Think of Easter and food, and you probably get images of chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. How about a change from the mundane? A diversion from arguments about peel-or-no-peel in the hot cross buns or whether people expressing affection for chocolate hot cross buns should be crucified?
I’ve never seen these in Australia (though I’m sure there’ll be some expats cooking them for family and friends), so get ready for another sweet surprise before Easter. Scrumptious little buns from Sweden — edible ones, not those of some tennis player. Known as semlor or fastlagsbullar, these babies are fairly simple to make and much too easy to eat. After spending five winters in southern Sweden, I can assure you I had had ample opportunities for detailed examination of the product (also known as gorging oneself).
Officially, they’re a pre-Lenten delight, which of course means that you shouldn’t eat them in the 40 days before Easter. More precisely, they should only be eaten during Shrovetide: Monday in southernmost Sweden (home of the term fastlagsbullar), and Shrove Tuesday elsewhere.
The astute reader will have noticed that I’m writing about these buns much too late. It’s almost Good Friday. However, few Swedes have qualms about consuming semlor anytime between the beginning of January (just like Easter eggs, they appear earlier every year) and Easter, so why quibble about religious tradition?
The basic concept: Cardamom, cream, marzipan; all in a sweet bread. They’re an institution across Sweden, with annual competitions to find the best baker, and frequent discussions about who has good ones for how much. There’s little talk of varieties or flavours, because the only common variations on this traditional item are what to do with the marzipan, whether to add extra almonds, and how to eat them. I have, however, seen recent mention (in Swedish) of chocolate semlor and ones filled with raspberry jam. Sacrilege! Crucifixion?
The buns (semla and bulle just refer to types of bun in Swedish) are made from an enriched yeast dough.
Purists will actually take a little bread from the centre of the bun, crumble it, and mix it with the marzipan before filling the bun. Some bakers add flaked or crushed almonds to the cream, others garnish the top of the bun. The basic model requires that the buns be dusted with icing sugar. Cardamom is usually added to the bread, but can (unconventionally) be added to the marzipan. Don’t even think of omitting the cardamom from the recipe!
The decision about how many buns a recipe will make is rather individual. I’ve seen a recipe where 375gm of flour makes 20 buns, but another where 500g of flour only makes 12! Yum. The recipe printed here strikes a balance between indigestion and petit-fours.
The dough for the buns sometimes includes the following, but these ingredients aren’t essential and some can be hard to find here: ground almond and bitter almond, ammonium carbonate (E503a: a raising agent rarely used in Australia), and Swedish quark (‘Kesella’, 10% fat). It’s also useful to know that the marzipan we can get here has a rather low almond content (about 30%), whereas Scandinavian ‘almond paste’ is usually 50% almonds (and appropriate for this recipe).
Finally, a little comment on how to eat a semla/fastlagsbulle. If you enjoy snorting cream, then feel free to stick your nose into the cream as it squidges out. The more conventional reader might be interested to know that semlor of the type described are only about 100-150 years old, and the main precursor to these is an enriched bun served in a pool of warm milk. This is how some people continue to eat the newer variant. Whatever you do, remember that one is never enough and three is generally a tad piggy.
This is a revised version of an article which was first published in The Age (Epicure), Melbourne, on 08 Apr 2003.
|Source: Duncan Markham
|›||200 g||plain flour||‹|
|›||0.5 tsp||ground cardamom||‹|
|›||ca 14 g||dried yeast (instant)||‹|
|›||ca 100 ml||milk||‹|
|›||1||egg – lightly beaten||‹|
|›||150 g||marzipan – grated||‹|
|›||200 ml||whipping cream||‹|
|›||1.5 tsp||icing sugar (pure)||‹|
- Mix the flour, sugar, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the milk. Cool the liquid to lukewarm. Add 2/3 of the beaten egg.
- Pour the liquid into the bowl. Slowly mix the dry and wet ingredients, then knead this dough until soft, smooth and elastic. Add a little extra milk if necessary. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (60-90 mins).
- Knead the dough lightly, then divide it into eight equal pieces. Form each piece into a round bun. Place the buns on a greased/non-stick baking tray, ca 5 cm apart. Cover and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size (60-90 mins).
- Preheat the oven to 230°C (lower for convection oven). Lightly brush the tops of the buns with the leftover egg.
- Bake for 7-10 mins, until deep golden brown. Take care not to burn them (it can happen quickly). Remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- With a very sharp knife, horizontally slice off the top quarter of each bun and put to one side. Using a fork, scrape out about two teaspoons of bread from the middle of each bun and place this in a small bowl.
- Mash this bread with the milk for the filling. Add the marzipan and mix to a fairly smooth paste. Place a liberal tablespoon of filling in the middle of each bun.
- Now whip the cream until it holds its shape well but isn’t completely stiff. Pipe or dollop the cream over the filling.
- Lightly place the top of each bun on top of the cream and push down gently, just enough to squidge the cream to the edge of the bun. Dust the lid with icing sugar.
- Best eaten with a cup of coffee or in a bowl of warm milk. Store in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.