In Sweden, semlor buns are usually served right after Christmas in the run-up to Lent, but this is a Christmas version of the traditional cream-filled yeasted bun, and as they’re so tasty they deserve to be eaten more often. These buns are so adorable you won’t be able to bear eating them, but at the same time they are delectable, so it’s sure to be a polarizing decision. If you don’t have time to make the almond paste, then use store-bought marzipan instead.
Different people like to work with different consistencies, but I like to work with what is called a “15-second icing.” This means that after stirring the mixture, the surface will return back to its former smooth state in about 15 seconds. This consistency will work for both outlining *and* flooding, so is much easier than making two batches. The definition of 15-second icing varies for everyone though, as everyone counts differently, so it’s mostly about practicing and getting the feel for the correct consistency. My royal icing recipe below should get you to roughly the consistency you will need, so hopefully you can work from there!
Disposable piping bags
Good disposable piping bags are your friends! You want to buy some that don’t have a seam, as this can get in the way when piping. For outlining and for piping intricate details, cut a teeny tiny tip from your piping bag. For flooding, cut a slightly bigger tip (depends on how big an area you are flooding). That’s it. No need for piping nozzles, which make washing up a lot harder! If you ever cut a tip that’s too big, or want to change to a smaller opening, then just pop the piping bag into another
piping bag. Cut the tip as desired and continue!
Cookie prep, planning, and layering
It helps to draw a guide of where you will pipe the outlines, directly on the cookie. It also helps to know what colors you are going to use before you start, so you can mix them all up and put them into piping bags. I don’t always know what colors I will want, so I always leave some white royal icing in a bowl that I can dye later. Just make sure to cover the bowl with plastic wrap, as the surface will crust up quickly.
Sometimes things come to you as you go along. A vague idea is all you need. That’s okay, too.
Useful Things: toothpicks, edible-ink pen, tiny paint brushes, edible luster dust and vodka, edible paint.
Cookie decorating does take some forward planning if you want to do more than one layer, in which case you would wait a few hours for the first layer to dry before working on the second, or third. For instance, you may have a background layer using the wet-on-wet technique to cretailing on a dress. The layer underneath would need to be dry before you can do all these things. While your cookies are drying, set them aside and find something to do (or not do!) to relax.
Outlining: When you first start piping royal icing in a neat line, you might find it tricky. It’s not like dragging a pen across a surface. You need to pipe, lift, and ease the line where you need it. Don’t expect to be perfect the first time! Practice and you will get better.
Flooding: No, not the psychological therapy used to overcome phobias—this is much nicer. Once you’ve planned and then outlined your cookie, it’s time to flood. All you are doing is just filling the space inside, and the outline will stop it leaking over. Use a toothpick to even it out and get rid of any bubbles before it sets.
Wet on wet: This is when you use two different colors and a toothpick to create some interesting effects. This is useful for polka dots, hearts, flowers, and scenes that involve a beautiful gradient of color (e.g., sunsets, skies, seas, fire).
Painting on royal icing: When your royal icing is completely dry (4 to 6 hours, but I generally just wait overnight to be sure), you can paint on it using food dyes or luster dusts mixed with vodka (it evaporates quicker than water). You can also brush on luster dusts to give depth, and draw on the icing using edible-ink pens—anything you can paint or draw, you can do on an iced cookie.
Recipe excerpted with permission from Christmas with Kim-Joy by Kim-Joy, published by Quadrille October 2020
- Prep time 9 hours
- Cook time 20 minutes
- makes 16
- Dough and Filling
(1/2 cup) whole milk
(3 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
(1/2 cup) water
large egg (replace with 2 tablespoons aquafaba and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to make vegan)
(1/3 cup) caster or granulated sugar
(3 1/2 cups) strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons
ground cardamom (for the best flavor, use fresh cardamom seeds, ground to a fine powder)
(2 1/4 teaspoons) fast-acting dried yeast
Oil, for oiling the bowl
(3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners' sugar
(1 1/4 cups) ground almonds
egg white (or 40g / 2 2/3 tablespoons aquafaba to make vegan)
(2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream (use soy whipping cream to make vegan)
(3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners’ sugar
vanilla bean paste
beaten (or 4 parts plant-based milk to
part light corn (or golden) syrup
16 to 20
quantity of Royal Icing (see below)
Black gel food dye
- Royal Icing
(1 1/2 ounces) egg white (substitute with aquafaba for a vegan version), plus extra for adjusting the consistency
(1 2/3 cups) confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for adjusting the consistency
- Dough and Filling
- Heat the milk in the microwave until tepid, then melt the butter.
- Add all the wet ingredients to a large bowl or stand mixer and whisk together. Add the sugar and whisk again to combine, then add the flour, cardamom, salt, and yeast (on the opposite side of the bowl as the salt).
- If using a stand mixer, just attach the dough hook and let the machine knead for 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. If working by hand, first use a spoon to stir the wet and dry ingredients until it comes together into a rough ball of dough, then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand until it is smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 to 2½ hours, until about doubled in size. The time for this will vary depending on the temperature of the room. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and set aside.
- When the dough has risen, divide it into individual balls, each one about 45 to 50 grams (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 ounces). Use your hands to shape each one so that it is smooth and taut on top by stretching the dough and tucking it neatly underneath. Place on the prepared baking sheet and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap.
- Let proof for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size;when pressed with a finger, the indent should slowly come back up halfway. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°F / gas mark 4) halfway through the rising time of the buns.
- When the buns have risen, brush with beaten egg (or vegan substitute) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until deep golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the almond paste. Stir the confectioners’ sugar and ground almonds together in a large bowl. Add the egg white (or aquafaba), almond extract, and amaretto, if using, and stir together until it forms a paste. Set aside for now.
- When the buns are cool, whip the cream (or use soy whipping cream) with the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Transfer the majority of the cream to a large piping bag and cut a large opening. Transfer the remaining cream to a small piping bag and cut a small opening.
- Cut the tops of the buns off and scoop out 2 teaspoons of the insides. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the almond paste into the bottom of each bun, then use the large piping bag to pipe cream into the bun. Top with a strawberry (use the bottom end) to look like a Christmas hat. Shape a small piece of gray fondant and place it on the cream to represent a polar bear’s nose.
- Next, make the Royal Icing (see below), then stir in enough black food dye to achieve the right color. Transfer to a piping bag and cut a very small tip. Use this to add the polar bear’s eyes and nose. Use the smaller piping bag of cream to add the polar bear’s paws and a dot to the end of the Christmas hat. Repeat with all the buns.
- Royal Icing
- Use a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk attachment (or a handheld electric whisk) to combine the egg white (or aquafaba) and confectioners’ sugar until you get a smooth consistency. Then add tiny amounts of extra egg white (or aquafaba) and/or confectioners’ sugar to get the right consistency. Add food dye to color as desired! That’s it!