24 February 2009

Fat Tuesday

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This year I finally got the opportunity to make semlor. This is a traditional Swedish pastry to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday. There's no concept of pancake day - Swedes have pancakes every Thursday after their pea soup with mustard and gammon.

But so far Lundulph has always insisted on pancakes for dinner (being a working day). However, this time I succeeded. I made the buns on Sunday night and the filling on Monday. Then did the final assembly this morning in order for them to be as fresh as possible when I took them in to work to tempt my colleagues.

As usual I didn't have too much time to research recipes, but one of the three I came across was from Dagmar of A Cat In The Kitchen. She definitely seems to know what she's talking about and the fact that the buns for the semlor required both yeast and baking soda made things even more interesting.

I followed the recipe to the spot to begin with and just after I put in the 9th (and what I'd decided it would be the last) decilitre of plain flour, I realised that this is a Swedish recipe, where all flours are strong. I'd used UK plain flour which is low in gluten and thus doesn't rise too well.

Ta-dat ta-ta, to the rescue, I threw in another decilitre of super strong flour and of course that pretty much killed the dough. From being nice and soft and just barely sticky, it went all floury and stiff. Yikes! What to do? Add more liquid, about 1 dl of it. It took ages to work it in, even with the machine, the stiff dough just slid over the milk surface and I had to stop it to give it a hand a few times. Once fully incorporated, it was a bit on the runny side, so I added two tablespoons of strong flour which brought it back to almost the original perfect consistency. It was a bit stickier, but I thought let it rise and see how it goes.

This was a good gamble. Barely 45 minutes later the dough had swollen nicely. Now I'd decided to make mini bite-sized semlor and weighed the dough to work out now much each bun should weigh. 60 g seemed good and I got 26 of these dough lumps and had 40 g piece left.

The dough was still a bit too sticky to work into balls the way my Mum has taught me, so I did what I learned in my baking course last year. Cup hand over the piece of dough as if it's a computer mouse. Then gently I made circular movements with only the top parts of my fingers touching the dough. Miraculously it forms into a nice round ball, about the size of a chicken egg.

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Another 45 minutes later an my mini buns had proofed to regular size. Think small grapefruit.

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I've had to throw away a number of eggs lately after using for glazing and decided against wasting yet another one on these. So I brushed them with milk only. This is the way they are in patisseries and caf├ęs in Sweden as well.

Unfortunately I didn't start pre-heating the oven on time and they over-proofed a bit. I baked the first lot at 210 degrees C (the actual temperature of my gas mark 6) for 8 minutes, but they did not look done at all and I kept setting the timer on 3 minutes at a time and checking them. I turned the baking sheet around, as it wasn't baking evenly either. And turned down to gas mark 5, which took the temperature down to 190 degrees C.

Yes, I've invested in an oven thermometer and as it turns out, my oven is way off from what the gas marks allegedly should be.

The second tray I baked in the top oven, which underperforms at the best of times and I had to set it to 7 to get to 210 degrees C. It also works quite differently too, because the buns in it were the most successfully baked ones, I think.

For the last tray, I kept gas mark 5 and 190 degrees C and baked them for 16 minutes, which was perhaps a minute or two too long as they went quite dark on top and barely had colour at the bottom.

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These were left to cool down completely overnight and on Monday morning, I put them in my fancy cake box padded up with kitchen towels to take up any moisture.

In the evening, I cut off small lids from each bun and nipped out the middle carefully. The texture was very nice.

I flipped the Kitchen Assistent machine on its side and put in the blender attachment. I diced 250 g of white marzipan and put in, then 2 tbsp icing sugar and the crumbs. Then heated up 1 dl semi-skimmed milk and poured it in, then whizzed away. Some help was required, but I got the whole lot into a smooth and fairly thick mixture, which I left on the side in room temperature.

This morning, I lined up some of the buns in my big deep baking tin and put about a tablespoon of the marzipan filling into each bun.

I flipped back the Kitchen Assistent onto it's legs again and put in the whisking bowl and whisked 600 ml of double cream with 5 tbsp caster sugar to stiff peaks. I filled my piping bag with it and squeezed out a generous amount to cover the filling and hole of the semlor.

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Then I trimmed each of the lids into a triangle. This is traditional in Sweden and my boss, who's also from Sweden got very upset when we looked up photos of semlor today and there were some Swedish ones with round lids. You've got to get things right, really!

And don't forget sifting icing sugar on top.

Lundulph was in a rush in to work this morning, so didn't have one then, but I just assembled one for him now and he now has a very happy expression on his face. Definitely approved and a repeater.

But with pancakes as a savory main course he said.

They were also very popular amongst my colleagues at work, those who dared to try them. I regret that I didn't bring in more.

A final note on Dagmar's recipe. She says it makes 12 buns, but I got 26 regular sized ones and one smaller one. If I'd made just 12 buns, they would have been gigantic.

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