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FOOD & DRINK

Sweden’s top ten tasty buns

It’s Fettisdag, Fat Tuesday, the day known in English as Shrovetide, Pancake Tuesday and, er, Mardi Gras. In Sweden, the day is synonymous with the creamy semla, one of many fine buns that make this country great.

Sweden's top ten tasty buns

If there’s one thing every Swede loves it’s a fika, or coffee break. Back in the day, etiquette demanded that at least seven types of cakes and buns be served with coffee at gatherings in people’s homes. The tradition, which dates back to the nineteenth century, is still very much alive among the granny and grandad generation.

But buns and cakes retain their popularity outside the home too, with everyone from teenage girls to young dads factoring cake and coffee into a day out in town. Even harassed lawyers manage to munch the occasional bun, while in public sector workplaces, the mandatory coffee break is part of the fabric that keeps the bureaucracy together.

But what are the buns of choice in this nation on Europe’s northern edge? Here The Local, with surgical precision, picks out ten of the most mouth-watering creations from the vast pantheon of Swedish cakes and buns.

Semla

Nothing exceeds like excess, and the semla is truly the Keith Richards of the Swedish bun world. Traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday to mark the beginning of the lenten season, the only way this cream-filled calorie bomb could be any less healthy would be if it was dipped in cocaine and served with absinthe. And, like absinthe, a semla makes the heart grow fonder. And more prone to cardiac arrest.

Märtas skurna chokladkakor – Märta’s Cut Chocolate Cookies

Märta’s Cut Chocolate Cookies are a perennial favourite from the Swedish Cakes and Cookies (‘Sju sorters kakor’) cookbook, of which every Swedish family owns at least three copies. The book first came out in 1945 and there are riots on the streets of Sweden every time a new edition is published.

Lussebullar – Santa Lucia Buns

In the weeks before Christmas a darkness descends that seems like it may never lift. Sweden is aglow with candlelight of both the natural and electric variety. Everywhere you look, people are ramming these swirly buns into their faces. And if you like a bit of saffron and raisin, you too will soon be masticating wildly.

Dammsugare – Vacuum Cleaner

I know: let’s get a roll of green marzipan, lace it with punch, dip it in chocolate at both ends, and call it a vacuum cleaner. It all makes total sense. Delicious.

Biskvi – Bisque

Though of French origin, Sweden has very much taken the bisque to heart. This buttercream and chocolate-topped almond UFO has become as Swedish as the kebab pizza and is often served with rose hip soup (‘nyponsoppa’).

Dajmtårta – Daim Tart

Swedish chocolate maker Marabou struck international gold when it began cooking up batches of Dajm bars in the 1950s. These crunchy butter almond treats used to be called Dime bars in the UK and Ireland, but now they’re known as Daims thanks to the whims of some cucumber straighteners with too much time on their hands.

If you’ve never seen a Daim, a UK ad from the 90s described it as being the opposite of an armadillo, which is reasonably accurate. Anyway, not everybody is content just to munch on a Daim straight from the wrapper. Some people are so enamoured of Daims that they break them up and sprinkle them on chocolate cakes, which is pure lunacy. But it’s also very, very tasty.

Radiokaka – Radio Cake

The Wikipedia entry on Radio Cakes says they are so called because they date back to the early days of the broadcasting medium and were soft enough not to disturb the listening experience. It’s a nice idea but everybody else says they got their name because they look like old-fashioned transistor radios. But they certainly don’t taste like radios. They taste like layers of crumbled Marietta biscuits buried inside chocolate cake, and that’s exactly what they are.

Ostkaka – Swedish Cheesecake

One of the most duplicitous cakes on the shelf, the Swedish cheesecake bears little resemblance to its international cheesecake cousins. When words like rennet and casein crop up in the baking process, you know you’re dealing with a deviant variety. So be careful what you ask for in cake shops. If you want cheesecake with a biscuit base, order cheesecake in English. If you want the warm, soft Swedish version, often served with cloudberrry jam, then your best bet is to ask for ostkaka. The Friends of Ostkaka society celebrates the cake’s existence every November 14th. The society’s governing board is made up of a number of county governers, all of whom are probably quite mad.

Kanelbulle – Cinnamon Bun

Swedes love their cinnamon. You’ll find it in your semla, for example, at the top of your café latte and, if you’re not careful, as a mild irritant in your trousers. But mainly you’ll find it in its natural home: the ubiquitous cinammon bun.

Kladdkaka – Sticky Cake

A kladdkaka is like a big round brownie topped with lashings of cream. Doctors secretly love it because it brings them new business.

Prinsesstårta – Princess Cake

The princess cake is one of those classics you’ll find in every old-fashioned konditori. It serves as a reminder that even in those sepia-tinged days of the 1950s, when Sweden was at its most optimistic, people ate huge dome-shaped cream cakes that looked like they were cooked in a nuclear power plant.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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