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Swedish foodie secrets: How to find Sweden's best semla

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish foodie secrets: How to find Sweden's best semla
Not sure what to look for in a good semla? We've done the work so you don't have to. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/

Semlor are traditional Swedish cardamom buns filled with whipped cream and almond paste. But what should you look for in a good semla, and what should you avoid?


Semlor are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday or Fettisdagen, as the last festive food before Lent, a traditional fasting period leading up to Easter. Fettisdagen falls on February 13th this year, so now is the time to indulge in one of the season's best treats.

They are known as fastlagsbullar in southern Sweden, and – despite their origins – are now commonly available in bakeries from the end of the Christmas season to the start of Easter, rather than just on Shrove Tuesday.


A good semla is no more than the sum of its parts – the holy trinity of cardamom bun, whipped cream and almond paste. The ideal semla will take all of these individual parts into account, with each bite a perfect mix of cream, bun, and almond.

Back in 2022, we asked semla-lovers on Twitter and in Malmö foodie group Malmöfoodisar on Facebook to tell us what you should look for in the ideal semla – here's what they said.

A semla cross-section. There's a layer of almond paste hiding somewhere under all that cream. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The bun: 'Absolutely not too dry'

Most of the people who got in touch were in agreement – a semla bun needs to have a noticeable cardamom flavour, without it taking over. Rhiannon on X (the social media formerly known as Twitter) said that "roughly ground cardamom in the bread" was important, with "a nice dusting of icing sugar on top of the bun".

Joakim on Facebook said that, in his opinion the bun should be a "rather soft wheat bun with a light cardamom touch (the cardamom shouldn't take over)".

Charlotta, from the same Facebook group, said that the bun should be "fluffy with a noticeable cardamom flavour", stating that she also enjoys "more historical semlor you can find further north where the inside of the bun is partly removed and mixed with the almond paste".

Linnéa said on Facebook that the bun should be "soft and smooth, and absolutely not too dry".

A semla from St. Jakobs bakery in Malmö. Nice crunchy almond paste and a good sized lid. Too much cream for me so my husband got the other half. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The cream: 'High quality'

Semla cream should be "high quality whipped cream", Rhiannon told us on X, although on Facebook, people were split as to whether cream should include vanilla or not. My prefers her semlor to have "whipped cream with a bit of vanilla", whereas Maria said that there should be "no jävla vanilla!" using a Swedish expletive that can be best translated into English as "bloody" or "damn".


Cecilia said that there should be "enough fluffy cream so there's a bit in every bite", and Charlotta told us that the cream should be "quite lightly whipped (hand-whipped, if possible), absolutely not sweetened".

Joakim likes the cream in his semla to be "lightly whipped with nothing extra added, so the better the cream the better the flavour".

Linnéa told us that her ideal semla had "lots of cream (vegan if possible)" – although semlor can be heavy on the dairy, vegans can also enjoy the Lenten treat if the cream is oat- or soya-based.

Some vegan semlor can be as good as – or even better than – normal cream-based semlor, which dairy company Arla awkwardly found out when a vegan semla was voted into first place in their semla competition. Unfortunately for the bakery in question, Arla ended up cancelling the competition, which the company's press officer told newspaper Dagens Nyheter was due to a "lack of engagement from bakers around the country".

The company told the newspaper that, instead of handing out a prize, they would "buy one hundred semla from each of the top one hundred entries" and donate them to care homes – with one caveat: "we're only going to buy semlor made with cream and butter".

Definitely a semla for cream lovers! From Hedh Escalante in Malmö. This one was bought reduced at the end of the day but was still delicious. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The almond paste: 'Chunky in texture'

The third component of a semla, the almond paste or mandelmassa, can fall into two categories: smooth or chunky with pieces of almond. Rhiannon and Sebastian on X both said that they preferred their almond paste "chunky", with Sebastian saying that mandelmassa that is too smooth is a no-go, as "you'll just be reminded of cheap peanut butter".

Cecilia prefers a semla with "a generous amount of almond paste made from well-roasted almonds so that the paste is dark brown, with bits of almond in".

Joakim likes a "nice soft almond paste" in his semla, saying that "it shouldn't be a hard lump", whereas Maria prefers "soft and chewy" almond paste in hers.

Renee said that a semla offering "something other than mandelmassa" is appreciated by those with a nut allergy, adding that her partner "insists on putting in Calvados for the mandelmassa eaters" which, although not traditional is "the real trick".

From top left: a choux semla, traditional semla and chocolate semla. All from Mat- och Chokladstudion, Malmö. Photo from 2021. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The top: 'Wimpy little triangular lids'

Mikael prefers a lid he can use as a spoon to "scoop up the cream", which he says rules out the "wimpy little triangular lids" many bakers go for. He also said that a small triangular lid can give a semla the "wrong balance", leaving it "with too much bun on the bottom".

Maria said that "it's not necessary to cut the lid into a triangle", and that there should be "lagom icing sugar on top". Lagom, in case you didn't know, is the Swedish term for "just enough".

Cecilia likes the lid of her semla to be well dusted with icing sugar, saying that is should be "really sweet".


Milk or no milk?

Some old-school semla eaters may be intrigued by the concept of hetvägg – a semla served in a bowl of warm milk. Thomas told us that he prefers his semla to have a "high mandelmassa to cream ratio", served "with warm milk".

Sebastian, on the other hand, was not a fan, telling us "for God's sake, skip the milk thing. It's vile".

Charlotte said that hetvägg is good if you have "a dry semla or haven't managed to eat it in time", describing it as "like a bread and butter pudding using up something which has gone stale".

No semlor were harmed in the making of this article. Except this one from Gateau, which I accidentally dropped. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

'Try to eat as many as you can'

Sofi on X’s best semla tip was "if it's your first ever semla, have a home-baked one or one you get from a really good bakery. The ones you get from a supermarket may remind you of the good stuff, but if this is where you start, you'll never learn to enjoy it".

John on Facebook had extremely good advice: he said that you should "try to eat as many as you can. Then eventually you'll find the one you like the best." 

Joakim said that "most important of all is that the semla is eaten very shortly after it is made", stating that "a semla which has been stored in a fridge has already suffered the biggest sin, with the question of whether it can even be called a semla any more".


Semla influencers

If this article hasn't given you enough semla tips for this semla season, our commenters also gave us their tips for the best semla influencers who have taken upon themselves the noble task of testing semlor so you don't have to.

These semla influencers include two Instagram accounts: @gemigsemla (Give me semla), who has previously reviewed Gothenburg's semlor in 2020 and Malmö's semlor in 2021 and 2022. The second semla influencer we were recommended was, who reviews all sorts of food in Malmö, but reviewed the city's traditional semlor in 2020, and non-traditional or "dumsemlor" in 2021

Unfortunately, we did not get any tips for semla influencers in Stockholm – let us know if you know of someone we've missed!

Finally, Malmö foodie group Malmöfoodisar gave us their semla tips for this article - have a look at their sister groups for Stockholm and Gothenburg if you're looking for the best Swedish foodie tips in other cities!


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