Tied to the fasting tradition of Lent, semlor are cardamom-scented-cream-and-almond-paste-filled-buns commonly available from the official end of the Christmas season (tjugondag Knut on January 13th) until Easter.
There are variations of semlor (SEHM-lohr is plural, SEHM-la is singular) throughout Scandinavia and in Sweden they go by several different names; semlor in the north, fastlagsbullar (FAST-lawgs-BOOL-lahr) in the south, and hetvägg (HEHT-vehg) if it’s eaten with warm milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. The most modern name is semlor which likely developed out of the Latin word semilia referring to the finest wheat flour.
Hetvägg holds a notorious role in Swedish history regarding King Adolf Fredrik. On Fat Tuesday in 1771 the king collapsed and died after eating a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring, champagne, and 14 servings of hetvägg, his favorite dessert.
Hettväg buns were available in Swedish bakeries 200 years ago. During the 1800s the name fastlagsbullar developed and the earliest recorded use of almond paste as a filling is from 1833. The cream-filled form became common after WWI supposedly when a baker on the island of Gotland celebrated the end of the war and rationing hardship by lavishly filling semlor with cream. That tradition continues to dominate the world of Swedish semlor.
To find out more about Mardi Gras in Sweden click here.
For a recipe for semlor click here.
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