After Christmas we always feel determined to start a new and healthier life – less chocolate and more spinach, but only until we remember the next big occasion in the Scandi baking calendar; Semla season. Semla is the Swedish answer to pancake-day pancakes, but in our completely unbiased opinion; a million miles better and far too good to only eat once per year.
We started selling these chubby marzipan and cream filled buns of glory in the café a few weeks ago – and as we are now only 1 month away from the big day, it is time to kick off and remind each other what the Semla is all about. We have collated some essential reading (all the important semla-facts), our favourite recipes, and our very own semla product bundles if you want to give them a go at home without the hassle of seeking out the products you need. Ah, you’re welcome. Public semla-service is what we do.
This year, as every year, we are celebrating the official Cinnamon Bun day. A national holiday in Sweden (not really, but it should be) – it falls every year on October the 4th and is celebrated by eating cinnamon buns en masse.
For many Scandis, us included – every day is cinnamon bun day. There’s always a reason for a cinnamon bun. It is, as you may know, also referred to as an edible hug. No? Just us then. Because that’s how we feel about it. It is as comforting and warming as a hug from your best friend, a stranger or your dog. Whichever of those you prefer.
As Scandinavians we feel it is our duty to educate those less knowledgeable about this harmonic symbiosis of flour, butter, sugar and cinnamon. This is lesson 1, based on our post from last year (read it here) – we’ll keep it simple.
The cinnamon bun’s origin is a hotly debated topic. The Swedes claim it originated there in the 1920s. Usually, we won’t shy away from a debate, but in this case – it doesn’t matter where it is from. We love it too much. It is a love-child of Scandinavia.
Cinnamon bun day has been celebrated since 1999, and the bun itself didn’t really become popular until the 1950s.
A Nordic cinnamon bun is typically made with a bit of ground cardamom in the dough – this is what differentiates it from other cinnamon buns, such as the over-the-top sticky sweet buns you often see in north America. with a bit of ground cardamom, which sets them apart from other cinnamon buns on this lovely planet of ours.
A real cinnamon bun (a Scandi one) does not have icing on the top. In Norway, a sprinkle of normal granulated sugar – in Sweden those lovely big-ish sugar crystals called Pearl Sugar.
A typical Swede eats 316 cinnamon buns per year – in our central London cafe we sell about 60 cinnamon buns per day (and we all smell faintly of cinnamon..mm!).
That is roughly 21600 per year.
If you stack all these buns, the total height would be 648 meters, or roughly the height of the Shanghai Tower, the 2nd tallest building in the world with 632 meters. Only Burj Al Kalifa would be taller, with its 830 meters. (Eat more buns, people!)
Or, you can bake a really really long one to share.
In Norway (and highly likely elsewhere in Scandinavia too) there are various very important cinnamon bun competitions held every year, where readers of the local newspaper nominate and vote for the best cinnamon bun in town. It is prestigious and competitive, and taken very, very serious.
The same place refers to its cinnamon buns as Skillingsboller – ‘schilling buns’ – referring to the cost of one back in the day.
In Denmark, they are often called ‘cinnamon snails’ – Kanelsnegl’, and in Finland, ‘slapped ear’ – Korvapuusti. Maybe because if someone did slap your ear, a cinnamon bun would be a suitable treat to comfort you in your pain and distress.
Cinnamon buns are made a variety of different ways. You can swirl them and pop them into a little paper case to keep all the buttery sugary gooeyness; do a simple swirl and bake, cut side up, or do a thinner swirl baked cut sides out. We love them all.
The cinnamon bun is perfect – it doesn’t need meddling with. Still, some people make things as the below – a bacon cinnamon bun roll sandwich. Proceed at your own responsibility; we take no responsibility for whatever may come from consuming this (delicious?) concoction.
There are two kinds of cinnamon; Ceylon and Cassia. Ceylon is also referred to as sweet cinnamon – or true cinnamon and is the most popular one. It is a bit more expensive than the other, but the taste is miles better. Get it if you can – otherwise your buns won’t be as good.
Cinnamon also contains a substance called coumarin – which can damage the liver if consumed in larger quantities. The Scandinavian countries regularly relish in this fact, purely so they can put a scare cinnamon headline out, such as; ‘How to avoid cinnamon-poisoning’ ‘Be careful with cinnamon’ ‘Cinnamon buns can damage your liver’But fear not – you would have to eat approximately 10 cinnamon buns per day for an extended period of time to notice anything.
It is Scandifically proven that it is impossible to resist a fresh cinnamon bun still warm from the oven. Try it. Sprinkle with almonds for a nutty taste..mmmm!
Phoro credit: Peter Cassidy, for Ryland Peters.
Enjoy Bun Day on the 4th October – we want to see your buns, so don’t forget to send us a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post the best ones on facebook and instagram. Prizes for the best looking buns.
