Semlor – Swedish Lent buns

Traditional Swedish Lent buns called Semlor

Next week we will be celebrating Fasching here in Germany, but you might call it Mardi Grass, or Carnival. The day is traditionally one of indulgence and different countries have different foods that they make to celebrate with. In the UK for example, pancakes will be in the menu. In Berlin, there will be a type of jam-filled donut called Pfannkuchen. And in Sweden people will feast on semlor.

Semlor are sweet yeast buns that smell beautifully of cardamom. They are filled with a simple almond paste and some cream, then finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar. Simple and elegant, these buns look like they could be part of an afternoon tea as well as being a nice addition to a late winter Sunday morning brunch. But first and foremost, they are Sweden’s Fat Tuesday treat. I suggest that you immerse yourself in some Scandinavian baking this week and make these your pre-Lent treat.

Next week I’ll be working on Valentine’s Day recipes. If the sky was the limit, what would you want your loved one to bake for you?

Simply Swedish Semlor

 Semlor – Swedish Lent buns

(makes 8)

Ingredients:

125ml milk

50g butter

1 tsp instant yeast

pinch of salt

20g sugar

1/4 tsp cardamom

1 egg yolk

225g flour

plus: 1 egg, whisked, for glazing

For the filling:

50g ground almonds

50g powdered sugar

2 tbsp water

100 ml whipping cream

plus: icing sugar for dusting

Method:

  1. Heat the milk and the butter in a saucepan on medium heat until the butter is melted. Do not let the mixture boil. Set aside and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a standmixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, yeast, salt, sugar and cardamom. Let it mix for a couple of seconds.
  3. Pour the milk mixture in the middle of the bowl and mix for a couple of seconds. Then add the egg yolk. Mix the dough for about 10-15 minutes. The dough will be slightly wet and feel sticky.
  4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Let it rise for about 2 hours or until the dough has double in size.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
  6. Take the dough out of the bowl and divide into 8 equal parts. Shape them into balls and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Then place a damp tea towel over the dough balls and let them rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  7. Remove the towel and brush the balls with the whisked egg. Then place the baking tray in the middle of the oven and bake for a total of 10-13 minutes, turning the baking tray half a turn after 6 minutes to ensure even browning. The semlor should be a light golden brown.
  8. Take the tray out of the oven and place to one side. Cover the semlor with the damp tea towel while the buns cool.
  9. Now, make the almond paste by mixing the ground almonds, powdered sugar and 2 tbsp of water in a bowl.
  10. Once the semlor are cooled, carefully slice off the top and scoop out the center. Put the crumbs in a bowl and add to that the almond paste and 2 tbsp of the cream. Mix it all together.
  11. Fill the semlor with 1-2 tsp of the almond paste mix.
  12. Whip the rest of the cream until stiff and scoop or pipe it on top of the almond paste mix. Then put the “lid” of the bun on top of the cream.
  13. Dust with some icing sugar to finish them off.

ENJOY!!

Selmor - Swedish Lent buns

Speculaas spice mix

A few weeks ago I made these crunchy, spiced speculaas cookies. There is rarely a Belgian household that doesn’t have at least one packet of them laying around. This time of year though, people make an effort to bake them at home or to buy them at the local baker’s. Why? Because in Belgium (and in the Netherlands) Speculaas is very much associated with Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, which we celebrate on December 6th.

To make this yummy treat, you need a Speculaas spice mix. Maybe you are lucky enough to find one ready-made where you live. But if you live outside Belgium or the Netherlands, chances are you won’t find it or it might be expensive. So here is my version. Use it to make Speculaas or add it to your favourite sugar cookie recipe. Try it sprinkled on top of your latte or hot chocolate. Use it for this year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

Speculaas spice mix

4 measures of ground cardamom

8 measures of ground cinnamon

2 measures of ground ginger

1 measure of ground cloves

1 measure of ground nutmeg

1 measure of ground mace (optional)

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container.

