Sunday, 26 February 2017

Shrove Tuesday: Semlor, Scandinavian Cream Buns (Wheat Free)

In keeping with the theme of Shrove Tuesday, here is another delicious offering, this time from the Subarctic realms of Scandinavia: semlor!

Originally, semlor (singular: semla) were eaten on Shrove Tuesday before the start of Lent, but once the Scandinavian countries had the Protestant Reformation, Lent was no longer as important. Nowadays, these cream buns are eaten throughout the year as a sweet treat. Traditionally, semlor are eaten in bowls of warm milk, like a pudding, but I'm not sure how often they are eaten like that anymore.

In Sweden, semlor are filled with whipped cream and almond paste made into a creamy filling by mixing with milk. In Finland, they are called laskiaispulla, and are made with raspberry or strawberry jam instead of almond paste filling. However, both are sold all over Scandinavia, and are differentiated by their appearance: almond semlor have almonds on top, and jam semlor are simply dusted with some icing sugar.

The bread dough is also subtly perfumed with some ground cardamom, which is a spice which I don't think is used anywhere near enough. However, if you don't like cardamom, you could use cinnamon, or just leave it un-spiced entirely.

I made both, but I preferred the jammy ones: I found the almond paste ones too heavy and cloying. But, make both and

Makes 16 or 20 buns, depending on size
  • One batch of sweet bread dough, seen here, with 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom added
  • 1 medium egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon (15 millilitres) of milk, or water
  • 17½ fluid ounces (500 millilitres) whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons (30 millilitres) icing sugar
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) vanilla essence
For Finnish style buns
  • 5 or 6 ounces (140 or 170 grammes) raspberry or strawberry jam
  • Icing sugar, for dusting
For Swedish style buns
  • 5 ounces (140 grammes) marzipan*
  • Milk, for mixing*
  • Flaked almonds, for decorating
  • Optional: warm milk, for serving

  • Prepare the dough according to this recipe, adding the cardamom, and once it has risen the first time, divide into 16 or 20 balls, roughly 2 ounces or 1½ ounces (55 or 45 grammes) each. Make sure the tops are nice and smooth and taught.
  • Lightly dust two large flat baking tray, and place the dough balls--8 or 10 on each tray--in a 3-2-3(-2) pattern, about two inches (5 centimetres) apart to allow them to double in size without touching each other.
  • Allow to rise in a warm place, loosely covered with some oiled cling film or a slightly damp clean tea towel, for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  • In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mk.4). Arrange the oven so two shelves are close to the centre of the oven.
  • Once the buns have risen, brush each bun gently with the egg beaten with milk or water. If you want some Swedish style buns, sprinkle the top of each one with some flaked almonds for decoration.
  • Place the trays in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and risen nicely.
  • When they are baked, remove from the oven and transfer each bun to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.
  • To fill the buns, whatever style you choose, whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla, if using, to firm peaks.

To complete Swedish style buns,
  • Mix the marzipan with milk, a tablespoon (15 millilitres) at a time until a smooth paste is achieved. Be gradual with the milk as a little goes a long way and you don't want it too thin: it should be creamy. A fork is the best tool for this job.*
  • Cut the top off each bun, about an inch (2½ centimetres) from the top. Fill the bun with some almond paste, about a rounded teaspoon (7 millilitres), and a dollop of cream. You could put the cream in a piping bag fitted with a star shaped nozzle, if you prefer.
  • Place the top back on the bun, and serve either on a plate with a cup of tea or coffee, or for an authentic experience, serve in a shallow bowl of warm milk.

To complete Finnish style buns,
  • Cut the tops off the buns as before, but fill each bun with a rounded teaspoon (7 millilitres) or so of jam, and then some cream, replacing the top as before.
  • Serve individually on plates, dusted with icing sugar. Enjoy with tea or coffee.
These are best consumed immediately after preparing, or on the day they're made. The next day, they are alright, but by day three are best used for bird food.

* UPDATE (27/02/17): Instead of using pre-made marzipan, you can make your own almond paste filling. In a mixing bowl, mix together 3 ounces (85 grammes) ground almonds with 3 ounces (85 grammes) icing sugar and a pinch of salt, and add a few drops of almond essence. Add milk or water gradually, about a tablespoon (15 millilitres) at a time until it becomes creamy, as shown above.

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