Swedish winters are known for being incredibly dark and cold (unless the sky is lit up by the northern lights). Except for night owls, when dark hours outweigh daylight hours it is easy for most of us to cross such a destination off our travel lists. On the other hand, January is the start of a much awaited for culinary event, one that is worth a visit even in the lack of daylight: the arrival of the semla.
A semla, or fettisbulle (a “fatty” bun) as they are commonly known, is a wheat-flour bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar. Historically the pastry was meant to be eaten on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the last Tuesday before Lent. Being the last day to fulfill your epicurean desires, it is in fact the last moment to stuff yourself, making a pastry topped off with whipped cream ideal. In modern day Sweden however, the semla has gone commercial, and bakeries begin to fill their display windows with them at the beginning of January. They don’t leave until sometime in March, leading to a national, three month frenzy for the much loved baked good.
The semla is more than a mere culinary indulgence for a Swedish sweet tooth; it is tradition. Swedish newspapers fill with articles on which bakery sells the best ones, including reader taste tests, and recipes on how to make them on your own run abound. Even commercial supermarkets stock up on the much awaited treat. Despite the commercialization and extension of the event (you really are only supposed to eat them on Fat Tuesday), some Swedes still stick to tradition and eat the semla just as it should be consumed; in a bowl of warm milk, which soaks into the sweet bread.
Makes me want to take advantage of those Scandinavian Airlines winter fares to Stockholm right now, but since funds are running low, pulling out the recipe and making them myself is going to have to suffice.