Semlor – Lent buns

While Britain gets celebrates Shrove Tuesday with pancakes, Swedes turn to cardamom scented buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Originally they were only eaten on Shrove Tuesday, but they now tend to be sold in bakeries from just after Christmas until the beginning of Lent.

Semlor - Lent buns

With part of the family away for Shrove Tuesday this year we waited until the weekend to have our Semlor, as they are called in Swedish. The buns should be light and fluffy, and there is some baking powder included in this dough to help it rise, but I still struggle to get them as light and fluffy as the ones you can buy in bakeries. I blame the cardamon in this case – I’ve never been able to find ready ground cardamon in the supermarkets in the UK, but instead go for cardamon pods and crush the seeds with a pestle and mortar. Unfortunately the freshness of the cardamon seems to have a negative effect on the doughs ability to rise and the buns end up a bit denser than I would like. The overall result is still delicious though!

Selma cut on half

75 g butter
300 ml milk
0.5 tbsp cardamon pods – seeds finely crushed, or 1 tsp ground cardamon
75 ml sugar
a pinch of salt
7 g fast action yeast (1 sachet)
1 egg (for the dough)
900 ml flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 egg to glaze the buns with

Filling for about 10 buns
150 g almonds, whole blanched
150 g sugar
2-3 tbsp water
2-3 tbsp milk
300 ml whipping or double cream
icing/powdered sugar for dusting


  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the crushed/ground cardamon, sugar, salt and milk, and heat until lukewarm.
  2. Combine most of the flour, yeast and baking powder in a large bowl, then pour in the milk mixture and the egg and work into a smooth dough, adding the remaining flour as needed. Leave to rise, covered, for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size .
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, divide into smaller pieces and shape into round buns. I made mine quite small, about 50g each which gave me about 20 buns.
  4. Place the buns on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave to rise, covered, for about 30 minutes.
  5. Brush the buns with the remaining, lightly whisked, egg, this is optional though – I forgot to this time, then bake in a preheated oven for 225°C for about 8 minutes – or longer if making larger buns, until golden brown. Leave to cool on a rack.
  6. To make the filling, grind the blanched almonds in a food processor, mix in the sugar and add the water a little at the time until the paste is firm and smooth.
  7. Whip the cream.
  8. Cut a lid of the buns, scoop out some of the inside to make a hole inside the bun and mix with almond paste and a little milk until the paste is loose.
    Fill the buns with the almond/bun paste, top with whipped cream, put the lid back on top and dust with icing/powdered sugar.
  9. The buns freeze well if not using all at once.

Empty plate


Saffron buns

Yesterday was Saint Lucia’s Day, a day that although it’s not a public holiday, is widely celebrated in Sweden as if it is. I did try to pen a description of what Lucia is {apart from a Sicilian saint}, but very quickly started stumbling as a lot of what I take for granted when it comes to this very traditional celebration, sounded somewhat ridiculous when writing it down. I will suffice to mention a few key points: white gowns, bearers of light, singing, saffron buns, star boys {see, this is where it starts sounding odd!!}

Instead, I leave you with this little tongue in cheek film which, although still making it sound somewhat ridiculous, makes a better attempt of describing how it’s celebrated in Sweden than my feeble endeavor – Lucia for Dummies

Swiftly moving on to my main reason for this post – Lussekatter, or saffron buns. The literal translation of the word is actually Lucia’s cats {hence my ramblings above}. I’m not entirely sure why they are called that, some sources seem to suggest it’s because the buns are shaped like cats, but to me the most traditional shape of the bun is more like an S than a cat. Either way, they are usually eaten around Christmas, and particularly Saint Lucia’s Day.

Baking saffron buns

I use quark in mine, which is supposed to keep them fresher and more succulent. Quark is a type of cheese, similar to cottage cheese, but comes ‘solid’ in a tub, unlike cottage cheese which has a broken up texture. It is usually found in the cheese isle in the supermarket. I’m not sure if it actually helps keeping them more succulent as I always put any that don’t get eaten straight away into the freezer once they have cooled, as I find that the best way of keeping them fresh. And they taste freshly baked if reheating them a little when taking them out of the freezer, which makes them all the more lovely! Shaping saffron buns

The most traditional shape of the buns is, as mentioned earlier, the S shape, decorated with raisins in the bend of each S. There are however a number of different other shapes, {of varying difficulty} that are common as well. I found a beautiful hand-drawn picture of some of them on this lovely blog – Receptfavoriter.

