Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | All Access E-Edition | Home RSS

Semlor are Swedish treat for Lent

Some traditions date back to Viking times

February 27, 2008
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer
You never know what you’ll find in an e-mail from readers.

‘‘Hej san!’’ — ‘‘Hello to you all’’ — wrote Ruby Erickson-Hendrickson, a member of the Swedish Foundation of Iowa’s Swede Bend settlement and the Swedish Immigrant Museum in Stratford.

She sent along information about Lenten customs in Sweden, written by Eivor Nilsson Pfannkuch, of Yuba City, Calif., also a Swedish Foundation director and cultural advisor for the museum.

Pfannkuch grew up in Sweden and moved to the United States when she was 19. Her great uncles — Erick Erickson, Olof Erickson and John Erickson — emigrated from Sweden and settled in the North Central Iowa Swedish settlement area — Stratford. Their children were Myrna Erickson-Harrison and Darlene Erickson-Hall, of Stratford; Lois Erickson-Maupin, Betty Erickson-Bergman and Paul Erickson, now of Des Moines.

Because several people who got Hendrickson’s e-mail wanted the recipe for Lenten Buns — Semlor (singular, it’s Semla) — she contacted Pfannkuch, who sent along the recipe. She also gave a brief history lesson with the recipe.

She wrote:

‘‘Converting the Nordic people to Christianity was not an easy task for the French monks and English missionaries sent to Scandinavia around the year 1000. For one thing, people could not understand the necessity of fasting during Lent, the 40-day period of quiet and abstinence decreed by the Catholic Church. Legend has it that the Vikings grumbled, clanked their swords and behaved on the whole in such a threatening manner that the authorities found it best to ease the regulations and allow the people a hearty meal of salt pork every Tuesday.

‘‘It is not more than 400 years since Sweden converted to the Protestant church, but the tradition of having a heavy meal on Tuesdays during Lent is still observed. Fried salt pork with brown beans is the customary fare, followed by a sturdy dessert called Fat Tuesday Buns. They are wheat-flour buns filled with almond paste, topped with whipped cream and served floating in a bowl of milk.

‘‘The Fat Tuesday Bun — fettisdagsbulle — is also called Semla. That word comes from the Latin simila, which means wheat meal. Another word for this Swedish delicacy is hetvagg, from the German ‘‘heisse wecken,’’ which means hot, wedge-shaped wheat rolls. The semla has changed in appearance and contents during the years. Almonds came to Sweden around 1700 and that is when the almond paste was added.

‘‘The cookbook author, Hagdahl’s, recipe from the 1800s had a filling of cream, butter, egg yolks, almond paste, sugar and candied lemon peel. The whipped cream under the cap of the bun seems to have been introduced by the father of the Swedish actress Hjordis Pettersson. He was a baker, and it is said that he celebrated the end of rationing after the war with an abundance of whipped cream in the semla, and that is how the cream semla was created and stayed.

‘‘As a side story about semla, there was a Swedish king by the name of Adolf Frederick, who reigned from 1751 until 1771. He is remembered by Swedish school children as the king who ate himself to death. He died on Feb. 12, 1771, after having consumed a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favorite dessert, semla, served in a bowl of hot milk.’’

Pfannkuch said she doesn’t advocate eating 14 Semlor, but said they are good enough to want a second helping.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or

Fact Box

Lenten Buns or Semlor
Eivor Nilsson Pfannkuch

2 cups of milk
3 packages of dried yeast
11 tablespoons of butter or margarine at room temperature
1 egg
2/3 cup of white syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Filling for Buns:
4 ounces almonds
1/3 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons of water
1/2 cup of cream or milk

1 1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar

Warm the milk to body temperature (98 degrees). Pour it over the yeast in a bowl. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add 1/3 cup of the white syrup and a little less than 4 cups of the flour. Beat it in a mixer until it is smooth and a rather loose dough. Cover it with a towel and let it rise for at least 30 minutes. It will double in size.
Dot the butter into the batter and mix it. Beat the egg and add the rest of the syrup, the egg, salt and cardamom. Finally, add the rest of the flour. Beat it all together into a smooth dough.
Turn dough onto floured board. Divide dough into 30 pieces and roll each into a ball.
Cover two cookie sheets with baking paper and put the balls on the sheets, 15 on each. Let them rise for 45 to 60 minutes.
Turn on the oven to 425 degrees F. When the buns have risen, brush them with an egg that has been beaten and bake for 7 to 10 minutes until golden on top. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
Grind almonds (with or without skin). Add powdered sugar and water and make into a smooth paste. Cut top off each roll. Remove most of center, but do not go through crust. Combine center crumbs with almond paste and some milk or cream. Filling should be quite loose. Divide filling among rolls.
Whip cream and divide among rolls. Return tops and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Filled buns should be eaten the day they are made. Plain buns can be frozen three to six months. Makes about 30 buns.
NOTE: It is possible to use purchased almond paste in the filling. Figure on 15 ounces for 30 buns. Grate almond paste and combine with crumbs and milk or cream and fill the buns.



I am looking for: