Well my friends, once again, it is Mardi Gras, Fettisdagen, or Fat Tuesday – whichever moniker you prefer! Back in the day, that meant that this was the last day of Shrovetide, and your last chance to gorge yourself on various protein rich delicacies in anticipation of Lent – a 40-day stretch of fasting. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve grown a little soft in our resolve since then, but Fat Tuesday is still a great time for young and old to pig out.
In Sweden, the treat of choice on this special day is the Semla – a marvelous kardamom wheat bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream – often served swimming in warmed milk. Sooo yummy! The name Semla is derived from the Latin word for fine wheat flour – simila. Cooks might also recognize ‘semolina’ in there as the finest of all the wheat varieties. These buns were far different from coarser fare of rye and barley. This kind of fine, expensive flour – where available – was reserved only for celebrations and holidays, and certainly more common in society’s upper echelons than in the humble kitchens of farming culture.
While the roots of the bun consuming tradition reaches far into antiquity, the Semla is said to have arrived in Sweden via Germany. The 18th century Germans enjoyed buns filled with almond paste, which were served in a bowl with warm milk. They called the buns “Heisse Wecke” which translates to “hot wedges”. The wedge lives on in the modern interpretation of these buns, as the shape of the bun’s “lid” is often in the form of a wedge covered in powdered sugar.
On February 12, 1771, the Swedish king Adolf Fredrik collapsed after a massive meal of nearly Roman proportions. Later, he was said to have died from eating too many semlor. In reality he suffered either a stroke or cardiac arrest, but no matter – it gave the Semla a bad rep, and a contemporary poet by the name of Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna indignantly suggested it be banned, since it had indeed caused the death of a king. However, the love for these delectable buns remained. By the early 1900’s, they were made with the white flour, the almond paste and the whipped cream we recognize to this day.
They are pretty easy to make. For the dough, use the same recipe as for Swedish Cinnamon Rolls. Instead of twisting the dough into knots, simply roll the dough into 2.5” rolls. Easy-peasy…
There! You’re done! Heat up some milk, and serve in a bowl with a spoon. Or, eating it like the little girl in the picture is fine too, if you prefer it that way. Either way, it’s yummy. Enjoy!