Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Semla - Because there's more to Sweden than Ikea, blondes and nice cars.

Jag åt kakan!
(subtitle: I ate the cake!)

King Adolf Frederick of Sweden was, according to history, a "bon vivant". He never had much trouble on his mind, liked making little snuff boxes and loved food, so much in fact, that he dropped dead after an hefty meal that was topped with not one, not two, but fourteen cream cakes! 
He became know as the man who ate himself to death and on a more happy note, it made many of us very curious about this Swedish pastry called semla.
Semla is a cardamom scented pastry filled with creamy almond paste and topped with a fabulous amount of freshly whipped cream. 
I don't think I ever ate or prepared any Swedish sweets, so I was feeling a bit unsure about this. The many pictures I googled seemed to indicate this was a simple brioche filled with whipped cream. I was obviously wrong. 
I was specially happy to read it was made with almond paste, which I had plenty of and not much to do with. Perfect.  

I found so many recipes for semla, I ended up creating an hybrid out of several recipes, including  one of mine. The cake itself is indeed similar to a brioche, but more bread like and less eggy... it's like the brioche's big brother, who happens to live in the mountains and chops his own wood. It's earthy.

The addition of cardamon gives the cake a surprising kick. Together with the almond flavor and the whipped cream, you'll be eating this treat with your eyes closed. And so the sake of history, go ahead and get yourself a warm bowl of milk. Fred would have said Ja!  

Semla - Swedish Cream Cakes

Pastry Dough
300 g of flour
12 g of instant yeast
40 g of sugar
4 g of salt
4 g of ground cardamom
 125 ml of milk
1 egg
 60 g of unsalted butter

1 egg white with a bit of milk (egg wash)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, except the butter.
Warm up the milk (lukewarm) whisk in the egg and add this to the flour mix.
Work the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
Add the softened butter and mix until it is well blended into the dough (2 minutes).
Do not be tempted to add more flour at this point.

 The dough should be a bit sticky

Take the dough out, make a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about 40 minutes (in a warm place).

Meanwhile, prepare the Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

We only need a small amount of it, but I believe it's up to you how much you'll want to mix with your almond paste. I like to have a clear feel of the taste of almonds, but adding more pastry cream will soften that flavor and make the cream lighter, though less contrasting against the taste of the cardamom in the bun.

The pastry cream is very easy to make, specially in such a small amount, so don't let this turn you down!

240 ml of milk
1 coffee spoon of vanilla extract
15 g of cornstarch
60 g granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 egg
20 g of butter

Pour the milk in a small pan and start heating slowly.
Meanwhile, beat together the egg, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch and salt in a bowl.
Now, when the milk is nearly boiling, lower the heat, take your bowl and with a whisk ready, pour in the egg mix a tablespoon of hot milk and whisk quickly. Add another tablespoon of hot milk, and a couple more after, always whisking.
Now, add all your egg mixture to the remaining hot milk in the pan, whisk quickly, rise the heat a little bit and keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. It usually takes about 4 to 5 minutes. Mix in the butter.
That's it!
Ps: in the unlikely event that your cream curdles, stay calm. Just give it a good mix with the blender and it will be alright.

By the way, I happened to have made almond paste just some days ago, but you can just as well buy it.

Pastry cream and almond paste

So, take 100 g of almond paste, put it in a bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of pastry cream and whisk until the almond paste is dissolved. Add a couple more tablespoons, keep mixing until you get a texture similar to thick porridge. My almond paste was quite a bit sweet, so I decided not to add more pastry cream and mixed in a tablespoon of milk to soften the cream a little more.

Now is a good time to turn on your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Take you dough, work it a little bit and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a nice tight ball.
Place on a baking sheet, cover lightly and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.

 Last rise

After this time, mix 1 egg white with a little milk. Brush the buns and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let them cool on a rack.

 Right out of the oven

And the fun part! Take each bun and with a small sharp knife, cut out the top of the bun, any shape you like. I went the traditional way and did triangles. Remove the cap (try to keep it intact) and scrap all the bread that's right below the shape you cut out, meaning, don't scrap all the crumb!

 Haven't remove the crumb on this one yet

Take all those crumbs and crumble them with your hands over the bowl with the almond cream. Mix. At this point you will probably need to add a bit of milk if it's too thick. Again, it should be similar to porridge.

 I mixed in the bread crumb and added a little milk to soften

Fill your pastry up to the rim with the cream, making sure it reaches everywhere inside the bun.

Prepare your whipped cream:
250 ml of whipping cream (very cold)
2 tablespoon of vanilla sugar (avoid using liquid vanilla extract)

Whip the cream with the sugar to stiff peaks. Pour it into a pipping bag (or do it by hand, it will be just as good!) and pipe the cream on top of the bun (be generous). Put back the little lid on top of the whipped cream and give your buns a good sprinkling of powdered sugar.

 More whipped cream maybe? Probably. More filling wouldn't hurt either.

Try not to eat more than 2 in a day. Seriously.

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  1. So much cream! Very beautiful.
    Be careful don't die like king Adolf Frederick- 2 in 1 day is a lot! ^0^

  2. that's just... not something you should see before lunch.
    your almond paste looks great by the way.

  3. I found your blog because I needed info on little talked about semla! Boy I hit the jack pot! Thanks GREG

  4. Looks and sounds much nicer than the semla I had here in sweden! I'll have to try this next year :)

    Thank you!

  5. Emybloom: That's a big big compliment! Thank you! :D