Many pictures of delicious creamy pastries included in this post! Not intended for the hungry or those with intense sweet tooth. May cause cravings.
Yesterday was Fattisdag (Fat Tuesday) and in Sweden that means it’s time for the rich cream, sweet almond paste, powdered sugar, and fluffy wheat bun of the Swedish Semla. I’ve written more about this decadent treat and its history here in the beginning of February. Fattisdag really snuck up on me despite looking forward to the socially accepted day of eating such a pastry. I have had semla before, even though I have never before been in Sweden for Fattisdag, as they have started appearing in bakeries early. It’s not the same as eating a semla on the actual day of Fattisdag, it is a bit more special because Swedes all across the country are enjoying semlor in unison, it is the day when millions are sold, baked, and eaten.
While reading one of my favorite Swedish expat blogs I was inspired by an idea this blogger had, she and a “panel” of friends did a semlor tasting to find the best semla in Stockholm. Read her post here. And so with her blessing: “Megalagom – You have to do one too! Let me know and I’ll link you up. :),” I asked hubby if there were other bakeries in town aside from the only one I knew of and convinced him that it would be fun to compare the goods. Thankfully he is a good sport and entertains my crazy antics, and so he told me which bakeries to go to.
And so the quest to find the tastiest semlor in Halmstad had begun. We were on our path to prove that all semlor are not created equal and guide future semlor eaters down the road of deliciousness.
Being a pretty small town the options were pretty clear, although I think we skipped over one or two bakeries. Seeing as there are only two of us it seemed unwise and artery clogging to taste test too many. We decided on three local bakeries, one traditional semla from each plus a specialty semla from one of them which they are well known for – meaning four semlor to split between the two of us. These are extremely heavy, filling, and unhealthy, we did not eat all of our semlor in one sitting.
I was surprised by the different types of semlor available: lactose free, gluten free, saffran flavored, blueberry flavored creme, vanilla paste instead of almond paste, and a few that looked different but I couldn’t understand the names.
Östras Bröd: We used this bakery as a benchmark, as we have eaten Semlor from here before. They are the largest of the bakeries, they widely distribute to supermarkets, and you can find their product outside of our town. They have been around since 1899 so are very well known and established. They have four stores in Halmstad; their bread and pastries are on a more mass produced level. They had an impressive amount of semlor premade and on display.
The Semla here cost 17 kronor, with an option of a mini Semla (which was sold out) for 11 kronor. I didn’t check the price of any of the “special” semlor, they had a decent selection of different types.
Paulssons: This bakery is new to both my husband and I, although it has been recommended to him. They describe themselves as local and traditional. It is a small bakery with a cafe feel with a few window view tables to sit at. I was surprised that this bakery was more crowded than the big chain although it is a completely different type of atmosphere.
The Semla here cost 23 kronor and the “Special” semla cost 25 kronor. I was only able to see the two kinds.
Konditori Regnbågen: (Confectionery Rainbow) Having been around since 1958 this bakery has built up a good reputation and is very popular. When I told hubby how incredibly crowded it was here he said it is “the place to go” for a semla. (When I arrived my ticket number was 40, the number on the board was 810. There were people waiting outside since the queue was so long. When I was leaving (15 minutes later) I looked at the tickets and the next one available was 68) They had the widest variety to choose from, including their specialty saffran semla which hubby had heard about through the grapevine so we decided to try it. This bakery seems small from the outside but has a very large sitting area.
The Semlor here cost 25 kronor each, same price for the regular and the saffran.
First thing you need to know about Semlor is how to eat one. When you see first see one you don’t know how to approach it. Don’t make the mistake of biting into it like a burger- it’s messy (I would know).
The top of the bun floating above of that pile of cream is called the “hat.” This is for dipping into the cream and then eating- sampling a bit of the cream and bun while making the rest easier to eat. The hat has all the powdered sugar making this first step very sweet, but the bun has the almond paste which is the secret weapon of the semla.
Because of this eating technique the size of the hat is important, not only because you need to use it like a spoon but because the size of the hat determines the bun-to-cream ratio.
Along side the hat and the bun-to-cream ratio, the other important aspects of the semla is the quality of the bun, the amount of powdered sugar, and of course the tastiness of the cream and the almond paste (In no particular order, but how well they work together).
We began our trial with Paulssons Konditori.
Our first reaction was that the hat was too small, which made it awkward to eat. We agreed that this also created too much bun however the cream-to-bun ratio was saved by the large amount of cream. It seemed tasty enough, even though neither of us really tasted the almond paste enough to point it out. Unfortunately after tasting the other semlor we found this cream to be very bland upon re-inspection. There was however a good amount of powdered sugar, which camouflaged the lack of sweetness in the cream if eaten together.
Meg’s Second Least Favorite. Hubby’s Least favorite.
Next was our benchmark, Östras Bröd.
Having eaten these before we didn’t expect to be surprised, but after tasting the first semla we noticed that this cream was very rich and filled with flavor. The hat is much bigger, which made for more comfortable eating. While the bun was a bit smaller we also found there to be less cream to enjoy, the ratio was disappointing but the sweetness and tastiness of the cream made up for the difference. There was less powdered sugar, but the almond paste was a bit more notable.
Meg’s Second Favorite. Hubby’s Second Favorite.
Lastly we tried the two semlor from Regnbågen.
Next was the “special” semla which is flavored with saffron. This is a very popular and beloved taste for Christmas pastries in Sweden. You can see the saffron in the bun, making it yellow. This is the only semla that looked different than the others, slightly smaller with different consistence in the bread and the hat was a small triangle. There was a good amount of cream, and the ratio seemed to be good despite the tiny hat. Aside from the saffran there was also vanilla cream with the almond paste, which was an interesting addition. We had slightly different opinions on this version of this semla:
Meg: “Saffron is too overpowering, can hardly taste the other components. Might be because I am not used to saffron.”
Hubby: “It’s too different to be considered a semla, however it has a good taste to be an entirely different pastry.”
Meg’s Least Favorite. Hubby’s Second Least Favorite.
Last but not least we tried the regular semla from Regnbågen: Our Winner. We knew this would be a winner once we sliced it open and took a look. (In fact, hubby took a taste from the knife and instantly tasted the difference) Look at that thick layer of almond paste hiding beneath the cream, it even has chunks of almond! We were unable to see the almond paste in the other semlor, and did not taste it enough to notice it too much. This added a lot of character to the semla with a rich dynamic flavor the others lacked. There was a perfect cream-to-bun ratio and the hat was a good size. The cream was not as sweet as Ostras (but sweeter than Paulssons) however it did not need to be because of the paste, in fact if it was sweeter it would have messed up the balance.
Meg’s Winner! Hubby’s Winner!
Everyone has a favorite bakery, ours has always been the one next to our apartment because it is convenient and well known. It was a belly filling operation but well worth it! Next year we know where our personal favorite semla is and we will also try the semlor with fruity flavored cream. Maybe we will compare other pastries, but not for awhile as this was our “sweet goodbye to sweets,” ironically having started an attempt to eat healthier just the day prior to our semlor feast.