...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Food journal number 16: Semla

(P.S. added on February 20)

I arranged a party here at the apartment with Marcus' friends, in which we baked and ate semla (pl. semlor) together. (They're the same set of friends whom be baked cinnamon buns with in last October's Cinnamon Bun Day).The little get-together went really well, and I was also able to practice some Swedish in a "natural" environment with many people. Most importantly, the semlor also tasted great, if I may say so myself :-) As one said, "homebaked is best!"

Here are some of the semlor we made today. (Don't worry Marcus, I saved some for you!)

Traditionally, semla was only eaten here during Lent (specifically on the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of fasting). This tradition has long since changed though because Sweden had adopted protestantism, but like Lussebullar for Christmastime, the semla has become the seasonal pastry for the whole season. Actually, soon after Christmas, semlor already become available in bakeries and cafes, and will stay there as a fika (i.e. Swedish meryenda) staple until before summer. According to our old classmate Sigrid, the same isn't true in Norway, where bakeries still only sell semlor on certain days in Lent. I have the impression that semlor are as popular in Finland as in here though, for they presented the semlor as their national pastry in Café Europe (Sweden presented the Cinnamon bun).

Another curiosa: before coffee was commonplace, semla was also traditionally eaten on a bowl of hot milk (some people still do this today). Adolf Frederick, a Swedish king in the 16th century was also documented to have eaten his semlor that way. We know that he did because he also died eating them. After a dinner of lobster, herring, and caviar which he topped with 14 semlor-and-milk desserts, his stomach just gave up on him and he died of digestion problems. As smokers say, "at least he died happy". I couldn't help thinking that he probably died with a huge stomach ache, though.

On another note, when I write or chat with Lea about semla, she always mistakes it for lembas...you know, that Elvish bread with which you can fill a grown man with one bite? (Ed: that could be knäckebröd, the brown, crispy and fibrous bread I have as a picture on my blog title, hehe!) Well, one bite of a semla definitely won't fill me (on the other hand, it takes a lot to make me full... burp!), but otherwise the bun itself, with all that cream and bread, is actually quite filling.

For those of my friends who bake, here is the recipe we used, c/o Karin my gym buddy (Tack, Karin!). She's the one in the picture kneading our semla dough, and she thinks the recipe belongs to her grandmother, Martha :-)

For the buns:
25g yeast
75g butter
3 deciliters milk
pinch of salt
3 t sugar
1 egg
1 liter flour
2 t baking powder

1. Melt the butter in a pot and pour in the milk. It shouldn't be too hot nor too cold (otherwise, the yeast will die) but it should be about body temperature (ca. 37C, check by dipping a finger in)
2. Put the yeast in a mixing bowl and pour over #1 into it, mixing well.
3. Pour over the salt, suger, egg and around 8 deciliters of the flour. Mix well until it forms a dough.
4. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes
5. Meanwhile, mix the baking powder with the remaining 2 dl of flour. After the dough has risen, knead this flour+baking powder mix into the dough, and proceed to make buns.
5. Line the buns in a baking plate with wax paper underneath, and cover them again to allow the yeast to do its work for another 30-40 minutes. The buns will turn out bigger this way.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes at 225 degrees.

When the buns are baked, you cut them with a bread knife to get a little "cap" for the top part of the semla. Pinch small holes on the bottom part of the bun to create a kind of "bowl" where the filling will fit. Save the bread bits though, they are needed for the filling:

1 1/2 deciliter almonds, chopped finely
1 deciliter sugar
1 deciliter milk
the pinches of bread, use as much as needed to make it into a paste.

Just mix the filling ingredients up into a pasty consistency, and spoon them into the pastry "bowls" you have just made. Top the "bowl" with cream and put on the cap on. The confectioner's sugar on top just makes it extra nice.

Hmmm... if the recipe seems long, you bet it took a lot of time to prepare. It took about 2 hours or something. And there was also a lot of dishes afterwards, but the slavedriver that I am, I made the guests take care of that >;-) Muhuwahaha!

P.S. 20 Feb. The Family sized semla

It's a good thing I gave away most of the semla we baked to the guests and other people. There was just so much (40 in total, like in a real bakery!); yet even after giving most away, I'm still left with some 7 or 8 buns which I kept in the freezer (without the cream though, of course). Anyway, the good part about giving them away is that, while semlor is still available in stores, we're bound to get some more semlor from others anyway. It's a bit like recieving tikoy for Chinese New Year. If you don't give some away, you get a refrigerator full of tikoy boxes before you know it.

Take tonight for example, when Marcus' dad dropped by to say hi, armed with an enormous family-semla, shown here in the picture:

How did we ever finish such a thing up? Did I really eat one third of this? I surprise myself! (Okay, not really...) But still, how am I ever going to lose my belly this way?!?

And then Marcus' dad tells me he can finish one such family-semla while sitting watching a hockey game... Yikes!


Blogger carlo said...

Hi Joy! Yes, I'm in Singapore now, making annual reports for a living and raiding bookstores for kicks. And, like you, I'm gaining weight like crazy. Pero puro take-out (they call it "take-away" here) because I can't cook to save my life.

8:06 AM

Anonymous ria said...

believ it or not, i try to eat 1 lang of semlor. i can't seem to like it, siguro dahil masayadong maraming whipped cream. same reason why i don't like prinsesstårta, puro cream, walang masayadong cake part.....ay!!! reminds me of the chocolate mousse i once bought for 35kr a slice, sobra, i just paid for whipped cream con hangin, disguised as a cake...waaaahhhh!!!!i wuz robbed!

4:31 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

No, how could you eat only one?!? I haven't tried prinsesstårta yet though. It dosn't look very appealing to me since I can't guess how it tastes from how it looks. Will visit your baking blog! I love baking (nowadays) !

7:09 PM


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