Semlor|Semla

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So it’s Shrove Tuesday, which here in the UK is celebrated with pancakes, generally something which I have absolutely no objection to whatsoever.  It was pancake day on one of our first dates, so my husband and I always mark it- usually with some crepes stuffed with spinach, ham and cheese, slathered with more cheese before baking.  Sweet ones to follow, of course. 

But in Sweden, the tradition is to eat semlor on ‘fettisdagen’ or Fat Tuesday.  Originally, these buns were really quite simple and based very much on the classic ‘vetebröd’ (literally ‘wheat-bread’) recipe.  Sweetened, leavened bread flavoured with cardamom- pretty much the same thing we’d use for cinnamon buns.  Semlor were served floating in a bowl of milk, for dipping and dunking.  But traditions, of course, evolve.  The Sweden.se homepage describes the semla’s trajectory best:

‘At some point Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.

Today, no such reservations exist and semlor (the plural of semla) usually appear in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent – and sometimes even before. This is followed by a collective, nationwide moan about how it gets earlier every year. Shortly thereafter people begin to eat the things like the world will end tomorrow.’

I know that my last post exalted the virtues of restraint and substitution in order to make a sweet treat a bit healthier.  This post, by contrast, is really all about excess, which is as it should be on the last day before Lent.  My take on the semla uses plain flour, which gives them a cakier texture and just a dash of cardamom- it’s more for the scent than anything else.  Unfilled they freeze really well, so you can make them in advance and have a stash to hand. 

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Semlor (Swedish Lent Buns)
Makes 24 mini buns or 12 big ‘uns

You will need:

For the buns:
75g unsalted butter
150ml whole milk
5g fresh yeast
60g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom (or 2 tbsp pods, shelled and ground)
400g plain flour

For the almond paste
100g blanched almonds
75g golden caster sugar

To serve:
Double cream, whipped
Icing sugar

Method:

1.  Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat.  Add the milk and bring to blood temperature.  Crumble the yeast into a large bowl with the sugar.  Pour over a little of the milk mixture and stir until the yeast and sugar has dissolved.  Add the remaining liquid, 1 beaten egg, salt and cardamom. 

2.  Gradually add the flour, stirring until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly, until it comes together to form an elastic dough.  Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour. 

3. Meanwhile, make the almond paste by blitzing the blanched almonds to a fine powder.  Add the sugar and continue blitzing to a smooth paste- it may take a little while for the oils in the nuts to release, be patient.  Cover and pop in the fridge until needed.

4. Tip the dough out of the bowl and onto your work surface.  Knock back a little before dividing and rolling into buns.  Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, about 2 cm apart.   Again, cover with the tea towel and leave for about 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size.   Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. 

5.  Beat the remaining egg and use to lightly glaze the buns.  Bake for 7-8 minutes for small buns and up to 10 for larger, until golden.  Cool on a wire rack completely. 

6.  To serve, cut off the tops of the buns and scoop out a little of the bread-y middles.  Fill with a spoonful of almond paste and spritz or spoon in the cream.  Crown with the reserved bun tops and dust with icing sugar.

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