Swedish semla

Swedish semla


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The food that we enjoy at religious festivals and other celebrations is often rooted in tradition, from hot cross buns at Easter to mince pies at Christmas. Every country and culture has traditional dishes that are made to celebrate a particular occasion. What often makes these dishes even more special is that they are usually only eaten for a limited period.

You may not have come across these cardamom-scented, almond and cream-filled buns before, unless you have been lucky enough to visit Sweden at this time of year. Traditionally, semla used to only be baked on Fettisdagen or Shrove Tuesday in Sweden, as a last celebratory feast before Lent. Due to their popularity, there is now such a demand for them that the Swedes enjoy them from the end of the Christmas season until Easter. Semla are taken so seriously that as soon as they appear in bakeries, Swedish newspapers start serious tasting tests to find the best in town.

The good news is that you don’t need to travel to Sweden to try semla, they are quite easy to make at home. Fresh yeast is available at supermarkets now, but if you have a friendly bakery nearby they will often happily sell some to you for a few pence. These little buns are best eaten on the day they are made, but somehow I doubt that will be a problem.

  • Dough

  • 25g of fresh yeast
  • 125ml of whole milk, cold
  • 2 tsp cardamom pod
  • 325g of plain flour
  • 1 medium free-range egg, lightly beaten
  • 50g of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp of baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g of unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg wash

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp of water
  • Filling

  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 100g of granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp of water
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Vanilla cream

  • 200ml of double cream
  • 1 tbsp of icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Begin by making the dough. Place the yeast in the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Gently stir in the cold milk until the yeast has completely dissolved
Crush the cardamom in a pestle and mortar and remove the outer pods. Grind the remaining seeds to a fine powder and add to the yeast and milk in the mixing bowl
Add the plain flour, beaten egg, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt to the bowl. Start mixing on a medium speed for 5 minutes, or until a ball of dough forms
Cut the butter into pieces and add to the dough a piece at a time, ensuring that each piece is incorporated before adding the next. Continue to mix the dough for another 10–15 minutes
When the dough stops sticking to the side of the bowl and is very soft and elastic, turn off the mixer. Leave the dough to rest in the bowl for 10 minutes
Divide the dough into 9 pieces, approximately 70–80g each. On a clean work surface (you shouldn't need to dust it with flour) take a piece at a time and lightly cup your hand around it. Without using too much pressure roll each piece around on the work surface in a circular motion to shape it into a smooth round ball
Cover a large flat baking tray with baking paper. Place the balls of dough on the paper, making sure you leave some room in between each one for spreading. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise somewhere warm for 1 hour 30 minutes
Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7
Brush the tops of each of the buns lightly with egg wash and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack
Meanwhile, make the filling by placing the ground almonds and granulated sugar in a blender. Blend together and add just enough of the water to make a smooth paste
Crush the cardamom for the filling in a pestle and mortar and remove the pods. Grind the seeds to a fine powder and add to the almond paste along with the vanilla extract
Using a small sharp knife, cut a lid off of the top of each bun and make a little well in the middle by scooping out some of the bread – add any crumbs to the almond paste
Use 1 tablespoon of the double cream to loosen the almond paste mixture a little and spoon the paste into the holes
To make the vanilla cream, place the vanilla extract, icing sugar and remaining double cream in a bowl and whip with a balloon whisk until the cream is stiff enough to spoon or pipe into the buns
Spoon or pipe the cream on top of the almond filling and replace the lid. Dust with icing sugar and to serve
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