Classic Scandinavia: Celebrate Fat Tuesday With Swedish Semlor

For coffee lovers, Scandinavia is a bit of a mecca. In the heart of winter, there’s nothing better than stepping into a warm cafe, brimming with people and their stacks of winter layers next to them, the windows steaming up as friends meet over coffee. In fact, in Sweden, coffee is such an important part of local culture, that there’s even a specific word for coffee break: fika. A verb and a noun, it indicates that time of day that you take a break from everything else to enjoy a strong cup of coffee accompanied by a delicious baked good. If there ever was a reason to travel to Sweden, this is it.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes fika in Sweden in the first months of the year it’s semlor. Cafes and bakeries are filled with the classic baked good, a flour bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Historically, the fettisbulle, or semla, was made for fettisdagen, Fat Tuesday, a rich treat before taking on the fasting that comes with Lent. In the modern day world, however, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a semla anytime between the New Year and Easter.

Want to know where the best places in Sweden are to score a semla? Start by consulting semlamannen, a food blogger who eats one semla a day between the first of the year and Fat Tuesday. For those with a Stockholm visit in the near future, score one of the classic pastries at Vetekatten.

If you are up for it, you can also make your own. Here’s my personal recipe, adapted from an old Swedish classic.

Classic Swedish Semlor

  • 100 grams butter (7 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons powdered cardamom (the best is to get whole cardamom and grind it – that way you have small cardamom chunks)


  • 2 cups blanched almonds + ¼ cup sugar blended in food processor
  • Inside of buns
  • ½ – 1 cup milk


  • Whipped cream
  • Powdered sugar


1. Melt butter in a saucepan and add the milk. Heat until the liquid is warm to the touch.

2. In a bowl beat the egg and add in yeast, salt, sugar and milk mixture. Mix until yeast is well dissolved. Combine baking powder, cardamom and flour and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let rise for 30 minutes.

3. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into round balls and place on greased pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise until double the size.

4. Brush the balls with a beaten egg. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 450F. Let the buns cool.

5. Cut off a circular “lid” off of each bun and set aside. Scoop out inside of bun with a spoon or fork. Mix in a bowl with almond paste and add enough milk to make a smooth mixture. Fill buns with mixture and top with whipping cream. Place lid on top of whipping cream and garnish with powdered sugar.

[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]