i really really need a semla now.— Tara (@Tarakiyee) February 9, 2016
Semla, plural semlor, is a decadent Swedish treat where you stuff a cardamom-spiced semisweet roll with almond paste and top it with whipped cream. It’s an absolute craze in Sweden this time of year—and apparently hard to get hold of if you’re outside Sweden.
It’s actually not too complicated to make your own semlor, if you’re the least bit handy in the kitchen. In fact, recent developments in the world of semlor has given us a ton of options. How about the semmel-wrap (wrap the almond paste and whipped cream up in a sweet wheat tortilla), or the cake-sized version made out of an entire, flat bread?
The key is this: you need a lot of almond paste. And here’s how you make it if you can’t buy it absolutely everywhere, like you can do here!
400-odd grams of almond paste, Swedish style
- 200 grams of almonds, peeled
- 210 grams of confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar (2.5 decilitres, approximately)
- 1 egg white
- 4 drops of bitter almond extract (LEGAL NOTE: this may contain cyanide and I’m not advocating you break any laws to produce your semlor!)
If your almonds aren’t already peeled, blanch and peel them and let them dry before you continue.
Put almonds and sugar (and bitter almond extract, if legal and desired) in a food processor and blend until grainy. Add the egg white and blend until pretty much smooth.
This stuff doesn’t keep for long so make sure you really get going with your semlor. Invite your friends! Expect it to last about a week in the fridge, tops. You can also make little patties and bake in the oven on fairly low heat until chewy, or use it to make your apple crumble really pop.
Semisweet cardamom rolls
I have to confess I haven’t baked with gluten for a long, long time. So this is a combination of writing from memory and checking with a reference recipe or three to see I remember it correctly.
The point of these rolls, anyway, are to be very fluffy and light and not too sweet, since the sweetness will come from the almond paste and the powdered sugar you dust them with.
This recipe makes about 18 semlor. Depending on your tastes you might like to size up the almond paste recipe to match—you’ll need at least 400 grams of almond paste for 18 semlor! These rolls don’t freeze very well but they’re pretty good on their own, without filling.
- 1 tablespoon of cardamom seed (not the pods!)
- 3 decilitres whole milk
- 50 grams fresh yeast (or one satchel dry yeast, we’re not too picky)
- 1,5 decilitres granulated sugar or confectioner’s sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 150 grams butter at room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 11–12 decilitres of flour, high-gluten kinds preferred
Grind the cardamom to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Gently warm the milk to body temperature, crumble the yeast into a large mixing bowl and pour over the milk; mix. (PROTIP: add a little bit of milk first, mix into a slurry, gently add more milk. Much easier than chasing lumps of evil yeast that refuse to dissolve.) Add sugar, salt, cardamom, butter and the egg, stirring after each.
Add a little flour at a time, working until you have a smooth dough. Cover and let rise for 45-60 minutes.
Turn the dough out on a floured surface and divide into 16-18 pieces. Shape them into round buns by folding them over and put them seam down on a parchment covered pan. You’re gonna need a few pans for this so I usually let most of them rise on parchment paper somewhere where I can easily move them onto the pan later. Cover and let them rise for another 45-60 minutes. In the meantime, heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
If you want the authentic Swedish look, brush the rolls gently with egg before baking them for 6-7 minutes in the middle of the oven. Let them cool completely when done!
Assembling the semla
Finally we’re ready to make a semla out of the rolls! Cut the top off a roll (try to take out a triangular piece for the authentic Napoleon hat look!) and remove some of the bread inside. Mix the bread with grated almond paste and a drop of milk and stuff it back inside the roll.
Using a pastry bag cover the now filled hole with whipped cream and stick the top back on top of the cream. Dust with powdered sugar.
For the authentic Swedish experience, enjoy with coffee brewed at rocket-fuel strength.
This has been a public service blog post from the Swedish Cultural Imperialism desk
PS. If you insist on eating this in a bowl of warm milk you’re a f-ing barbarian and should be shot on sight.