SEMLA - ONE TUESDAY’S TRADITION
A SWEDISH WORD DERIVED FROM LATIN FOR THE FINEST WHEAT FLOUR (SIMILA).IN SKÅNE HOWEVER IT IS ALSO REFERRED TO AS FASTLAGSBULLE.
It was to be eaten on fettisdagen (fat Tuesday) the day before the beginning of the forty day fast up to Easter. The close link to the fast was dropped in the 16th century when the Lutheran reformation took hold. Even if the Swedes are not very church going folk these days, this tradition to eat marzipan and lick some cream of a wheat bun is still going strong.
Some shops have been hawking the pastry since the New Year and others even earlier calling it the November Semla. This commercial crassness is shunned by the purists (and it appears that most of us are) who hold out till today.
The creation is created out of a wheat flour bun often with a tinge of cardamom in the dough. Carve the top off to create a cavity in the bun. Fill the cavity with marzipan (some mix it with milk to make it just a bit smoother, others mix it with a bit of the carved out bun dough to make it firmer). Sprits whipped cream all over the marzipan and place the bun lid back on. After a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top it is time to indulge.
Not quite some say. In the 18th century the tradition to dunk the whole into a plate of hot milk to soften it up. It gave birth to the “hetvägg” (hot wall) perhaps a lifesaver for a dried out bun.
Two steps off the ground at Konditori and Café Hollandia purveyor of fine baked goods since 1903 it is brisk business on this rainy Tuesday. A man grabs a cue number from the dispenser on the wall and patiently waits for hos time. Behind the counter three move back and forth pulling out pastries and sandwiches for discerning clients. The big seller today is a no-brainer and the man orders a full dozen of the normal size to go. For those lacking that healthy appetite there are a medium and mini as well.
Many of the patrons make it a break; add a cup of coffee and cross the red carpeting to find a table along golden yellow walls. Most conversations are between people at pension age over Villeroy and Boch China. In contrast a trio of grand-child aged girls settles down in the velvet sofa. On the round marble tables coffee (with Oatly), glasses of water and Semlor. When asked why here? “You know that it will be good” is uttered as whipped cream lands on the tip of a nose. Instagram worthy.
Over at Espresso House, Sweden’s largest coffee house chain, a mostly younger crowd has the option of the Semla-latte, a small Semla dunked into a large latte on the menu since 16 February. The modern day hetvägg will be an experience to get through the tiny hole in the lid of a takeout cup.
At the converted warehouse that is Malmö’s Saluhall, a mecca for foodies, a couple of Australian girls have bought four of the 400 hundred sold at St. Jakobs Stenungsbageri. The traditional mix of cardamom flavor, marzipan and partially hand whipped cream is expected to double the numbers by nightfall.
Most of that tradition has gone to the fishes at Söderholms Fisk, where only the bun remains. Marzipan has become mayo laden shrimp salad covered with fresh shrimp taking the place of the whipped cream best eaten with knife and fork. “It is good” the girl at the counter proclaim as she dig deeper.
For the dessert aficionado there is also artisanal three layered Semla glass (gelato) at Favvo Glass. Yummy creative craftsmanship.
Life in the fast lane, no wonder it is called Fat Tuesday.