If you’re looking for a way to break all of your Lenten resolutions in one fell swoop, then Semlor is what you’ve been waiting for. These deliciously chewy, buttery, sometimes cardamom scented buns filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream are the Swedish equivalent of pancakes – designed to purge your cupboards of all that is indulgent before you embark on your Lent fast.
My Swedish colleague baked a wonderful batch of these last Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday – we lasted all of 24 hours). If, like me, your willpower has already gone out of the window, these make an irresistible accompaniment to a good cuppa at any time of day.
The Swedish have another excellent tradition – fika, or coffee break – that more of us should start to utilise. As far as I can work out, the term can be used to cover everything from coffee with a colleague to a date disguised as a relaxed cup of tea. And of course, you need the ubiquitous sweet baked goods. One Swedish author, Helene Henderson, claims that in order to avoid insulting Swedish guests, one must “serve a variety of seven freshly baked items – and be ready to talk about the weather.”
I’m not sure about this – once you’ve tasted one Semlor, surely there can’t be any baked goods to better it! Here’s Jeanette’s recipe to get you started:
- 75 g butter
- 300 ml milk
- 50g fresh yeast
- 3g salt
- 85g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 3g hjorthornssalt (Bakers Ammonia) – or you can use 6g baking powder
- approx 540g strong plain flour
- 1 extra beaten egg for brushing the buns
- approx 100ml milk or cream
- 200g almond paste (or you can make this yourself from 100g almonds and 85g sugar)
For the top
- 200ml whipped cream
- icing sugar to dust
- Melt the butter and pour in the milk – don’t heat the mixture above 37ºC to avoid killing the yeast. Dissolve the yeast in some of this mixture. Once the yeast is dissolved, add the rest of the mixture, salt, sugar and the egg.
- Mix the hjorthornssalt (or baking powder) with some of the flour and pour it into the mixture.
- Mix in as much of the flour as possible (either by hand or machine, I prefer hand as you get a feel for the dough) until the dough is easy to manage and comes away from the sides of the bowl easily.
- Once you are happy with the consistency of your dough, put a tea towel over the bowl and leave it in a draft-free spot until it has risen to almost double the size (this usually takes around 30 mins but it can take up to 1-1.5 hrs depending on the temperature and how fresh the yeast is. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 250ºC (fan 230ºC).
- Flour your work surface and work the dough into 10-12 round buns.
- Put the buns on a baking tray lined with baking paper (leave a good space between them) and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to prove for about 20 mins.
- Brush the buns with beaten egg and bake them in the middle of the oven for 5-10 mins until golden brown. Take them out and let them cool on a cooling rack.
- Make the almond paste if you are doing this from scratch. Make sure the almonds are peeled, then grind with the sugar in a food processor to form a paste.
- Once the buns have cooled, cut a thin part of the top which will be the “hat”, dig out the inside to make a hole in the bun (the size of the hole depends on how much filling you want in them!)
- Mix the dough from inside the buns (leave the “hats” to one side) with the almond paste and milk. Add the milk a little at a time until you get a fairly fluid filling.
- Fill each bun with the almond mixture. Put a 2 big spoonfuls of whipped cream on top and finish off with the “hat” and a dusting of icing sugar. Volia!
Don’t do the final three points unless you are going to eat these the same day. You can freeze the unfilled buns for about 3-6 months.