March 5th is Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday or, in Sweden it is “Semmeldagen” (the day of the Semla). This is the national day of Swedens most beloved pastry, the semla. The semla (the singular of semlor) is a small, wheat flour bun, flavored with cardamom and filled with almond paste and whipped cream.
[Ingebretsen’s will celebrate a few days earlier on March 2nd (1:00 to 3:00) with Semla Day. It will feature semlor from Swedish Crown Barkery that you can purchase for $4.99 each. Read more about it here.]
Back in the 14th century when Lent, a 40-day fast of great importance to the Swedes at this time, would be held 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 40-day fast. 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 semla 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 shows 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 is 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.
How To Make Semlor
There are variations on the recipe but here is our favorite (Semlor Recipe). You can watch how to make semlor here:
How To Eat Semlor
Obviously the most important thing to know is how to eat a semla: