Tied to the fasting tradition of Lent, semlor are cardamom-scented buns filled with almond-paste and whipped cream. Originally they were only baked on Fettisdagen (Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or, literally, Fat Tuesday), then it became common to bake them on Tuesdays in Lent.
There are variations of semlor throughout Scandinavia and Sweden that go by different names; semlor in the north, fastlagsbullar in the south, and hetvägg if it’s eaten with warm milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. The most modern name is semlor which probably developed from the Latin word semilia referring to the use of the finest wheat flour. And by the way, one bun is called a semla; semlor is the plural form.
12g active dry yeast
80g melted butter
250ml whole milk
40g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp ground cardamom
Approximately 300-400g plain bread flour
½ egg for brushing
A good dollop of custard
500ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla sugar
Icing sugar to dust
If using mixer, set it up with the dough hook attachment. Melt the butter and add the milk, ensuring a lukewarm temperature of around 37-38ºC. Add the fresh yeast and stir until dissolved.
Add sugar and stir again. Add half of the flour as well as the salt, baking powder and ground cardamom. Add the ½ egg (preserve the other half for brushing before baking).
Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated and then start to add more of the flour, bit by bit, until you have a dough that is only a little bit sticky. Take care not to add too much flour: you will get dry buns. Knead the dough for at least five minutes in the mixer, longer by hand. Leave to rise in a warm (not hot) place until doubled in size (about an hour).
Turn the dough out to a floured surface. Knead again for a few minutes, adding more flour if needed. Cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Take care that the balls are completely round and uniform in size. Place on baking tray with good spacing between buns. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
Gently brush each bun with the remainder of the egg wash and bake in a hot oven (200ºC) for about 8-10 minutes or until baked through – keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. Remove from oven and cover the tray with a lightly damp tea towel immediately – this will prevent the buns from forming a crust.
When the buns have cooled down completely, cut a ‘lid’ off the buns – about 1½ cm from the top. Scoop out about ⅓ of the inside of the bun and place crumbs in a separate bowl.
Mix the almond paste with the crumb until it forms a very sticky mass –add a dash of milk, custard or crème pâtisserie at this point to help it along. You want a spoonable, even mixture. Spoon the filling back into the buns, equally divided. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff and use a piping bag to pipe cream on all the buns’ tops. Put the ‘lids’ back on and dust with icing sugar.