Traditionally semlor—also called fastlagsbullar or fettisbullar—were eaten on Fat Tuesday, the last chance for a little culinary indulgence before Lent. The semla (the singular version of semlor) is a yeasted bun, filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream, although those are more modern additions.
Nowadays, this iconic Swedish pastry is served from the early days of January onwards and you'll find them in every bakery window and on every café menu in the months and days leading up to Fat Tuesday. —annabrones
For the dough:
active dry yeast
natural cane sugar
cardamom seeds, crushed
3 to 3 1/2 cups
white whole wheat flour (or substitute 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour)
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups
natural cane sugar
zest of 1
1/2 to 1 cups
milk, depending on dryness of filling
1/2 to 1 cups
heavy whipping cream, whipped
confectioners' sugar, for decoration
In This Recipe
In a saucepan, melt the butter; then stir in the milk. Heat until warm to the touch (about 110° F/43° C). In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 2 to 3 tablespoons of the warm mixture. Stir and let sit until bubbles form on top of the yeast, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 of the eggs, the sugar, cardamom, and salt. Pour in the remaining butter and milk mixture, along with the yeast, and stir until well blended. Mix in the flour, a 1/2 cup at a time, until you can work the dough together into a ball (you may not need all of the flour). Work the dough together well, by hand or with a wooden spoon.
Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead it until smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. The dough should feel a little wet, but if it sticks to your fingers and the countertop, add a little flour. Go lightly, though; if you add too much, the buns will end up dry. The dough is fully kneaded when you slice into it with a sharp knife and see small air bubbles throughout. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and place in a draft-free place to rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
Grease a baking sheet or line with a Silicone baking mat. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet with about 2 inches (5 centimeters) between each bun. Cover and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° F).
Whisk the remaining egg and brush on top of the dough balls. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven, transfer the buns to the counter, and cover with a tea towel to let cool.
To prepare the filling, mix the almonds, sugar, and lemon zest in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground and the mixture starts to stick together.
Cut a circular “lid” off the top of each bun and set aside. Then cut a circle on the inside of each bun, leaving about 1/4 inch (1/2 centimeter) for a border and being careful not to cut all the way through to the bottom. Scoop out the cut portions with a spoon and place in a large bowl. Stir in the almond mixture until well blended. Then pour in enough of the milk to make a filling that’s thick and smooth yet not too liquidy. If you are making just a few semlor and don’t want to make the full filling, for each bun you will need about one heaping teaspoon of almond paste and 4 teaspoons milk.
Fill the buns with the filling and top with the whipped cream. Place the lid on top of the whipped cream and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately.
Note: It’s rare that anyone makes an entire batch of semlor at one time. The best thing to do is to freeze the leftover buns that aren’t going to be eaten that day. When you are ready for another round, defrost them and construct a fresh semla with the appropriate amount of almond filling and whipped cream.