I have also been known to just roll the dough out and cutting different shapes out of it with a large cookie cutter, stars or hearts for example. Just mind the cooking time if you do, as the flatter dough tend to bake faster.Saffron buns proving

Lussekatter / Saffron buns

500 ml milk
1 g saffron
100 g butter
2 sachets of fast action dried yeast
250 g quark
150 ml sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1.5 liter flour

1 egg

1) Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the saffron strands. Warm until lukewarm
2) Melt the butter
3) Add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt to a mixing bowl, pour in the milk, butter and quark and knead the dough until smooth.
4) Cover the mixing bowl with a clean a tea towel and leave to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size. .
5) Preheat the oven to 225 °.
6) Put the dough onto a floured work surface and divide it into small pieces, shaping them into S shapes.
7) Place on baking trays, decorate with raisins and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
8) Brush with beaten egg then bake in middle of oven 5-8 minutes.
9) Let cool on a rack.

Saffron buns

Cinnamon buns

The 4th October is National Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden, which is obviously cause for celebration! I hadn’t planned on baking any today as I thought we had a big bag from when I last made them in the freezer, however when I checked this morning it turned out there were only two left!! And when hubby then found out what day it was he demanded requested I’d bake more, so I did.Freshly made cinnamon buns

I saw somewhere that these types of buns seem to be served for breakfast in the US. I’m not sure if that’s actually true or if they are maybe just had by busy people who pop in to a coffee shop for some sustenance on their way to work. In Sweden they definitely belong at ‘fika’, be it in the (late) morning or afternoon, but not for breakfast. I would love to hear from any Americans readers what their thoughts are! And other nationalities – when do you enjoy them? Do you enjoy them?!

Cinnamon bun dough proving

I quite like adding a few additional flavours to the buns, particularly cardamom. It’s usually added to the dough, but I tend to forget to add it when making the dough, in which case I add it to the filling instead. Either way is delicious!Cinnamon buns with filling

Another flavour I frequently add is a bit of grated marzipan, just grate it on top of the other filling before rolling or folding the dough. Just don’t add to much as it will end up melting and make the buns all sticky. Lovely as that may sound, less is definitely more here! Cinnamon buns in progress

It’s traditional to decorate the buns with ‘nib’ or ‘pearl’ sugar, which seems to be typically Scandinavian. I’ve never seen any in a shop here in the UK, but I did notice Sarah-Jane using it on her buns last week in the Great British Bake-Off’s ‘Sweet Dough’ episode. Cinnamon buns proving

Thanks to the mighty interweb I discovered it’s still easy to get hold of, particularly from Swedish or Scandinavian online food shops, but also from Amazon. (Is there anything they don’t sell?)  
If you don’t have any at hand, or just want something different, sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts work just as well, and gives the buns a slightly healthier feel. (Or is that just me?!)

Cinnamon buns fresh out the oven

Cinnamon buns

1 tbsp cardamom pods
300 ml milk
50 g fresh yeast or 14g (2 sachets) fast action dried yeast
150 ml sugar
0.5 tsp salt
150 g soft butter
1 egg
1.2 liter strong flour

100 g soft butter
100 ml sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon

1 beaten egg
Sugar / Flaked Almonds / Chopped hazelnuts

1. Remove the seeds from the pods and grind the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar
2. Add the cardamom and milk to a pan and heat until tepid
3. Crumble the yeast into a bowl and dissolve it with the milk, sugar, salt, diced butter and eggs. (If using dried yeast, mix the yeast with the flour and add to the other ingredients in next step)
4. Add a little flour at a time until you have a smooth dough, kneading for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable
5. Leave the dough to prove in a warm place, covered with a clean tea towel, until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes
6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
7. Mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the filling.
8. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, roll out into a large thin rectangle, about 5mm. Spread the filling all over the dough
9. Roll it up into a tight roll and slice it into 3 cm thick slices or fold the dough in half lengthways and slice into 2 cm ribbons. Twist the ribbons into a bun
10. Place the slices/buns on a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size, about 30-60 mins.
11. Brush the buns with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar / flaked almonds / chopped hazelnuts.
12. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then enjoy with a glass of milk.

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The buns are nicest freshly baked, so freeze any that don’t get eaten right away and you will have fresh buns whenever you fancy one! (Unless you also have a little, or rather big, mouse who raids your freezer!!)