Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, which means that us Swedes ate semlor. A semla is a cardamom-flavored bun filled with whipped cream and almond paste. They are very popular; according Wikipedia, a Swede will eat on avarage five store-bought semlor a year (me, I have only had one so far this year). All bakeries and grocery stores will sell them, even places like 7-Eleven does, and even though traditionally just eaten on Shrove Tuesday (before Lent), nowadays you can find semlor on sale from Christmas up until Easter. The quality varies vastly though, and every year the local paper will do a test of the different bakeries' offerings and tell you where to go for the best semla in town. Another way of guaranteeing good quality is to make your own, which we decided to do this year.
First, you need to make the almond paste for the filling. You could buy it ready-made but making our own is easy. Now, some people don't like almond paste and will fill their semla with vanilla custard or jam instead. I really don't get this, so let's move on. To make your own almond paste you need equal parts of blanched, peeled almonds and white sugar. We used 250 grams of each which yielded (surprise!) about 500 grams of almond paste. We really don't need that much for making semlor, so I see an awful lot of almond paste-related baking coming up. It keeps in the fridge for quite a while though, so no worries.
So, when you have blanched and peeled your almonds, you chuck them in with the sugar in a food processor and work it until everything is very finely chopped. If you have an almond grinder you really want to use that for the almonds (before mixing them with the sugar), because a food processor really doesn't make them finely ground enough, but it still works. At this point the almond-sugar stuff will mostly be grainy, the paste part comes later. Pack the paste-to-be very firmly in clingfilm/plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to firm up, at least over night.
Now, on to the buns. This recipe will give you seven buns, and one semla is very filling, but they do keep for a few days (unfilled, of course) and you can freeze them. For the buns, you need:
½ egg, at room temperature (use the other half for brushing the buns)
25 g fresh yeast (in Sweden we have a kind for sweet doughs, use that if you have something similar)
50 g butter
1½ dl milk
Pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ dl white sugar
~5 dl flour
1/4 tsp hartshorn salt (ammonium carbonate)
Crumble up the yeast in a bowl. Over low heat, melt the butter, add the milk and let it reach 37 degrees C. Add a little of the butter-milk mix over the yeast, and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the rest, and then the salt, cardamom, sugar and egg. Stir in the flour and hartshorn salt, a little at the time, until everything is incorporated. The dough will be very sticky at this point, but after rising it will be extremely easy to work with! Cover the bowl with a piece of cloth and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Put your oven to 225 degrees C. Get the dough on to a clean, lightly floured surface and knead the dough until all the air bubbles are gone. Cut the dough into seven equal parts and roll them into buns. Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet, cover with a piece of cloth and let them rest for another 30 minutes.
Brush the buns with lightly beaten egg. Bake them for 8-10 minutes, and allow them to cool completely before filling them.
To make the actual semla, you cut off the top part of the bun. The lid, as we call it, should be very thin:
After this is done, you hollow out the bun to make a hole in it for the almond paste filling. Thus:
Save the crumbs you get from hollowing out the bun, 'cause you will need those now. Get the almond paste out of the fridge. Now I don't have any proportions for this part, you just have to feel your way around this. What you do is that you mix the almond paste with part of the crumbles and a little milk to make the actual paste. It should taste like almonds, not like bread crumbs or milk, but you need the milk and crumbs to bind it together. It should have a soft consistency, but not so that it's running all over the place.
Whip the cream until soft peaks are formed. Fill the holes with almond paste (about 2 tablespoons) and top with whipped cream (if you want it to look fancy you could pipe it). Put the lid on top and sift a bit of confectioner's sugar over it. Enjoy!