Semlor - Swedish Cream Buns

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.


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Recipe: Semlor - Swedish Cream Buns

Printable version of recipe here

Semlor-Swedish Cream Buns 0117

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Makes: 9 buns


  • 300g all-purpose flour, sieved
  • 160 ml milk
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cardamom (according to your liking)
  • 30g butter, melted
  • 1 small egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150g lingonberry preserve
  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • about ½ cup of milk sweetened with some sugar, for brushing


  1. Heat milk to about 38°C. In a clean bowl mix yeast with sugar and warm milk. Place the flour, cardamom, salt, egg and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer attached with a dough hook. Pour the yeast-milk mixture and knead into a smooth dough - about 8 minutes. Alternatively if kneading by hand it will take a bit longer. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 50 minutes.
  2. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide into nine equal pieces. Briefly knead each piece between your palms and roll the bits of dough into buns. Place the buns on a baking tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Make sure to leave enough space between the buns as they will rise to double their size. Cover the tray and leave to rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C. Brush the buns with the sweetened milk and bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Do keep an eye on them as they will brown quickly.
  4. Remove the buns from the oven and brush again lightly with the sweetened milk then allow to cool on a wire rack. Cut the tops of the buns and scoop out the center of each bun (about 2 teaspoons). Fill the centers with the lingonberry preserve.
  5. Whip the cream and the vanilla sugar until light and fluffy and dollop 1 or 2 teaspoons of the sweetened cream onto the preserve, filling the buns. Place the tops back on the buns.
Serve with steaming strong coffee.
A popular way to enjoy semlor is to dunk them in deep bowl with warm milk and ground cinnamon.


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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.

Cakestand courtesy of Blueboxtree Parties.
Pink container courtesy of Mia Blanche Ceramics - Sweden
Wooden chopping board from The Foodie Bugle Shop


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.

More pancakes, buns and breads from What's for lunch, Honey?:

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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

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  1. I love Scandinavian baked goodies. Simple, yet so addictive and luscious.

    Your Semlor look so pretty and tempting! A treat I haven't tested yet...



    1. Thank you Rosa. I too love Scandinavian baked goods .. these are easy to make and I hope you enjoy them.

  2. I love your version with lingonberry. I'm not a big marzipan fan. Will try them soon.

    1. Marzipan is great but can get heavy on the calories so lingonberry preserve is the lighter sin! ;)

  3. Okay, I want to totally make this! Love the stand. Great idea of stating source for props and the links! xx

    1. I hope you enjoy this. Yes I too like the cakestand and wanted to share the great sources!

  4. Love reading your post! I absolutely love cardamom and these cream buns are calling my name - I am totally making this! Cake stand is gorgeous!

    1. Let me know how these turned out when you make them. I am sure you enjoy this.

  5. I was admiring these cuties on IG, and now after reading your post and the recipe, I must make. Adore.

    1. Yes make them I know you will like them. Would love to make these for you so we can nibble and chat together.

  6. Beautiful post, I love historic food posts... So well written. I have never tasted semlor, maybe I should bake some.... Beautiful photographs, and thank you so much for the mention ...

    1. I love researching and tracing back the origins of dishes. If you ever visit Scandinavia you will find so many treats and I think you will in paradise ;)

  7. That is so cool! I am just starting to love marzipan, so this will be great! It was really interesting to read about. Thanks for the insight! I love trying out new things, and I believe life begins when you step outside your comfort zone! This is awesome! They look delicious too :)

    1. Well said ... yes stepping out of the comfort zone can be so refreshing. I hope you like these and come back to tell me how it went.

  8. Very nice post. Avery good good and different dish with its history. Its superb. Thank you for sharing such a nice recipe. The photographs are beautiful.

  9. Meeta, thank you so much for your kind words! I'm so touched. These buns look incredible and I think I might need to try them out for myself soon.

    1. I totally enjoy your work and posts. Always refreshing. Hope you enjoy it!

  10. Lovely semlor's, Meeta! Great "Connect" section and thanks for sharing some delectable links there :)


    1. Oh I am so glad you are enjoying the Connect section. It's exciting to share these with my readers. Thanks for your comment!


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