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Thursday
Mar262009

Totally Swede: A Loving Look at a Sweet Bun Called Semla

Semla from Svedala
Semla. There are so many things to say about the sweet treat (which we recently scored at local Swedish bakery Svedala), but first let's just get acquainted, shall we?

First, what is it? Delicious, that's what. While there are different variations, what it comes down to is a cardomom-spiced yeast-raised wheat bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. 

What's with the funny name? According to the internet, the word "semla" actually is derived from the Latin similia, which means "fine wheat flour". Apparently in Sweden "semla" can be a catchall phrase for "bun"; therefore it may also be known in Nordic regions as "Fastlagssemla" or "Fastlagsbulle" or "Fettisdagsbulle" (thoughts from readers from these Nordic regions?). But for ease of use, let's stick with Semla.
Semla!

 

Where does it come from? Semla is a pastry which has roots in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Estonia, but is probably most closely linked to Sweden. 

When is it available? Semla is most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday (we call it "Fat Tuesday") as a fatty and decadent kickoff to that season of deprivation perhaps better known as Lent; however, according to Sweden.se ("the official gateway to Sweden"), the delicious treat "has arguably outgrown its religious symbolism", noting that 

The plump, cream-filled buns traditionally eaten on Tuesdays begin appearing in shops as early as January 1. Fat Tuesday would be more aptly named fat January, February and March.

Semla from Svedala
How is it eaten? Apparently, the traditional way to eat Semla is served in a bowl of hot milk; however, as we were assured by the owner of Svedala Bakery in Seattle, eating it on its own (at room temperature) is really just fine, and as we discovered, even finer with coffee or hot tea. Of course, as we also learned from Sweden.se
in Finland, the bun is sometimes filled with strawberry jam instead of almond paste, and bakeries in Finland usually offer both versions. (Many bakeries distinguish between the two by decorating the traditional bun with almonds on top, whereas the jam-filled version has powdered sugar on top).
Where can I get it? Well, if you're in Seattle and are willing to order enough to warrant her baking a batch, the owner of Svedala would probably make you some; check out their webpage here. 
In Portland, OR, Broder seems like a good place to try--after all, their motto is "Sweden in Portland".
In NYC, a little bird tells me that Semla can be found at Fika Espresso Bar on West 58th Street.
In Sweden, one famous retailer of Semla is Nybergs Hembageri, a cafe which has served the Semla-hungry masses since 1949; during the peak Semla season, they'll make over 350 semlor a day. That's a lotta love (and cardamom)! 
Could I make it myself? Sure, why not? We found this recipe online. If you make some, please be sure to make enough to mail some to the CakeSpy Headquarters.

Semla
Do you have any Semla trivia to share? But of course! Via Wikipedia and Sweden.se:

 

 

  • Sweet Surrender: King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, which was topped off by 14 servings of semla, with bowls of hot milk. Semla was the king's favorite dessert. (CakeSpy Note: One should hope so!)
  • Gimme some sugar: Semla was the sweet chosen to represent Finland in the Café Europe initiative of the Austrian presidency of the European Union, on Europe Day 2006.
  • Swede Fancy: Each Swede eats five semlor per year on average.

 

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Reader Comments (18)

Oh, Jag älskar semlor ^^

well, if the blogger above me thinks they're good (from what I could tell, thanks to a really bad online translater, they're saying they love them), I'd believe them!! :) They certainly sound yum!
Of course, they would NOT be good for me, seeing as I'm trying to lose 30 kilos! LOL
Thanks for the info, Jessie :)

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterLiv

Oh wow...I've never heard of them, but they do look totally swede! :)

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterBridget

Oh they're so good! After going vegan 13 years ago I have only had a laskiaispulla (semla in Finnish) sporadically, but this year we did make some from scratch. I prefer mine filled with plenty of almond paste!

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterAnni

Fancy seeing these here!

But the semlor on these pictures look suspiciously crusty, shiny and bread-like. A real semla-bun should have a more subdued and friendly appearence I think. A more homely feeling.

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterIma

Oh my. It's almost reminiscent of a St. Joseph's pastry which is also abundant this time of year. It sounds delicious.

yummm. i love cardamom, and these look so sinfully delicious, especially with the gigantic amount of filling!

March 27 | Unregistered Commenterveggievixen

We have the same types of buns in Finland, only here they're called Laskiaispullat. I love them, so delicious, especially filled with raspberry jam and whipped cream.

Laura N.
Finland

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterLaura N.

yummm try strawberry jam and crem :D<3 theyre great

March 28 | Unregistered Commenterheddi

These are really easy to make yourself and they are indeed delicious. It's just a regular bun in general since all the buns in Finland are flavoured with cardamom.

Everyone in Finland seems to have their own strong opinion about which one is better, the one with jam, or the one with marzipan. In Sweden, the one with marzipan seems to be the norm.

Another really good Swedish bun is the lussekatt, which has saffron in it, those are also easy to make yourself; they might be even better than the semla bun.

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterEmilia

...ugh..drool...wow...i could totally dive into this and die happy! i have never heard of it before but i am now dying to try one!

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterGigi

We have a bakery in town; makes them with mashed banana and chocolate sauce( my favourite) . I have a picture in my blogg:


http://styggalillaloppan.blogspot.com/2009/02/har-haft-besok.html#links

Oooooo, Cakespy, these are gorgeous little gems!! I've been researching filled buns all week, so this really makes me happy. Thank you!

March 28 | Unregistered Commenterpastry studio

Liv from Australia! I have never met another Livia!

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterFig & Olive

Mmm! I want to try one!

March 28 | Unregistered Commenterhalfeaten

loooks delicious!

All these years I've stuck with paczkis and there were semla out there to try! I have to see if Detroit has any Swedish bakeries.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie
Semla is my favourite thing in the world after maybe my boyfriend. But then again, no, he doesn't have marzipan, so then the semla must be the big love of my life! :)
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