Julia’s Semla (spiced buns with almond and cream filling) are best eaten the day they come out of the oven! Perfect for Easter! Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Julia says the buns are best served with a strong cup of coffee. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Semla (Semlor for plural) is a delightful Swedish-Finnish almond and cream-filled bun. Whilst often eaten during the Lenten period and especially on Shrove Tuesday, they are lovely anytime during Easter and beyond. For the buns themselves, I use a reliable bun recipe of mine, but perfume it with some ground cardamom. If you can grind it yourself it will be much more fragrant, although the pre-ground spice is fine too. Then, I fill them with an almond paste and finally, a generous piping of whipped cream swirled on top. The lid of the bun is placed on top and then dusted with icing sugar.
Often recipes call for pre-bought marzipan, but I like to make a simple almond and sugar paste that I flavour with vanilla and then slacken with some milk. The bun innards, which have been scooped out, are also added into the paste, so there is no waste and also gives the mixture some structure. If you’re not fond of almonds, a spoonful of raspberry or strawberry jam can be dolloped into the buns instead (it’s just as nice and something my kids usually prefer). These buns are best eaten on the day they’re baked – simply fill them just before serving.
Traditionally, semlor are sometimes eaten in a bowl filled with warm milk, but I love them on their own, simply served with a strong coffee. I like to use plain whipped cream, but feel free to sift a little icing sugar into the cream before whipping if you would like it sweetened. You can buy almonds already blanched, or alternatively blanch natural almonds in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute then slip off the skins.
Semla are traditionally served during the Lenten period – but they’re also best enjoyed all Easter long. Styling – Annie Portelli. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Semla (cream and almond-filled buns)
200 ml full cream milk
50 ml water
500 g tipo 00 or plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100 g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cardamom
1sp fine sea salt
7g dry active yeast
3 eggs (2 for the dough + 1 for egg wash)
100g unsalted butter, softened
150 g blanched almonds
125 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
2-3 tbsp full cream milk, or as needed
600g firm whipped cream, to serve
Pure icing sugar, to dust
Warm the milk and water in a small saucepan (to about 38C on an instant-read thermometer). Place in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, along with the flour, sugar, cardamom, salt, yeast and just two of the eggs. Mix on low speed for about 1 minute to combine.
Increase the speed to medium–low and mix for 13–15 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl every so often, until the dough is elastic and is beginning to come away from the side of the bowl. It should still be quite soft, but not overly sticky now. Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, mixing well between each addition. Mix the dough for a further 4–5 minutes, until it is shiny, elastic and coming away from the side of the bowl.
Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered large bowl and fold the dough in on itself a few times to create a smooth ball, then cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
Line two trays with baking paper. Knock back the dough and turn out onto a work surface. If the dough is a little sticky, use a little flour to help you work with the dough as needed. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, about 90g each. Working with one piece at a time, roll the buns on your work surface with your hand in a circular motion to make a smooth taut ball.
Place on the prepared trays with enough room to allow for spreading. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest for a further 1 hour, until puffy. After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 190C. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the egg wash onto the buns. Transfer to the oven and bake for 10–12 minutes, until golden all over and cooked through.
For the filling, blitz the almonds and sugar in a blender or food processor until it becomes a fairly cohesive, but stiff, paste. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the vanilla and enough milk to make a spoonable soft mixture.
Cut a triangle shape in the top of a bun with a sharp knife and carefully remove. Set aside. Scoop some of the bun innards out and add to the almond filling. Repeat with the remaining buns and mix the almond filling well so the bun filling is well-incorporated. Place a tablespoon of the filling into the cavity of each bun.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with the whipped cream and pipe a generous swirl of the cream onto the bun. Top with the reserved lids, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
What else i’m eating…
Lunch at Tedesca Osteria in Red Hill. One of my very favourite places and always a real treat. On my last visit we ate wood fired peppers with ricotta, blistered padron peppers and chorizo plus garfish, duck and the most incredible tortelloni. If you feel like really pushing the boat out, book a night at one of their accommodation houses onsite. Divine!
What else I’m cooking with…
The weather has really begun to change and I am fully embracing all things autumn. Dark leafy greens like cavolo nero have really been getting a work out in my kitchen this week. I’ve been cooking some in homemade chicken broth, adding in some chickpeas and small pasta like anelli or risoni. Once it’s all cooked I add a pinch of dried chilli flakes, a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Click here to download recipe printout
Click here to download recipe printout!