It’s that time of year; when cafés and bakeries fill their window displays with that lovely thing called a “semla”. I do eat a few every year, unlike the private detective Ture Sventon that I remember from growing up.
Sventon has them every day, he must have his semlor! and a bakery close to his office supplies. He loathes to pronounce the letter “S” as it makes him think of the pastry, he says “temla” instead of “semla”. That he has one S in his name is one of those things that you explain away as a child because so few things make sense anyway, and as a grown-up it has become a charming incongruity. Point is that this Sherlock Holmes-like character,in my mind, has become forever linked to the pastry and thus a tradition was created of rereading a book from my childhood and having a bite.
A “semla” is a traditional swedish pastry that consists of a bun with a bit of cardamom, whipped cream and a filling av almond paste. Very simple ingredients that come together wonderfully and are eaten in the time leading up to Lent. Fettiddagen is our version of Mardi Gras and semlor are also kalled “fastlagsbullar”(which means “lent buns” pretty much).
Every year they turn up earlier which usually leads to moral outrage in some quarters. It’s a matter close to swedish hearts. Even Starbucks here in Sweden have joined in; as much as the Stockholm crowd has taken to Pumpkin spice lattes and brownies we won’t give up our local traditions and so the american chain sell “semla” too. They stick to a very traditional version, which is maybe for the best.
In my childhood there were a few variations of semla going around; in addition to the traditional one there was “karlsbader semla”(where the whipped cream and almond paste had been mixed) and “wiener semla”(where the bun had been exchanged for one usually used for a danish/danish pastry, almost a croissant). But a few years ago a lot of bakers started trying to outdo each other with novelties. Some more successful then others. And it should be said that far from all the bakers have perfected the art of the traditional semla to begin with; the proportions are everything.
- The raspberry semla; This is one of the innovations that I actually like. Putting fresh raspberries in the whipped cream gives it another layer of flavour, and a distinct freshness. The tartness of the berries marries well with the almond in particular. Blueberries, blackberries and cloudberries has also been tried over the years and they are not bad either.
- The Semmel-wrap; According to some this is a modern classic. I’m not a fan since the proportions end up being wrong even though it is admittedly easier to eat. The innovation came from Tössebageriet here in Stockholm and they are in many was the vanguard party (as you’ll see further down the list).
- Princess semla; this years sensation is not something I’ve tried myself. I’m not keen on Princess-cake(a swedish layered cake covered in green marzipan) but a lot of people are so one baker combined it with the semla. It went viral and I think we are tired of it already.
- The Licorice semla; Tössebageriet strikes again. I do love licorice so had to try one. I summed up my experience with the words” Not as bad as I feared but not as good as I hoped”. I don’t want another one.(pictured above with “Wicked”)
- The organic sourdough semla probably made by a man in a very hip mustache; That bun wasn’t very good, it tasted too much like bread. It also lacked the fluffiness. (This one is in the pic in the top of the post)
- The Nutella semla; putting Nutella in the middle instead of almond paste isn’t a good idea in my book. Too sticky, too sweet.
- The Semmel cake and mini-semla; basically an oversized semla that can be cut into pieces. Very good for office gatherings. This was all the rage a few years ago but I don’t see it so much anymore. I thought it was a very good idea, it responded to a practical need. The bite-sized semlor are still around and are a very good idea.
This post might only be of interest to swedish readers but still. Fiddling with classics, mash-ups of flavors and the creation of franken-foods isn’t going anywhere; if it hasn’t happened to your favorites yet it will; it’s just a matter of time before someone deep-fries a cheesecake.