What's this cream bun I've been seeing everywhere in Sweden?

The Local
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What's this cream bun I've been seeing everywhere in Sweden?

It's that time of year again, the season when Swedes sink their teeth into cream-filled semla buns. But what goes into a semla?


In an effort to shed light on this mouth-watering mystery, The Local offers up a few things you've always wanted to know about semlor but were afraid to ask.


What is a semla?

It's a cream bun native to Sweden and Finland.

Why is everyone banging on about them?

Because they are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.

You mean Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras?

Yes, whatever you want to call it, it's the day before the start of the Christian season of Lent. In Sweden it's most commonly known as Fat Tuesday (Fettisdag) or Semla Day (Semmeldagen).

Shrove Tuesday falls on February 16th this year, right?

That's right, but the semla season has been lengthening ever since Luther lost his grip on the country. You're likely to spot them in many bakeries for the entire first half of the year. Swedes eat 40 million of them per season. Basically as soon as lussekatt season ends, semla season starts.

Ohhh, are there more pastry seasons?

You bet! There's cinnamon bun day, waffle day, Gustav II Adolf day... Having specific days for specific pastries combines two things Swedes love the most: sweet treats and a sense of predictability.

What semlor look like. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT


So what's in these semla things?

A modern semla is a wheat bun, spiced with cardamom. The top is knocked off and the bun is hollowed out a bit to make room for almond paste and whipped cream.

So the top is just thrown away?

No, it's popped back on and sprinkled with icing sugar.

And then you just pick it up and eat it.

You can. But a lot of people prefer to put it in a bowl of hot milk and eat it with a spoon.

Sounds like a Lenten fast would be well-advised after eating one of these monstrosities.

Definitely. King Adolf Fredrik famously died in 1771 after eating 14 of them for dessert – at least according to the legend.

Where does the name semla come from anyway?

From the Latin semilia, meaning top notch wheat flour. But southern Swedes refer to them as shrovetide buns (fastlagsbullar).

All this talk is making me hungry. Where can I get one?

In any bakery in Sweden, or grocery stores and convenience stores like Pressbyrån or 7-Eleven.


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