Semlor – Sweden’s Favorite Seasonal Treat

A semla (or semlor in plural) is a traditional Swedish sweet roll consisting of a sugared wheat bun spiced with cardamom and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Traditionally these buns are eaten drenched in hot milk on fettisdagen (“fat Tuesday”, also known as Shrove Tuesday) as a preparation for Lent. Semlor has been eaten in various forms in Sweden since the middle ages, and related sweet rolls can be found in its neighboring countries. Due to its immense popularity it is available in most Swedish bakeries from January until Easter. In 1952 the Swedish authorities did for a short while outlaw the sale of semlor off season and introduced limitation on their retail price, but such attempts to put constrains on the sweet roll in the name of tradition were doom to failure. On fettisdagen the Swedish population of slightly less than 10 million now eats more than 4 million semlor each year, and the total annual consumption is currently close to 50 million despite the relatively short season. The practice of putting the rolls in hot milk has, however, slowly declined.

In addition to the classic sweet roll itself, a number of spin-offs have materialized around the main tradition. Large semlor have been served as cakes for decades and versions filled with chocolate or vanilla can now be found at most bakeries. The successful introduction of a new semla is often treated as a national news event in Sweden. New variations such as the tortilla inspired “semmel-wrap” and the marzipan covered “princess-semla” have taken the country by storm in recent years. Some versions, such as the liquid “semmel-smoothie”, on the other hand, have proven too strange for public approval. Most Swedish newspapers review their local semlor each year to find the best supplier, and a bakery which receives a high ranking in such a test can expect a lot of extra customers.