Travel writer and photographer, Lola Akinmade introduces IT readers to one of Sweden’s most decadent seasonal pastries.
From January through March, during the dark dreary months of winter, they line bakery shelves all around Stockholm like glowing bulbous orbs, oozing with sinfully decadent almond paste fillings, luring window shoppers in with sweet wafting smells of cardamom to come take a tempting bite…right in time for the Christian holy observance of Lent.
Designed to literally fatten you up in preparation for 40 long days and nights of fasting, semla (plural – semlor) are oval shaped wheat buns filled to overflowing with almond paste and fully whipped cream.
Widely consumed all across Scandinavia and in the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, semla became popular in Sweden as early as 1541 and its name is derived from the Latin word semilia which refers to semolina or fine wheat flour used to make the dessert.
It was originally eaten only on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, but nowadays as fewer Swedes observe the religious season of fasting and prayer, locals start downing semlors pretty much right after New Year’s up until Easter with each person consuming an average of five semlor per year.
The semla’s peculiar look comes from the fact that its top is sliced off and its innards are scooped out to stuff in gooey almond paste and whipped cream. The sliced-off top is then replaced as a lid and finished off with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
In 1771, King Adolf Frederick of Sweden was reported to have died after following a hefty dinner with 14 servings of semla, his favorite dessert, so this pastry’s alluring effect should be taken seriously.
While dozens of cafes and konditoris peppering the city carry their own variation of semlor, be sure to stop by legendary Vete-Katten located on Kungsgatan in Stockholm for their award-winning semlor, also available in gluten-free and lactose-free versions.