On Shrove Tuesday and throughout the Lenten season in the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, people indulge in semlor, buttery cardamom buns filled with a rich almond filling and topped with a flourish of whipped cream.
You are going to LOVE these buttery, almond-filled semlor! They are as delicious as they are beautiful and are surprisingly easy to make. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions for making your own gorgeous semlor at home!
Why This Recipe Works
These are the very best semlor out there for a few reasons:
- The dough recipe uses a very simple technique called tangzhong that is used in making Japanese milk bread. It only takes about 5 extra minutes but it yields billowy, super soft buns that STAY soft for a longer period of time.
- They are perfectly buttery and sweet, and the dough is a DREAM to work with.
- The creamy almond filling is a simple combination of ground almonds, sugar and almond extract and NO PREPARED ALMOND PASTE. This ensures great natural flavor and no overly sweet, off flavors.
One important note about the ingredient list for these Semlor Buns is that the recipe calls for instant yeast, which is NOT the same thing as active dry yeast. The essential difference between the two is that instant yeast can be mixed right in with the dry ingredients whereas active dry yeast needs to be proofed in warm liquid prior to adding it to the recipe. Instant yeast is also more reliable, effective and fast-acting. While this recipe calls for instant yeast, you can certainly substitute active dry yeast for the instant yeast by proofing it in the warm milk prior to adding it to the dough. See the FAQs below for more details.
How to Make this Recipe
Although they look impressive, semlor are surprisingly simple to make. They are essentially just a simple yeasted cardamom bun that is hollowed out in the center to make room for an easy ground almond and sugar filling. Top it with a little whipped cream and you are good to go. Here is the step-by-step process:
- First, make the tangzhong. I know "tangzhong" sounds exotic and intimidating but it really couldn't be any easier. Wondering about what the tangzhong method is and how it works, see the FAQs below. Begin by adding the water, milk and flour to a saucepan and whisking until no lumps remain. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. Within a couple of minutes the mixture will become thick and paste-like in texture. Remove the tangzhong for the heat and let it cool. See how easy that was!?
- Next, whisk the dry ingredients by hand in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the warm milk, cooled melted butter, cooled tangzhong and the egg. Mix with the dough hook on medium low until everything comes together. Increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough is soft and satiny and clears the sides and bottom of the bowl. This should take about 3-4 minutes.
- Let the dough rise until 1 ½ to 2 times its size, about 1 to 2 hours. The time this takes will largely depend on the temperature of your kitchen. Dough takes longer to rise in cooler temperatures.
- Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces and cover with plastic wrap while you shape them into rolls. To form each roll, take a piece of dough and form it into a rough ball, pinching the dough where it come together to create a “bellybutton”. Place the ball, bellybutton side down, on a clean kitchen counter. Cupping the ball with your hand so that your palm is lightly resting on the dough and your fingertips are resting on the counter, make small circles with the dough until a tight ball is formed. Place the dough ball on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
- Cover the buns lightly with plastic wrap and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Let the buns rise for 45 minutes at room temperature. Brush with egg wash and bake for 12-16 minutes or until golden brown. Cover the buns with a clean kitchen towel (this helps keep them soft) and set aside to cool.
- While the buns cool, make the filling and whipped cream. Combine the almonds, sugar, salt and almond extract in a the work bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground. Add ½ cup of milk and stir until the mixture is delightfully creamy, adding additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Whip the cream and sugar together in a stand mixer until medium to stiff peaks form.
- Once the buns are completely cool, use a small, sharp knife to cut a triangular “hat” out of the top of the bun and set it aside to use later. Remove some of the inside of the bun using the knife and your fingers creating a nice cavity for the almond filling. Slice off the bottom of the hat so that it is only ¼-½ an inch or so thick.
- Fill each bun with a spoonful or two of the almond filling and top with a flourish of whipped cream. You can use a piping bag and tip if you want more precision, or just dollop the whipped cream on top with a spoon. Artfully arrange the hat on top of the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve!
These semlor are really a very simple and straightforward baking project, but I do have a few expert tips and tricks for making them the very best they can be:
- Use the tangzhong method. As I mentioned above, the simple process of creating a roux with water, milk and flour and adding it to the dough makes a HUGE difference in the final product. The dough itself is silky and smooth, and the buns emerge from the oven soft and tender with a golden brown crust. It's 5 minutes well spent.
- Make sure that you are using instant yeast instead of active dry yeast. As I mentioned above, they are two different products and they work differently in a recipe. Want to substitute active dry yeast for the instant? Read the FAQs below for instruction on how to do so.
- Cover the rolls with a clean kitchen towel after they come out of the oven, and keep them covered as they cool. This helps to keep the texture pleasantly soft.
Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday) is celebrated the day before Lent begins, that six week period prior to Easter during which some Christians choose to fast or give up certain luxuries. The idea behind Shrove Tuesday is to indulge in something rich and delicious before the sacrifices of Lent begin the next day.
