17 February 2010

Time for a Semla once again


Once again Shrove Tuesday was nearing and I asked Lundulph if he wanted pancakes for dinner. To which he replied that we need to start a tradition here - with a semla on the Tuesday and pancakes for breakfast the following Saturday.

Chatting to my Mum, it seems that Sweden is in semla fever already, and these lovely buns have been in the shops pretty much since the beginning of the year. She'd also spotted a recipe that she liked and sent it to me to try out. The amounts were slightly smaller than the recipe I did last year, so that was good too.

In addition, I'd been toying with the idea of duck eggs. They sell them in the supermarket and they look very pretty, but I've never seen anyone actually buy them, so when I went to get the semla ingredients, I bought a packet to try them out.


The yolk seemed to be a brighter yellow and I think the eggs were fairly fresh, as the white was quite dense. I like the shells very much, they look like they're made of alabaster and have some inner glow to them. They are also a bit thicker than chicken eggshells.

What annoyed me a bit about this new recipe was that it called for half an egg. Now that's a tricky one I thought, but resolved the issue by whisking the egg with a fork, then pouring in about half of it. On the interesting side was that the recipe called for "white syrup". It's sold in Sweden and is recommended for baking. I guessed that pure glucose should do the trick too and whisking it together with the butter, I ended up with this fluffy cream


75 g unsalted butter
0.75 dl glucose
2.5 dl full fat milk
25 g fresh yeast
0.5 egg
1 ml salt
1 tsp ground cardamom (0.5 tsp if freshly ground)
3 dl plain flour
3.5 dl strong flour
1 ml ammonium carbonate

  1. Whisk the butter and glucose to a light and fluffy cream.

  2. Warm up the milk to about 37 degrees C. In the mean time, crumble up the yeast in the dough bowl. Pour the warm milk over it and stir to dissolve the yeast.

  3. Add a couple of tablespoons of the butter cream, egg, salt and cardamom and stir in well.

  4. In a separate bowl, mix the plain flour with 2 dl of the strong flour an the ammonium carbonate, then add to the dough liquid and mix into a very wet dough/thick batter.

  5. Keep mixing until gluten has developed, then set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

  6. Add the remainder of the butter cream and some more of the strong flour to get a fairly soft dough. It should just about not stick.

  7. Take the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and divide into equal sized pieces, about 60 g each. I got 16 from the dough.

  8. Shape into balls and place on baking sheets lined with baking paper. Brush the buns with the remaining egg, then cover with cling film and let rise for 40 minutes.

  9. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees C, then bake the buns until they are dark golden brown on top, the recipe said 7 minutes, I baked mine for 14 and their bottoms were still quite pale.

  10. Leave to cool on a rack, then follow the instructions from last year.

The recipe instructions recommended making your own marzipan, but I had some in the larder already and I wanted to use it up. Also the instructions were to just cut off a lid off the buns and spread the marzipan over them, then topping up with cream and putting the lids back on. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I think it's crucial to nip out the middle bit and blend with the marzipan.

My Dad sent me an article from the "Semla academy", where the two writers discuss what is good and what is bad for a semla and here is what they say:

The buns should be hand made and the size of a grapefruit.
The lids should be triangular in shape. They reckon often round lids are cut by a machine, so if they are triangular, this implies that they've been hand cut.
The marzipan should be 50% almonds and 50% sugar.
The whipped cream should not be runny but also not too hard and butter taste is a big no no.
Generosity with the icing sugar on top is also important.

This article was in the Stockholm City magazine on Monday 15th February. Only in Swedish, sadly. Besides, most of the other papers will have some sort of semla tasting and comparisons.

On the whole, I don't agree with everything on the list above.

This new recipe was actually very good, the buns rose from this


to this


and you can see the colour after baking. Some of the buns stuck together on the sides, that's a bit annoying, but I hadn't expected them to swell up so much in such a short time. Good thing I brushed them with egg beforehand too. The cling film came off a bit easier then, but I suspect I would have punctured them, if I'd tried to brush them just before baking.

A note on the ammonium carbonate, this is often also known as hartshorn salt and is a chemical rising agent and part of the mixture known as baking powder. It smells very strongly of ammonium, but this disappears during baking. I have a bag of it that I bought in Sweden, however, if you can't find it, use the double amount of baking powder instead.

The buns were very fluffy and light and quite soft too, I had to be careful not to leave imprints of my fingers when I cut the lids. A serrated knife is the thing to use.

Lundulph and I enjoyed one each yesterday and there are four more to be put together and eaten this week, the remaining 10 buns have been frozen for future use. Lundulph did consider having a second one, but decided against it in the end. After a big dinner, it would have made him ill for sure.

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