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Historical recipe: Semla buns

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, we recreate Semla buns, an indulgent treat cooked up in Scandinavia as a last hurrah before the start of Lent and eaten on Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day)

Not doughnuts, not profiteroles but semlor - creamy treats to beat pancakes. (Credit: Sam Nott)
Published: March 4, 2019 at 2:24 pm
  • Preparation and cooking time
    • Total time
  • Difficulty 4/10
  • Makes 15-20

In Sweden, a semla is a cardamom-spiced sweet bread roll filled with almond paste and cream. Semlor have been eaten since the 18th century, and enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday. Swedish king Aldolph Frederick died in 1771 apparently after eating 14 semlor (he had just eaten a huge dinner so maybe we can’t blame it all on the buns).


For the buns

  • 75g Butter
  • 300ml Milk
  • 10g Yeast
  • 1tsp Crushed cardamom
  • ½tsp Salt
  • 55g Sugar
  • 500g Plain white flour
  • 1 Egg

For the filling

  • 200g Almond paste 
  • 120ml Milk
  • 240ml Whipping cream
  • Icing sugar, for dusting


  • STEP 1

    Melt butter in a pan, add milk and heat until lukewarm. Mix cardamom, sugar, salt, yeast and most of flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the milk mixture and egg. Knead dough for five minutes till sticky. Cover and leave to rise for 30–40 minutes.

  • STEP 2

    Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Make into balls. Place on two trays lined with baking paper; leave to rise for 30–40 minutes.

  • STEP 3

    Preheat oven to 200–225°C/gas mark 5–7. Bake buns in lower part of the oven for 20–25 minutes till browned.

  • STEP 4

    Once cool, slice off the top of each bun and set aside. Using a fork, tease out a layer of crumbs and reserve them in a bowl. Grate the almond paste and combine with the crumbs and milk. Blend into a thick paste and fill each bun. Whip cream till stiff and place onto the almond paste. Replace bun tops and dust with icing sugar. Eat within a couple of hours.


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