Every January, the excitement builds because our customers know it is almost time for ‘Semlor’ buns. Scandinavians celebrate the start of Lent in different ways, but all of us like to eat as many of these addictive treats as physically possible (rumour has it there are no calories in Semlor if you eat them with your eyes closed).
13 g dried yeast or 25 g fresh yeast *(see below)
250 ml whole milk, heated to 36–37°C (97–98°F)
80 g butter, melted and cooled slightly
40 g caster sugar
300–400 g white strong flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 egg, lightly beaten
100 g marzipan paste
good dollop of custard or Crème Pâtissière
500 ml whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
icing sugar, to dust
piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle
*If using fresh yeast, add it to the finger-warm milk and mix until dissolved. Then pour it into the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.
If using dried yeast, sprinkle the yeast granules into the finger-warm milk and whisk together. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to activate and become frothy and bubbly. Pour into the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook and stir in the melted butter. Add the sugar and stir again. Add half of the flour as well as the salt, baking powder and ground cardamom. Add half the beaten egg (reserve the other half for brushing before baking).
Mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated and then start to add more of the flour, bit by bit, until you have a dough that is only a little bit sticky. Take care not to add too much flour. Knead the dough for at least 5 minutes in the mixer. Cover the bowl with a dish towel or clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm (not hot) place until it has doubled in size – about 30–40 minutes.
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. Place, evenly spaced, on a baking sheet. Leave to rise for 25–30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.
Brush each bun with the beaten egg and bake for 8–10 minutes or until baked through – keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. Remove from oven and cover the buns with a lightly damp dish towel immediately – this will prevent them from forming a crust.
When they have cooled completely, cut a ‘lid’ off the buns – about 1.5 cm/1⁄2 in. from the top. Scoop out about one-third of the inside of the bun and place this in a separate bowl. Mix it with the marzipan paste until it forms a very sticky mass – add a dollop of custard or Crème Pâtissière at this point to help it along. You want a spoonable, even mixture. Spoon the filling back into the buns, equally divided.
Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff, then use a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle to pipe cream on all the buns. Put the ‘lids’ back on and dust lightly with icing sugar.
Semlor are serious business in Sweden. Every year, usually starting as soon as Christmas is over and done with, semlor make their appearance in bakeries across Sweden. In Scandinavia we do not eat pancakes on pancake day. We eat big fat buns instead. Here are 12 things you need to know about the bun that makes Swedes go a little loopy.
Semlor are eaten all over Scandinavia (but excessively in Sweden), Semlor are served up to and especially on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). This year, the big day is 9th February.
A semla is a cardamom flavoured yeast bun stuffed with marzipan, vanilla and whipped cream. We also call them fat buns, to fatten you up before Lent. Although we’ll continue to eat them all the way until Easter. It’s a whole year until we next get a chance, you know.
Semlor are strictly seasonal. Nobody ever makes them at any other time of the year except when it is The Season. This means not before 1st jan and not after Easter. Yes, we know a few Swedish shops have started doing it end of December, but those shops will be dealt with in due course by Semlor Polisen.
It’s Semla (singular) and Semlor (plural)
Semlor, and their season, is very serious business. It used to be law in Sweden when you could sell Semlor.
How do you eat it? That is the big question. Do you lick the lid, eat the lid first or use the lid to scoop out the cream? Or do you just take a big bite? Or perhaps you use a fork? The possibilities are many – we can only suggest you try them all and find your favourite.
Hetvägg – Afficinadoes eat Semlor in a bowl with hot milk poured over. This is called hetvägg.
Sweden once had a King Fredrick who died from eating too many Semlor. He ate 14 in one sitting, then died from severe indigestion. Okay, he also had a banquet of food before hand, but still… It was probably the semlor that did it (from Sweden.se).
45 million Bakery made semlor are sold in Sweden each year. This does not include homemade ones or supermarket ones. This is just bakeries. On Fat Tuesday alone, bakeries sell over 6 million. Note: 9 million people live in Sweden.
Semlor a la mode –Despite their tradition and history, semlor, too get caught up in trends. Last year was the year of the ‘semmelwrap’ – an attempt to modernize and make the classic semla less messy. It also makes it easier to eat on the go so you can eat even more semlor. This year it’s all about the ginger biscuit semla. No, we haven’t tried it – please report if you do.
Regional variations – In Norway, the buns are called fastelavnsboller and the buns are filled with thick whipped cream and raspberry jam – and dusted with plenty of icing sugar. In Finland, they are calledlaskiaispulla and are filled with jam – often bilberry. In Denmark, the dough is slightly different and they are filled with custard (also called fastelavnsboller).
