It’s Semla season and Shrove Sunday is just around the corner. I’ve been enjoying classic shrove buns (or semlor) for two weeks already and wanted to make sure you also have this quality recipe in you sleeve for the weekend. As you might have guessed, the secret behind a soft and fluffy semla or a classic cardamom bun is butter. It’s all in the dough very much so like with croissants. Except buns are so much easier to make! This 1940s recipe is truly vintage: best quality that stands time and I have summerized its secrets below.
No. 1. Whipped Room-temperature Butter
The first secret to quality shrove buns is good butter. Leave your butter rest on kitchen counter overnight and you’re good to bake in the morning. On a spontaneous baking day, let the butter warm up on a plate in the oven where only the light has been switched on. If using shortcuts, do not let the butter go too soft. Room-temperature butter is soft and spreadable but still holds its shape. It is utmost importance to add the whipped butter in the final stage of kneading.
Why use whipped butter and NOT runny heated butter or a substitute? Whipped butter gives the dough best consistency and good elasticity. Semla and other Nordic sweet buns are light, airy and soft. Dense and chewy buns are a different concept.
“Fine Wheat Bread” is the direct translation of the old original recipe. This is because all these pastries – cinnamon rolls, wreaths and cardamom buns – were classified by the use of this type of wheat dough rather than the variations of chosen fillings or the shape of the final pastry. I always use this dough for all of the above as you can see some of the photos here.
My grandmother would have offered you “wheat bread” with coffee while you would have been staring a tasty homemade cinnamon roll on your plate. Generally we Finns categorize these as “pulla” . All in all, thanks to more eggs and butter in this fine recipe, your semla will have a finer consistency in comparison to a normal bun.
No.2. Use All-purpose flour + Cake flour
To bake semla and classic shrove buns, you need to re-check your pantry shelves for two kinds of flour. You need 250g all-purpose flour and 250g cake flour. High protein and low protein – what’s the logic? I think that glutein of the all-purpose flour works on the nice viscosity of the dough whereas the more coarse cake flour builds the buns light and tender with butter. If you don’t have cake flour, try mixing all-purpose flour with cornstarch.
Classic Shrove Buns | Recipe
The following recipe makes 1 kilogram of final dough which yields 10-18 shrove buns depending on how big or small you want them. The recipe is not cardamom heavy so if you enjoy a stronger punch, use one teaspoon instead of half of a teaspoon of cardamom.
- 1 medium egg + 1 egg yolk (room temperature, plus extra egg for glazing)
- 100g granulated sugar
- 2,5 dl lukewarm milk
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom
- 20g commercial yeast
- 0,5 tsp. salt
- 250g all-purpose flour
- 250g cake flour
- 100g butter (room temperature whipped)
- almond flakes or pearl sugar for toppings
- whipped cream and almond paste or jam for fillings
- Mix fresh yeast with lukewarm milk and 2 tablespoons of flour, then set aside. In a small or medium bowl, whip butter until fluffy and pale yellow. Set aside.
- In a large bowl with a stand mixer, whip egg, egg yolk and sugar until pale yellow. Add yeast mix into the bowl as well as cardamom.
- Replace wire whip with a dough hook. Start adding flour while mixing on a low speed. Do not add all the flour at once. Mix salt with the last batch of flour.
- Once the dough is consistent, add whipped butter into the dough and keep kneading on a low speed. At this stage you may need to assist your mixer couple of times: stop the machine and scrape butter from the sides into the dough. Keep on kneading on a low speed for 20-30 minutes until the dough ball is firm and shiny. Test the viscosity – if the dough tears up when pulling, continue kneading.
- Let the dough rest in a warm spot covered with a tea towel until it doubles in size (e.g. cold oven with only the light on 1-2 hours).
- Knock the dough over to your working surface (no flour). Knead the dough ball with your hands to press and stretch the air out of the dough. For semla buns, divide the dough into balls of equal weight (small 55g, medium 70g, 85 large). Roll each ball at a time with your hands until smooth on surface. Place the balls on a baking tray with a parchment paper. When the trays are full, pre-heat oven 220C and cover buns with a tea towel. Let the buns double in size until puffy.
- Give the buns an egg wash before transfering the tray in to the oven. Top the buns with pearl sugar or almond flakes, you can also leave the tops naked.
- Bake cardamom buns in 220C for 8-10 minutes (without a fan) until cognac brown.
- Cover the hot buns with a tea towel when on a wire cooling rack. Once the shrove buns are cooled, store them in an air-tight container or a plastic bag for couple of day or freeze the buns.
The ultimate question – almond paste or jam? As a child I used to enjoy shrove buns with jam and whipped cream. Now I’ve been Team Almond Paste for over a decade but I still sometimes swing back on the thick sweetness of rasberry jam. Nostalgia, it’s allowed! By the way, these classic Shrove buns are not over-the-top sweet so you can sweeten the whipped cream normally and add vanilla flavor, too. Classic shrove buns are flavorful and they work as a canvas for the fillings. If you really want to be fancy, serve semla buns in a bowl of hot milk. Yum!
If you’re finding yourself thinking about an easy semla fix, here’s a question for you. Why not bake the best buns possible once a year? Serve them to family, friends and colleagues. You can freeze them. Why munch on semi-satisfying bites of almost kinda something that ultimately taste like nothing? If you can levitate towards a guilt-free croissant, you definitely must try a classic shrove bun at least once. Shrove Tuesday, FAT TUESDAY and Mardi Gras – you’re allowed to use all you eggs, butter and milk before the Lent.
And oh! This recipe is scaled down by half from the original but actually I’ve kneaded the original two kilo dough by hand twice. The only reason behind the physical and sometimes inconvenient ways of baking is finding connection with my grandmothers and past generations. I love slow baking and slow cooking – waiting is not an issue because to me waiting means flavor and texture. But more often than not I do let my stand mixer do all the muscle work.
The cookbook: *Oksanen Aili, Harmio Liisi (2004) Maija keittää. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. 18. Edition.