What will you use this spice mix for?

ENJOY!

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

Perfect speculaas cookies (homemade biscoff cookies)

For the past 5 days Berlin has been covered in a blanket of greyness. The sun obviously thought that it also deserved a week of autumn holiday like all the school kids in the city. Rubber boots were the preferred choice of footwear and every puddle on the way to Kita had to be jumped in. I would have joined my kids in this fun activity but I don’t own rubber boots. I did attempt to buy a pair yesterday but it turns out, they are not really stocked in shoe shops. The adult version, that is, kids boots are available everywhere. But guess what, today we woke up to blue skies. It has since clouded over a bit but the rain has stopped. And so has my search for boots.

Next time it rains, I will of course end up with wet feet again. P. will point out that I should really get proper footwear for the season. I will tell him that he is right and that I will order some online tonight. We have had this same conversation for the past 3 autumns here in Berlin…

Traditional speculaas cookies

So we’ve had our first week of proper awful autumn weather in the city and this can only mean one thing. People are moving indoors in search of comfort and cosiness. Tables outside of restaurants are empty and iced coffees are swapped for hot chocolates and ginger teas. And since the ice cream shops have closed for the season, sweet temptations have to be found elsewhere. When was the last time your home smelled of freshly baked cookies? More to the point, has your home ever been filled with the smells of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and my favourite, mace?

Speculaas (or speculoos, or Biscoff cookies) are spiced cookies which can be found all year round in Belgium. The spice mix needed to make them comes ready-made and can easily be bought in shops or bakeries. I started making my own speculaas mix because these packets are not available in Berlin and maybe where you live either. The cookies will not taste like the Lotus brand of Biscoff cookies though. They are the kind you would buy at the traditional bakery on the corner of the street.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

A quick note on the spices:

– Cardamom comes in pods or already ground. If you can only find the pods, ground the seeds with a spice grinder or coffee grinder until you get a fine powder.

– The same applies for the cloves. If you can’t find the powder, grind them into a thin powder.

– Use only ground ginger and nutmeg.

– Mace is a spice derived from nutmeg. You will also need it in powder form. I find this spice tricky to find where I live. It can be left out.

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

(makes 15-20 depending on what cookie cutter you use)

Ingredients:

250g flour

150g butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tbsp milk at room temperature

1 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)

Method:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Add the milk and the butter and kneed until the dough stops sticking to your hands or the dough hook of a standmixer.

3. Roll the dough into a ball them flatten into a thick disk. Wrap it in baking paper (or clingfilm) and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better as the flavours will really develop.

4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

5. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough until 5 mm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Transfer the cookies to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

6. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes.

7. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack and store in a airtight container.

ENJOY!

Stacks of crunchy, spicy speculaas cookies

Pear and cardamom crumble cake

Pear and cardamom crumble cake

pears

When does autumn start in your book? Do you stick to the official start on the 21st of september? Or does a certain event signify the start of grey days followed cozy evenings? A lady in my dance class recently told me that she refuses to acknowledge autumn until she is back from her late september sunny holiday. When I was younger, I considered summer to be over when school started.

I love the colours of the trees this time of year. The chestnuts on the ground which promptly get picked up by my kids and put in my handbag for safekeeping. The first scarves and gloves early in the morning. A cup of tea in the evening. The smell of our old radiators as they get switched on after months of rest. My Converse being put to the back of the shoe pile because they may be stylish but they are definitely not rain and puddle proof.

Autumn always makes me crave warmth in everything I eat or drink. Cinnamon in my porridge. Ginger in my tea. Cloves in my rice. And cardamom in my baking. I just want to wrap myself in a blanket of spices at this time of year. What’s your favourite autumn moment?

