Have a nibble - February 2008 Enewsletter article
A semla is a traditional pastry in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Estonia, associated with Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday. The name derives from the Latin semilia, which was the name used for the finest quality wheat flour.
The oldest version of the semla was a plain bread bun, eaten in a bowl of warm milk. In Swedish this is known as hetvägg and originates from middle German hete Weggen (hot wedges) or heisse Wecken (hot buns).
Today, the semla consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off and insides scooped out and is then filled with a mix of the scooped-out bread crumbs, milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top is then put back as a lid and dusted with icing sugar. It is nowadays often eaten on its own, with coffee or similar, but there are still those who eat it in a bowl of hot milk. In Finland, the bun is sometimes filled with strawberry jam instead of almond paste, and bakeries in Finland, usually offer both versions. (Many bakeries distinguish between the two by decorating the traditional bun with almonds on top where as the jam filled version only has powdered sugar on top).
The semla was originally eaten only on Shrove Tuesday, as the last festive food before Lent. However, with Protestantism the Swedes stopped observing Lent, and the semla in its bowl of warm milk became a traditional dessert every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter. Today, semlas are available in shops and bakeries every day from shortly after Christmas until Easter. Each Swede consumes on average five bakery-produced semlas each year, in addition to all those that are homemade.
Try it yourself!