Today is Tuesday, but not just any Tuesday. It is FETTISDAG or Fat Tuesday, one of the busiest day of the year for most Swedish bakers. When the stores open at seven or eight in the morning they have to be ready for the onrush of customers who all want to get their hands on a “SEMLA”.
Originally the semla (semlor pl) was only eaten on Fat Tuesday, which was the last day to party and eat fat and nutritious food to cope with the 40-day Lent until Easter. Those of you who like numbers and math might already have noticed that there are more than forty days until Easter, but don’t worry. It was perfectly OK to still feast on a Sunday, so Sundays didn’t count.
But like so many other religious rules / traditions even this one was hollowed out over time. With the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, the Swedes stopped observing a strict fasting for Lent. Instead, it became tradition to have a semla for dessert every Tuesday during the seven weeks of lent.
Nowadays bakery-made semlor go on sale just after Christmas (sometimes even before) and are available every day until Easter. This is usually followed by a collective, nationwide moan about how the sale starts earlier and earlier each year. But still, also for the faithful it’s difficult to resist the temptation of a semla and by the end of January most of them have already capitulated. But for a true faithful, this is cheating! No semla before Fat Tuesday!
Fat Tuesday also coincides with the International Pancake Day, but here in Sweden the focus is on the semla. In Sweden every Thursday is Pancake Day, a common Thursday dinner consists is pea soup followed by pancakes with jam.
What is this so talked about semla? Well, actually just an ordinary small, wheat flour bun, flavored with cardamom – and filled with the most delicous almond paste and whipped cream. The word semla is originally deriving from the Latin for semilia, meaning finest quality wheat flour.
This is how you prepare a semla or cream bun
- Bake the buns from your own favorite recipe or buy plain wheat buns
- Cut off the top of the bun
- Scoop out some crumbs in the center of the bun and mix the crumbs with almond paste and a little whipped cream into a semi loose paste.
- Fill the hollowed bun with a spoonful almond paste and pipe whipped cream over the filling (up to 2 cm).
- Put the lid on top and sift some icing sugar over.
There you have your semla!
And the best way to eat a semla? Well, some like it with a cup of coffee while others prefer to put it in a bowl and let it soak in hot milk, then called a “hetvägg” (hot wall!) .
So why not try a semla, in one way or another, and if you don’t have time today, you still have another six Tuesdays ahead of you.