf Fredrik in February 12, 1771, one reads: “His Majesty’s death was due to indigestion of hetvägg, sauerkraut, turnips, lobster, caviar, smoked herring and champagne.”
Death by semlor! An interesting way to go!
Nowadays, there are no reservations as to when to indulge in semlor, which usually appear in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent – and sometimes even before. Although the Swedes do not consume as many semlor as His Majesty, they do consume average of five bakery-produced semlor a year. Add to that all those that are homemade!
The word “semla” presumably originates from the Latin word “semila” which means fine flour. The concept of semlor is simple: take a sweet yeast bun, spice it with cardamom, cut off the top, scrape out the insides of the bun and stuff it with almond paste, top it with vanilla infused whipped cream, then put the top back on and sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar.
Across the Nordic countries you will find several variations of semlor. They are that good! In Finland they are called laskiaispulla with a stuffing often of raspberry jam instead of almond paste. You will also find them in Norway called fastelavensbolle, in Denmark they are known as fastelavnsbolle and even in Estonia you will find vastlakukkel in bakeries during lent.
Fat Tuesday or not I love making Semlor as often as I can. In this recipe I deviate from the traditional filling of marzipan and use lingonberry preserve – the last of the jars my husband brought back from Sweden. If you are looking for lingonberry jam you are certain to find it in that big Swedish furniture place we all love so much! I used the preserve mainly because I wanted a fruity alternative that was not too heavy, as these buns were part of an early brunch I was having. While the marzipan is so very decadent and sweet, the tangy flavor of the lingonberries offset the sweetness of the buns magnificently. One would also sprinkle a good layer of icing sugar on the semlor but I decided to leave these as the buns had a gorgeous golden color.
There are no restrictions to the filling of semlor when you are making them at home. You can add berries to the whipped cream and fill the buns with the berry cream; I have also seen them filled with chocolate cream and a variety of jams. I have also made them with a roasted almond marzipan and a dollop of cherry jam before slathering on the whipped cream.
Helsinki Food Styling & Photography Workshop
A 2-day workshop in Finland's dynamic and pulsating capital, Helsinki. The focus of this workshop will be light and lighting systems as we work on harnessing natural light and work with artificial lighting systems.
7 - 8 June 2014
More details and the preliminary programme here.
Registrations for this workshop are now open: please fill out the registration form.
Venice Food Styling & Photography Workshop
A 2-day workshop in the delightful prosecco region of Valdobbiadene just outside of Venice, Italy.
1st - 3rd May 2014
The focus of this workshop is on natural and low-light photography as well as styling and creating moods for your images.
Details for the Venice Food Styling and Photography Workshop here.
Registrations for this workshop are running: please fill out the registration form here.
>>Only 2 slots left!!<<
See what I mean about the simplicity? It is not a complicated recipe with a long list of ingredients. Basics really and the results are always spectacular. For me it is the subtle flavor of the cardamom that mingles into the sweet pillow-y softness of the sweet dough that always satisfies.
In this section of the post I share bits and pieces, finds and interesting things I come across as I surf the web. It might be a quote, a picture a moving post, interesting news and announcements, whatever makes me connect with you.
- K. over at The Gouda Life is a talented cook and photographer. I always love both her creative recipes and effortless images. Check out her chocolate chip brownie pancakes and you'll see what I mean.
- An old and dear friend of mine Pille of Nami Nami takes us on a semlor, or rather vastlakuklid as they are called in Estonia feast. Here are here 3 recipes for classic, chocolate and raspberry and marzipan lenten buns
- Orange you lucky welcomes March with colorful and beautiful illustrations
- The lovely Prerna over at Indian Simmer creates a sensational Beetroot Gnocchi With Spicy Coconut Sauce.
- My sister-from-another-mother, Jeanne, who is currently recovering from a ski accident (sound familiar?) writes about life happening and share a delicate Spaghetti squash, feta and chilli risotto
- The Guardian published a piece featuring this monster of a pizza, written by Jay Rayner the article talks about the global food crisis, greed and all that is wrong in the food business. I find Rayner's thesis very interesting and this is a must read!
- A trip around the globe featuring the best pancakes in the world!
- More pancakes over at my friend Ren's - she indulges us with her blueberry and vanilla cheesecake pancakes!
- My favorite color palette at the moment dessert hues! I love the rich tones in this palette which was the inspiration for the styling for these semlor images.
- Ready for warmer weather? Simi over at Turmeric and Spice certainly is. Her Pina Colada sorbet is refreshing and stunning.
More pancakes, buns and breads from What's for lunch, Honey?:
|Mango Nutella Whole Wheat Pancakes||Lingonberry Dark Chocolate Buns||Brioche - Saffron|
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2013 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First