Semlor Buns are sweet cardamom-flecked rolls filled with almond paste, whipped cream, and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. A traditional Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday treat with a fascinating history!
The History of Semlor Buns:
The Semla, or plural Semlor, has become something of a sweet icon in Sweden. The tradition of these buns is rooted in fettisdag (Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday) when the buns were eaten before the start of Lent. Legend has it that King Adolf Frederick of Sweden ate 14 Semlor in hot milk on February 12th, 1771 and died shortly thereafter of digestive issues! What started as a dangerously sweet bun soaked in hot milk became luxuriously enriched with almond paste and cream. Over time, Semlor began to be consumed much more frequently than just as a last celebration before the Lenten fast. Today in Sweden, Semlor appear in bakeries around the end of the Christmas season until Easter, and with quite spirited competition for the best versions for purchase. Semlor are perfect for Fika and can also be made year-round at home.
Making the Buns:
The Semlor Buns process is divided into 3 parts: buns, filling, and assembly. First, make the dough. This is a rich sweet yeast dough with butter, milk, egg, and sugar and is flavored with freshly ground cardamom seeds. If you do not have cardamom pods, a small amount of commercially ground cardamom can be added to the dough.
The Semlor dough is beautiful to work with and has a smooth, elastic texture. First rise of the dough is roughly 1 hour until doubled in bulk.
Divide the Semlor dough into 16 pieces and shape into balls. Curve your hand like a claw and loosely roll the ball, pushing it against the counter. This helps stretch the outside and form a smooth surface.
Place the balls on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and allow them to rise for 45 minutes until slightly puffy. This extra rising time creates a lighter-textured bun.
Brush each bun with an egg wash. This gives the baked buns a nice sheen and promotes a golden brown exterior. If you prefer a matte finish with no streaks, skip this step. The buns will be just as delicious!
Bake the buns for just 10-12 minutes until they are golden brown.
Once the buns have cooled, cut a triangular or circular lid off the top of each with a small serrated knife.
Pull out a little of the interior to create space for the filling. Set the crumb centers aside.
Making the Almond Filling:
Some versions of Semlor call for using commercial almond paste in the filling, but you can easily make your own fresh with the help of a sturdy food processor. Grind blanched almonds with sugar and a little bit of pure almond extract. If you want a deeper almond flavor, toast the almonds first.
The mixture should start to stick together when squeezed. This will take a few minutes.
An optional step is to add some of the Semlor bun centers to the almond paste mixture, for an interesting twist in minimizing waste and maximizing flavor. This will create a bit thicker filling.
Finally, add milk to the mixture to smooth it out for a nice piping consistency. I used almond milk but any sort of milk will work.
Assembling the Semlor Buns:
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large straight tip and pipe the almond filling to the tops of the hollowed-out Semlor buns.
Either wash out your bag or use another for piping the whipped cream. I like using a large star tip for visual appeal, but the flat tip is perfectly fine!
Finish the Semlor buns by placing their ‘lids’ and giving a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
The buns are now ready to serve! These are best eaten immediately or at least within a few hours. Only fill the number of buns you intend to serve. Extra buns may be frozen unfilled and then freshly filled at a later date.
There is just something so special about these lovely Semlor buns. They are truly a one-of-a-kind treat!
The final challenge is deciding how to eat them! My favorite is all-in, with a whipped cream mustache as proof!
- Pastry bags and large star or straight tips
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons crushed cardamom seeds
- 2 cups blanched almonds
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- Milk or almond milk, as needed to make a paste filling
- Crumbs from hollowed buns, optional
Cream and Finishing:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped for piping consistency
- Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
For the Buns:
- In a small saucepan, heat together the butter and the milk just until the butter is melted. Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer bowl or large mixing bowl and let cool until warm to the touch but not hot.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the milk mixture and gently stir. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
- Whisk one of the eggs and add to the milk and yeast mixture. Add the sugar, 3 cups of the flour, salt and cardamom and mix together with a dough hook attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon.
- Once the dough comes together, transfer it to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a bit more of the remaining ½ cup of flour as needed to control stickiness. The dough should be slightly moist but not stick to your hands. Be careful not to add too much flour or the buns will be dry.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a damp tea towel and let rise for about an hour until doubled.
- Punch the dough down and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball and divide between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover both sheets and let the buns rise for another 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°.
- Whisk the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush on the tops of the buns. Skip this step if you prefer a matte finish to your buns.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, just until golden brown. Cool on a rack, covering the buns with a tea towel to keep them soft.
- Once the buns have cooled completely, cut a triangle or circular lid from the top of each, using a small sharp serrated knife. Pull out some of the soft interior from each bun to create a space for the filling. Set these crumb centers aside.
- Combine the almonds, sugar and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground and the mixture starts to stick together.
- If desired, add a small amount of the reserved bun centers (about ½ cup) to the mixture to thicken the paste and add texture and flavor. Process further, adding milk with the machine running in a thin stream until the mixture comes together and forms a smooth paste.
Assembling the Buns:
- Spoon some of the almond filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Fill each bun to the top with filling.
- Spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star or plain tip and top the filling on each bun in a decorative rosette. Place each lid back atop the buns and sift over a bit of confectioner's sugar. Serve the buns immediately or fill as needed for serving.
Tips for Success:
- Unless you have a large group to serve, the best way to preserve Semlor is by freezing extra unfilled buns until ready to eat. When ready to serve, defrost and make fresh preparations with the almond filling and freshly whipped cream.
- The filled Semlor will keep under refrigeration for about 2 days.
- Freshly ground cardamom seeds will give the best flavor to the dough! A teaspoon of ground cardamom may be used if you do not have cardamom pods and seeds.
- For a deeper almond flavor in the filling, toast the almonds first by spreading them on a sheet pan and baking at 325 degrees until golden brown.