It's all about that final indulgence before the austerity of the Lenten season. For some, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated with pancakes for dinner. For others, it's a full-on party with cocktails and King Cake (hello, Mardi Gras!). In the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, people indulge in semlor.
While semlor are traditionally enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday, you will find them in bakeries throughout the Nordic region starting just after the new year and continuing through Easter.
The almond filling is very traditional, but really the options are endless! Two of my non-traditional favorites are a simple vanilla pastry cream or lemon curd.
You simply need to activate it before adding it to the dough: After you warm the milk, sprinkle two teaspoons of active dry yeast on top. Make sure the milk isn't too hot! High temperatures will kill the yeast and your dough won't rise. The milk should just be warm to the touch. Let it sit for 10 minutes or until it begins to get a little frothy/ bubbly.
Basically, a small amount of the flour and liquid (water, milk or a combination of the two) is cooked on the stove for a very short period of time creating a roux-like mixture. This process gelatinizes the starches in the flour allowing them to absorb more liquid and results in a higher rise (hello billowy buns!) and a more tender, moist bun that stays that way for a longer period of time.
Once they are filled, they are best eaten right away. For instructions on how to store them prior to filling, read the FAQs below.
Yes, the buns keep well at room temperature for about a day (tightly covered once they are completely cool), and the filling can be kept, tightly covered and refrigerated, for 24 hours. Add a little more milk to the filling if necessary to loosen it and bring it back to a creamy consistency.
Unfilled buns freeze well tightly sealed in a freezer bag. Simply take them out and defrost at room temperature as needed. You can freeze the filling (before adding the milk) as well. Again, it should be tightly sealed in a freezer bag. Simply take out as much of the ground almond mixture as you need and let it come to room temperature. Add just enough milk to create a delightfully creamy consistency.
I like serving my semlor for a fika treat with late morning or afternoon coffee, but you could certainly get away with serving these for an unconventional breakfast or even for dessert following a light meal.
I hope you will give these deliciously decadent semlor a try! They are a fun baking project for a late winter/early spring day. Looking for more Scandinavian bun recipes? I've got several here on the blog:
Swedish Semlor (Shrove Tuesday Buns)
- For the Tangzhong:
- 5 tablespoons water
- 5 tablespoons whole milk
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- For the Dough:
- 5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter cooled
- ½ cup whole milk slightly warm
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- All of the tangzhong cooled
- For the Almond Filling:
- 2 cups blanched almonds
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Pinch of fine salt
- ½-¾ cup whole milk
- For the Egg Wash:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- For the Sweetened Whipped Cream:
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar for dusting optional
- Make the tangzhong: Combine water, milk and flour in a medium saucepan. Whisk until combined and no lumps remain. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Make the dough: While the tangzhong is cooling, begin preparing the rest of the ingredients for the dough. Combine yeast, cardamom, salt, sugar and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk briefly by hand to combine.
- Attach the dough hook to the mixer. Add melted and cooled butter, slightly warm milk, egg and the cooled tangzhong (it can be slightly warm to the touch) to the dry ingredients. Mix on medium low until fully combined.
- Increase mixer speed to medium and knead mixture for 3-4 minutes or until dough is slightly tacky but not sticky and clears the side of the bowl. It’s okay if it’s sticking to the bottom of the bowl slightly. You can also mix and knead the dough by hand but it will take longer, more like 8-10 minutes.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for an hour or until 1 ½ or 2 times its original size. The time will largely depend on the temperature of your kitchen.
- Once dough has risen, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, gather up the edges of the dough into a rough ball shape, pinching the dough where the edges come together to create a “bellybutton”. Place the ball, bellybutton side down, on a clean kitchen counter. Cupping the ball with your hand so that your palm is lightly resting on the dough and your fingertips are resting on the counter, make small circles with the dough until a tight ball is formed. Place the ball on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
- Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine egg and 1 tablespoon water to create an egg wash. Uncover the buns and brush each bun with the egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-16 minutes or until buns are golden brown. Cover the buns with a clean dish towel and let cool to room temperature (this will keep the buns from forming a hard crust).
- When you are ready to serve, make the filling. Combine almonds, sugar, salt and almond extract in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until almonds are finely ground. Remove the almond mixture from the work bowl and transfer to a medium bowl. Start by mixing ½ cup of milk into the ground almond mixture. Continue adding milk if necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, until your filling has a creamy consistency.
- Prepare the whipped cream. Place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk the cream on medium-high speed until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and continue whisking until the whipped cream is fluffy and and can hold medium to stiff peaks.
- Use a small, sharp knife to cut a triangular “hat” out of the top of the bun and set it aside to use later. Remove some of the inside of the bun using the knife and your fingers creating a nice cavity for the almond filling. Slice off the bottom of the hat so that it is only ¼-½ an inch thick.
- Fill the bun with a spoonful or two of the almond filling. Dollop or pipe whipped cream on top. Artfully arrange the hat on top of the cream. Repeat with remaining buns. Dust tops with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.
If you loved this recipe, give it a star review! Also, snap a picture of your Semlor and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #truenorthkitchen and tagging me @true_north_kitchen.