So, what’s the damage? One bun is around 500 calories. Yes, now you know. If you eat it in the dark, calories don’t count. And if you have two in short succession it doesn’t count, either. In any case you will probably be so full after having one that you’ll sleep through dinner – they are prone to bring on serious cases of paltkoma (food coma). Buns for dinner? Yes please.
Get your Semla fix at the café daily from now until Easter. If you need larger amounts for Fat Tuesday, please pre-order email@example.com
Ohhh, those delicious buns of delight and loveliness. It’s the season and we have a great recipe.
Lent buns (Semla for singular, Semlor for plural) are buns eaten leading up to and during Lent in Scandinavia. In Sweden the are most popular and bakeries start selling these already in January. Fat Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras – is the day when we eat at least one and maybe more of these buns. We basically fatten up before Lent.
You will never ever find Semlor buns sold outside the season – it is just not done. So, take advantage of the season now that runs until Easter and have a go at making these seriously rich buns at home.
Let us tell you that the little dollop of custard or creme patisserie makes all the difference. Thats just our little trick and hint for an extra delicious bun.
If using mixer, set it up with the dough hook attachment. Melt the butter and add the milk, ensuring a lukewarm temperature of around 37-38ºC. Add the fresh yeast and stir until dissolved.
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).
Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated and then start to add more of the flour, bit by bit, until you have a dough that is only a little bit sticky. Take care not to add too much flour: you will get dry buns. Knead the dough for at least five minutes in the mixer, longer by hand. Leave to rise in a warm (not hot) place until doubled in size (30-40 min).
Turn the dough out to a floured surface. Knead again for a few minutes, adding more flour if needed. Cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Take care that the balls are completely round and uniform in size. Place on baking tray with good spacing between buns. Leave to rise for another 25-30 minutes.
Gently brush each bun with the remainder of the egg wash and bake in a hot oven (200ºC) for about 8-10 minutes or until baked through – keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. Remove from oven and cover the tray with a lightly damp tea towel immediately – this will prevent the buns from forming a crust.
When the buns have cooled down completely, cut a ‘lid’ off the buns – about 1½ cm from the top. Scoop out about ⅓ of the inside of the bun and place crumbs in a separate bowl.
Mix the almond paste with the crumb until it forms a very sticky mass –add a dash of milk, custard or crème pâtisserie at this point to help it along. You want a spoonable, even mixture. Spoon the filling back into the buns, equally divided. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff and use a piping bag to pipe cream on all the buns’ tops. Put the ‘lids’ back on and dust with icing sugar.
Every December, Swedes travels to our shop from afar to get hold of saffron powder so they can make Lucia buns. Saffron powder is ground saffron and gives off a very intense yellow colour and flavour. If you cannot get hold of saffron powder, use strands but grind them slightly and infuse them in the milk before using to maximise the colour.
Saffron buns are eaten all throughout December – but mainly for the day of St Lucia on 13th December.
You can shape the buns into the traditional ‘S’ shape or even make a saffron plaited loaf.
Our Bronte is Danish and likes to cut her saffron bun open and spread with butter. All Swedes laugh at her in disbelief. She doesn’t care because it’s really really nice. But if you chose to do it, don’t tell the Swedes or they may deport you to Lapland or something.
1g saffron powder (2 sachets) (if using strands, grind and soak in the milk beforehand)
400ml whole milk
130g caster sugar
200ml plain Quark or greek yoghurt (room temperature)
1 tsp salt
175g butter (soft and room temperature)
Approximately 700-800g plain bread flour such as – Vetemjöl or strong Canadian Bread Flour
Handful of raisins
Egg for brushing
Heat the milk to about 38°C. Add the yeast and milk to a mixer with a dough attachment. Mix until the yeast has dissolved, then add the saffron powder.
Add the sugar, salt, quark and mix well. Begin to add the flour gradually while mixing, and egg. Add the softened butter. Keep adding flour until you have the right consistency. Keep mixing until you have a dough that is still sticky, but doesn’t stick to your finger too much when you poke it. Too much flour makes the saffron buns dry out quickly. If you’re using an electric mixer, leave it to knead for about 5 minutes, or knead by hand for 10 minutes. Leave the dough to rise until doubled in size.
Knead by hand, using just enough flour that you’re able to work with the dough but it doesn’t stick. Add enough flour to make it so that you are just able to work with the dough in your hands. Cut the dough into around 24 equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece in your hand into a cylinder, then transfer to a lined baking tray and mould into an ‘S’ shape (see the picture). Add a single raisin to the centre of where the ‘S’ shape curves (two raisins for each bun) and leave to rise again for around 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°c. then brush gently with egg and pop them in the hot oven for around 10-12 minutes. The buns should have a very slight tinge of brown on top, but not so much that it stops the nice yellow colour from showing. Turn down the heat a bit if you find the buns are getting too brown.
Leave to cool under a damp tea towel (this prevents them from going dry) as soon as you take them out of the oven.