Semla Cake (Swedish Almond Cardamom Cake)
Kitra: As a cardamom-lover and extremely pale person, I have developed a deep affinity for Scandinavian baked goods. I’ve fallen hard for Korvapuusti, the Finnish cinnamon bun variation, but nothing tops my affinity for Semla. I saw a picture about 7 years ago and set myself on a mission to make them. Cardamom bun? Almond paste? Whipped cream?? Yes please. I’ve only made them a few times, but wow are they delightful.
Jordan: They’re a traditional Swedish pre-Lent treat that somehow morphed into a during-Lent treat as well. This does not track with my understanding of Lent as a time of abstention, but I suppose when you live in the frigid darkness you need something to get you through.
There’s something about the idea of scooping out the innards of a food, reusing them, and then scooping them back out with a hat made of the food that is incredible to me and I cannot get over.
And if anyone is confused and/or horrified by what Kitra just said, here’s the summary: Semlor—the plural of semla—are lightly sweetened cardamom buns. You slice off the top (the “hat,” as we call it), scoop out the middle like a tiny bread bowl, mix the crumbs with almond paste, refill the bun with this mixture, add a generous amount of whipped cream, and put the hat back on at the end. A common way to eat them is to use the hat like a spoon to eat what you can, then eat the rest of the bun as-is.
And if that doesn’t sound like the most incredible idea, I don’t think we can be friends.
(Fun unrelated fact: Kit Kats are also made of themselves.)
BUT. It’s also kind of a lot of work. Which is fine, because they are great and you only have a narrow amount of time where they’re supposed to be eaten (not that I’ve observed that restriction…) but it also means I’ve been dreaming of a way to get that experience without so much finessing.
Kitra sent me a very excited message when Erin McDowell (our beloved Pie Queen) posted a beautiful semla cake, so we set our sights on that. It… did not go well.
Maybe it was cold (it was), maybe we were impatient (we were), but it just did not do what we wanted.
The cake—really a bread baked in a bundt pan—did not rise. At all. It was one of the saddest cakes we have ever made. I think Kitra laughed until she cried when we turned it out and saw the final product.
So we took the first failed batch of dough, turned it into the aforementioned Korvapuusti, ate the baked loaf with butter for breakfast, and went back to the drawing table. It needed to be yeasty and bundt-shaped, but not actually require rising because we planned to make this cake in the winter and yeast does not like my house in the winter.
We found our solution in an old Smitten Kitchen post, a pound cake based on a James Beard recipe. We added cardamom and some yeast for flavor, and we had our base.
It’s just not semla if it isn’t yeasty. And semlor shouldn’t be *too* sweet, since you fill them with something that is incredibly sweet. This one turned out pretty much exactly like we hoped.
From there, it was just a matter of scooping, mixing, and reassembling.
And if I may say so, this cake was made for scooping.
The cake itself is sweet but not too sweet, moist but not squishy, and equally perfect for breakfast, dessert, or fika. Lightly sweetened whipped cream is optional but very strongly encouraged.
It really helps cut the sweetness, and is in my mind an essential component. We decided not to fill the cake with it, though, to help with storing and serving.
We ended up with a beautiful bundt cake with a wonderful surprise inside, and possibly the easiest way to both make and eat semlor.Read More