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FOOD & DRINK

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

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?

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: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

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 March 1st 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.

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 taking over. Rhiannon on 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 Twitter, 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 last year. 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 Twitter 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 Twitter’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. The second semla influencer we were recommended was @not.so.fine.dining, 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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DISCOVER SWEDEN

What to do in Sweden’s summer without Covid restrictions

After more than two years of pandemic-related restrictions and closures, Sweden is headed towards its first summer free of Covid restrictions since 2019. Here's some of what's going on.

What to do in Sweden's summer without Covid restrictions

Since April 1st, relaxed entry rules have allowed visitors from non-EU countries to enter Sweden without showing a vaccination pass or test certificate. As the last of the travel restrictions to be eased, summer tourism is finally set to return to the ways of pre-pandemic life.

As Swedes gear up for a summer without COVID, major tourist attractions, events, and festivals across the country are getting ready for what promises to be a fun few months.

STOCKHOLM

Pippi at Circus

After a two-year delay, ABBA and Astrid Lindgren fans finally have the chance to see Pippi at Cirkus, a new acrobatic musical performance at Cirkus Arena and Restaurant at Royal Djurgården in Stockholm.

The musical features lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and music by Benny Anderson—the two “Bs” of ABBA fame—who have also previously written musicals like Chess, Mamma Mia and Kristina from Duvemåla. While the dialogue and lyrics of the show are in Swedish, the story is mainly told through circus acts.

The musical was initially set to premiere in Stockholm in June 2020, in celebration of Pippi Långstrump’s 75th anniversary, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

The world premiere of the musical is now set for July 1, 2022. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Pippi at Cirkus was intended to launch in 2020 but has been delayed for two years. Photo. Cirkus Cirkör

Music festivals in Stockholm

This summer, Sweden’s longest music festival, Grönan Live, returns to Stockholm’s Gröna Lund.

The festival starts in early May and runs through the end of August with concerts at least once every week. Performers include Jorja Smith, Dua Lipa, Tove Styrke and John Legend, among others. 

Festival passes cost SEK 395 and offer free admission to all concerts and dance evenings throughout the summer. They can be purchased directly from Gröna Lund.

Other big-name festivals lined up for the summer in Stockholm include Rosendal Garden Party, a four-day festival in June featuring artists like Jungle, Arlo Parks, Tyler the Creator, and The Strokes, and LollaPalooza Stockholm, a three-day event planned for July with bands such as Imagine Dragons, Post Malone, Lorde and Pearl Jam.

Allsång på Skansen will also return this year at the Solliden stage at Skansen open-air museum on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm. Allsång på Skansen is a classic summer concert where well-known Nordic musicians host a sing-a-long of classic Swedish songs. Allsång på Skansen will take place over eight Tuesdays, usually starting at the end of June. If you don’t manage to get tickets, don’t fret – it will also be broadcast live on SVT.

GOTHENBURG

Liseberg

On April 23, Liseberg opened at full capacity after more than two years of restrictions. 

The park also recently opened a completely new area—Luna Park—complete with two new family-friendly rides, Turbo and Tempus. 

The new area was built in celebration of Liseberg’s 100th anniversary, coming up in 2023. At that point, an additional roller coaster will also be featured in the new area. 

Luna Park is opening at the Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg. Photo: Luna Park

Set sail for summer

Marstrand, on Sweden’s west coast, is known as Sweden’s sailing capital. It begins welcoming summer tourists for the 2022 season this month, offering gorgeous landscapes, quaint shops and cafes and exciting sailing events. 

The 2022 summer sailing season kicks off on the weekend of May 13, with the Marstrand SuperStar Cup, followed the next weekend by the Marstrand Big Boat Race. 

The island can be reached in about 50 minutes by public transport from Gothenburg. 

Alternatively, throughout the summer months, Stromma Boat Tours offers a day-long cruise to the island directly from Lilla Bommen.

On July 3, Gotland Runt, the world’s largest annual ocean race begins in Stockholm. The course, which starts inside the archipelago, continues around Gotland and finishes in Sandhamn is about 350 nautical miles and takes most competitors about 3 days to complete. The offshore race is one of the highlights of Swedish summer. 

Music

Live music events are also making a comeback in Gothenburg this summer.

On May 28, the city’s most charming district will be filled with live music from the American south at the Haga Bluegrass Street Festival, and Way out West returns in August with big name artists like Tame Impala, Burna Boy and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

From September 1-4 Gothenburg will also celebrate the comeback of its annual Culture Festival.

MALMÖ

Music

The summer begins with the triumphant return of Malmö Rock after a three-year hiatus. The full-day concert features punk, hardcore, metal and rock bands, headlined by Norrland’s own, Raised Fist.

Malmö Sommarscen returns this year between the 18th June -31st July, with music, concerts, theatre performances and allsång taking place at 47 different locations across the city for six weeks over the summer. The full programme will be released on June 2nd.

Malmöfestivalen also returns this summer from August 12th-19th. Locals and visitors alike flock to the city centre to enjoy live music, art exhibitions, rides, and, of course delicious street food. 

Street Food

Malmöfestivalen isn’t the only chance for Malmö-ites to get their hands on some delicious street food – the International Food Festival will also be in town between May 25th-29th, bringing authentic food and culinary culture from 15 different countries to the city.

Don’t live near Malmö? Don’t worry! The International Food Festival is travelling Sweden from May until September – maybe your town is on their tour?

Street Food Festivalen will also be coming to Malmö on July 1st-2nd, Stockholm on 26-27th August and Gothenburg on September 1st-4th.

By Lisa Catterall, Kirstie Hall, and Becky Waterton

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