Warming pear and cardamom crumble cake

Pear and cardamom crumble cake

Server 6-8

Ingredients:

60g soft butter

50g sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla sugar

75g flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 tsp cardamom

2-3 ripe but firm pears, pealed, cored and cubed

For the topping:

30g flour

25g sugar

30 ice cold butter in cubes

3 tbsp chopped, blanched almonds

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

2. Grease and flour a baking tin about 20×26 cm

3. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy.

4. Add the egg and beat well until completely incorporated.

5. Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.

6. Pour the mixture into the tin and press it into the corners. The mixture will be thick and will spread out thin to fill the whole tin.

7. Top the mixture with the pear cubes.

8. Make the topping by using your fingers to rub the ice cold butter cubes, flour and sugar together until it forms crumbs. Then add the nuts.

9. Sprinkle the topping on top of the pears.

10. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

11. Let cool in the tin and cut into squares.

ENJOY!

Pear and cardamom crumble cake perfect for autumn

Swedish cinnamon buns

Edited 27.11.2015: I’ve edited this recipe to get a better, lighter and softer bun. They will expand more in the oven and give a thicker, fluffier result. 

Small but sweet, these Swedish style cinnamon buns are just rightIs it Friday already? This week has flown by. It’s as if I blinked for a second and BAM, that was it. Do you ever get that feeling? The last 5 days have been a muddle of appointments, errands, deadlines and decisions. I think my brain is ready for the weekend.

My nearly four year old daughter started swimming lessons this week together with 5 other kids from her Kita group. They get picked up at the Kita in the morning and dropped off after the lesson. It’s a big step for us because apart from paying the fee we as parents are not involved at all. There is of course help at hand, but the kids pretty much get ready themselves and go on to have a class. Afterwards, they get dressed by themselves and then the driver brings them back to the Kita. She was excited and I was so proud.

Did I mention I am getting married in 3 weeks? There is ribbon and card all over my dining room table. I still need to decide what our son is going to wear and I need to find a big enough umbrella in case it rains. And then there’s the last RSVP’s I need to chase and well, I’m looking forward to letting my hair down (…or up?) in exactly 21 days.

I won’t bore you with the fact that its the start of a new month and therefore I need to do our company’s taxes etc. so let’s just take a moment. Let’s sit down for 10 minutes. Let’s breathe. Let’s have a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun and contemplate what fun things we will be doing over the weekend. I’m having a girls’ night tomorrow. What are your plans?

Swedish style cinnamon buns are perfect with a good cup of coffee

Swedish cinnamon buns – Edited

makes 15-20 depending on size

Ingredients

200-225g flour

125ml milk

20g butter

10g fresh yeast

30g sugar

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp salt

for the filling:

20g butter, melted

3/4 tsp cinnamon

25g sugar

Method:

1. Melt 20g of butter in a saucepan over low heat and then add the milk. Heat the mixture to lukewarm (about 37 degrees C). Take it off the heat and add the sugar, salt and cardamom.

2. Put the 200g of flour in the bowl of a standmixer. Use the dough hook. Start the machine and slowly add the liquid mixture.

3. Let the machine kneed the dough for about 10-15 minutes. The dough will be sticky to start with. If after 10 minutes it is still very sticky, add a tbsp of flour and let it knead for another 5 minutes. Once the dough is soft and comes away from the bowl, stop the kneading. It will still be a wet but shouldn’t stick to your hands. Then cover the bowl with clingfilm and let it rise to twice its size (about 45-60 minutes).

4. Preheat the oven to 230 degrees C.

5. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Roll it into a long rectangle.

6. In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar.

7. Brush the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top.

8. Roll up the dough as if it was a carpet. You need to roll along the long side so you get a long and narrow roll.

9. Cut the roll into slices 3-4 cm thick. Place them cut side down (so you see the cinnamon swirl) on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

10. Cover with clingfilm and let rise and thicken for about 30 minutes.

11. Bake for 5-8 minutes until golden and then let them cool on a wire rack.

ENJOY!

Have these Swedish cinnamon buns for breakfast or with your afternoon coffee.