Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday is a day in February known in Sweden as “Semmeldagen” (the day of the Semla). This is the national day of Sweden’s most beloved pastry, the semla. The semla (semlor, plural) is a small, wheat flour bun, flavored with cardamom and filled with almond paste and whipped cream.
The holiday and the bun come in many different names, even within Sweden. Semlor are also called: Fettisdagsbulle or fastlagsbulle. In Finland, they are called laskiaispulla and in Norway and Denmark they celebrate this time of year with a party called Fastelavn during which traditional fastelavnsboller are served. The word semla is derived from German and harks back to the pure semolina flour used to make the buns.
Back in the 14th century Lent, a 40-day fast, was an important practice to the Swedes and occurred right before Easter.
“In order to survive without eating properly for a long period of time, a new law was instituted stating that an obligatory feast, where one could eat as much food as they could possibly handle, would have to take place three days prior to the Lent. The Swedish Church, who at that time had the power to impose laws, named aptly named the law ‘The law of the fast.’”
The three days were Pork Sunday, Bun Monday, and Pancake Tuesday or Stone Cake day, which would later evolve into Semmeldagen. The semlor started out as simply a bun, soaked in hot milk (known as hetvägg or “hot wall”).
Eventually Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.
In the 16th century King Gustav Vasa had a hand in the laws surrounding the semla.
“Before Vasa became king, Sweden was not only Catholic, but the Semla was only allowed to be eaten on Fat Tuesday. After Gustav Vasa took the throne, he bid farewell to the pope and the Catholic church, and decided, to the entire populations’ delight, that the semla could now be consumed between December and February.”
The Semla Today
You know how Americans are always saying that the stores start displaying Christmas items earlier and earlier every year. Well in Sweden it is often the complaint that semlor, once reserved for the Lenten season, now show up earlier and earlier, appearing in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent. Shortly thereafter people begin to eat the things like the world will end tomorrow.
In Sweden, semlor are only made for 2-3 months out of the year, and during these months an estimated 40 million semlor are sold. In fact an estimated six million semlor are sold in one single day, during Fat Tuesday. For a country with a population of 10 million people, that is a lot of semlor.
And, apparently the obsession doesn’t stop at pastries. In Sweden there is a semla soda and even a semla liquor.
How To Make Semlor
Click the link below to download a recipe!