The light is slowly returning and with it comes a longing for warm seasons, cream filled buns and festive carnivals.
Christmas is long gone and we’ve crossed over to the bright side. From now on the days will get longer and longer and before you know it, spring will be here. One sure sign of this transition is the Fat Tuesday Bun!
We call it semla in Swedish and I will go as far as acknowledge it as a national pastry. Traditionally, this delicious cardamom flavored bun, filled with almond paste and whipped cream, was only eaten on the Fat Tuesday (Shroves Tuesday), which marks the last day to eat fat and rich foods before entering the fasting period 46 days before Easter. In other countries, like England, you eat pancakes for breakfast, hence calling it Pancake Day. And then there is, of course, famous carnivals such as Mardi Gras and the Rio Carnival. Today, probably due to commercial reasons, the semla enters the bakeries as early as a couple days after Christmas. I try hard to wait a couple of weeks before I surrender myself to the semla madness and go crazy.
Wherever you reside in the world, a good semla recipe can always come in handy. I wish I did, but unfortunately I don’t possess a family recipe that goes way back to the medieval centuries – I googled. After a quick search I found a couple of recipes, took the best parts from two of them, baked and voilà, Sweet Cardamom Buns with Almond & Hazelnut Filling at your service. The important thing here is to bake a moist bun with a strong flavor of cardamom. Hence, you’ll need to choose a flour with a high protein content. When I made this recipe I used a high protein flour called Ölandsvete, grown on a local farm outside of Lund, Bagershills farm. Ölandsvete is a flour categorized as a heritage grain. Many of these varieties haven’t been altered in the way as conventional grains usually have, in order to be resistant to diseases and produce higher yields to fit in the mass production system. Also, the production of heritage grains tends to be more organically grown, with little or no use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
So, what’s the secret power of high protein flour? Well, it’s strong! This type of flour contains more gluten and perfect to use for bread doughs since the gluten creates a lot of tiny air pockets which makes the bread rise and expand. A lot of gluten creates a large amount of air pockets in the dough, which will give you larger breads with an airy, moist interior full of tiny wholes. (Of course the flour can’t do its magic without a couple of other crucial variables, such as water, but I’ll save this chapter for another post.). Compared to other flours I’ve used, this flour literally feels different when mixed into a dough (I mix the dough with my hands instead of in the electrical mixer). It was almost like I could feel the gluten. The dough was soft (in a good way) but could be stretched out before it had even proofed.
When the buns are baked, you can definitely eat them au naturel (my eldest does this) or filled them according to tradition. Ok, enough said. I’ll stop writing now. Please, go, bake!
Semla or Sweet Cardamom Buns with Almond & Toasted Hazelnut Filling
This recipe is adapted from eminent sour dough and bread blogger paindemartin.se, with some sweet inspiration collected from sarabakar.se, the blog behind one of the best small artisan bakeries in Sweden, Solhaga Stenugnsbageri.
Sweet Cardamom Wheat Dough
Yields 17 buns (weighing 90 grams each)
25 gram / 0.9 oz. fresh organic yeast
250 gram / 8.9 oz. whole milk
250 gram / 8.9 oz. lukewarm water
150 gram / 5.3 oz. raw granulated sugar
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tsp sea salt
850 gram / 30 oz. high protein wheat flour
150 gram / 5.3 oz. cold butter
- In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk and luke warm water. Add the sugar, cardamom and sea salt and mix. Add the flour in additions, starting with 500 grams. Add the rest in small increments. You might not need all flour. The dough should be a bit sticky. Finally, cut the cold butter in thin slices and kneed it into the dough.
- Place the dough on a floured surface, kneed it a couple of times before shaping it into a tight ball. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 2 hours. The dough can also be prepared in the evening and rest over night in the fridge.
- Cut the dough into small pieces (90 grams each). Roll each piece into small, tight buns and place them on a parchement covered baking tray. Cover with a towel and let the buns rest for 2 hours.
- While the buns are resting, heat the oven to 225C /437F. Bake the buns for 10–15 minutes or until they are golden brown. If you tap a bun on the bottom and you hear a hollow sound, the bun is baked. Let the buns cool completely before filling them.
Almond and Toasted Hazelnut Filling
Yields filling for 10–12 buns
150 gram / 5.3 oz. almond flour
75 gram / 2.6 oz. water
45 gram / 1.6 oz. raw granulated sugar
a splash of lemon juice to taste
a pinch of sea salt
60 gram / 2 oz. toasted hazelnuts
4 tbsp heavy cream
6 tbsp whole milk
2 tsp muscovado sugar
- Place almond flour in a bowl and set aside.
- Measure water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Let the syrup simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the stove and let cool.
- Slowly pour the syrup into the almond flour, in additions, mixing after each. Keep on adding syrup until the almond flour turns into a paste. You might not need all of it.
- Add sea salt and a splash of lemon juice to the almond paste. This will balance the sweetness.
- Cover the almond paste and let it sit in room temperature for a couple of hours.
- Heat the oven to 200C / 392F. Place the hazelnuts in an oven proof pan and toast them for 8–12 minutes or until you can peel of the skin from the nuts.
- Remove the skin. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and set aside.
- Mix the almond paste with the hazelnuts, heavy cream, milk and muscovado sugar. Add some more milk for a bit more runny consistency. Place the filling in a piping bag and set a side.
1 batch almond and toasted hazelnut filling
500 grams / 17.6 oz. heavy cream
10–12 sweet cardamom buns
- Whip heavy cream and put it in a piping bag, fitted with a french star tip.
- Make a triangular-shaped cut into each bun and remove the piece – you will use this as the lid.
- Pipe almond filling into the hole. Cover the filling by piping a big dollop of whipped cream on top. Finish with the lid and dust it with some icing sugar. Serve with a cup of strong Earl Grey. Eat at least two in a row, every day until Fat Tuesday. Bon appétit.