Tuesday just gone – 9th of February – was Fat Tuesday in Sweden. While over the wild North Sea, my fellow English countrymen were hard at work consuming colossal stacks of pancakes, Swedes were filling up on semlor, a treat considerably more delectable than pancakes wetted with lemon juice and haphazardly speckled with granulated sugar. (Please accept my sincerest apologies England, but you really can learn something from Sweden about sweet eats).
Semlor (also called Fat Buns…and for good reason) are big, soft, sweet cardamom buns with an extravagant filling of marzipan, vanilla and whipped cream. Here in Sweden semlor (plural) are served up in their millions. On Fat Tuesday alone, bakeries part with 6 million semlor, and each year over 45 million are sold. For the record, Sweden is home to 9 million. So this creamy delicacy is something of a big deal.
To say I was thrilled about taking part in this tradition for the first time is an enormous understatement. I’m utterly infatuated with the curious taste of cardamom, and the nostalgia that comes along with the flavour of vanilla is something really special. Aside from the actual eating of semlor, I was keyed up for my first real initiation into Swedish culture. That’s if I discount the first meal Sebastian and I ate together – falukorv (sausage) and pasta, which is, according to my Viking, a Swedish delicacy. I’ve yet to ask Google if this is actually true.
I wanted to be involved with the semlor tradition from the get go, and went along with Sebastian to pick up two portions from the local supermarket. (Sharing something that’s vanilla flavoured and creamy with me is out of the question…) Sebastian parted with 50 krona (about £4) and was handing a couple of semlor in a beautifully embellished cardboard box, by a young woman decked out in immaculate chef whites. Wherever I turned on Fat Tuesday, I would see people striding along, fingers clutching these special boxes filled with precious, teeth achingly sweet cargo.
It’s tradition to eat semla in a bowl with warm milk poured over it (this practise is called hetvägg) but Sebastian and I just went for a glass of cold milk instead. There’s many different ways you can eat your semla, but we decided to put aside our heathen practices for one evening and use spoons, instead of eating the lid and licking out the contents. The experience provided one of the finest food orgasms of my adult life.
Semlor are (fortunately for my waist) strictly seasonal. They’re not made at any time of the year except for when ‘Semlor Season’ arrives. They’re not made before the first of January and not after Easter. Apparently, within this window of time, the average Swede will consume five of these divine treats. (Sebastian told me he usually consumes one…maybe two.)
Interestingly, semlor played a role in the death of one Swedish king, who ate fourteen of the creamy cardamom beasts…after a monstrous sized banquet. Apparently he died after suffering from severe indigestion.
If you would like to bring a taste of Sweden into your home, The Scandinavian Kitchen have a superb recipe for semlor available here.