Semlor in Stockholm
Written & Photographed by daniela trujillo evb
Tasted & Tried by Courtney Kinser & daniela trujillo evb
Now thanks to blogs like Lost In Stockholm, Sweden.se and others we non-Swedes- and Swedes alike- living here and all over the world can know try to understand the invention and upheld tradition of the semla.
A semla is a pastry but not just any pastry. Although it’s ingredients are simple (wheat flour, almond paste, whipped cream and cardamom) this carb-iconic pastry is- next to the infamous kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)- a holy grail of Swedish tradition.
As with most modern traditions of the Western World, the semla has it’s roots in the very Protestant past of Sweden.
Today, around the world and because of the religious calendar of Christianity, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras or as we call it here in Sweden, fettisdag.
For hundreds of years Fettisdag/Fat Tuesday/ Mardi Gras /etc has been know as the day of basically, sinning as much as possible as if to save up for the 40 days and nights of Lent that are to come. Lent, being a time of religious reflection, sacrifice and fasting naturally created the day before its commencement the day to RAGE. Think Carnaval- both in Rio and Roma, think New Orleans with their parades, marching bands, nudity and downright lewd behavior.
Okay, well in Sweden it’s a day to eat the one and only semla. I remember my first Fettisdag in Sweden. I will never forget. I was told to buy a semla or two (semlor, plural) and come to a party. I was surprised and amused that the party was a bunch of adults ‘indulging’ in semlor.
Nevertheless, one comes to adopt, enjoy and partake in Swedish traditions and
So this year I decided I wanted to visit some of the highest-ranking and/or written about semlor-making and selling spots in Stockholm and write up a little report.*
Here you are world- the top Semlor in Stockholm.
Scales are 1-5, 5 being the top as it is done here in Sweden. Please remember, we had two individuals try all of the semlor below to keep things as consistent as possible, but at the end of the day it’s preference!
Albert & Jack’s
Of the dozen or so place we contacted, Albert & Jack’s were the first to get back to us.
Now, there is a fine line within journalism considering the ethics when reviewing restaurants and such that, however, plays no part in the enthusiasm a place of business or it’s employees can show not only about their establishment and in this case, their semlor, but also toward the journalist.
Aside from being a character outside of work, Erik Fröderberg- Head Kitchen Chef of Albert & Jack’s- was absolutely welcoming, animated and genuinely enjoyed telling us about the Swedish semla and the way Albert & Jack’s has done it and will do it this year.
Being part of a restaurant collective of some of Stockholm’s most known hot-spots could add on the pressure but Erik assures us that Fettisdag and the National Cinnamon bun day celebrated sometime in October, are days where “everyone is working and manning their station”.
Although this specific A&J’s has been open since 2007, Erik only just joined in 2011. He confesses that every year each of the five locations have a competition as to who can sell the most semlor. The catch is, that this A&J’s- the one located at Engelbrektsgatan- is the only one that does all of the baking. It bakes all of the bread, of the pastries and yes, all of the semlor it and its other four locations will distribute on Fettisdag.
When asked about what makes a quality semla, something so ordinary in its ingredients, Erika replies without hesitation, “It all starts with the bun and it all has to do with timing and calculation so that quality ingredients don’t go to waste but make a quality and fresh bun.”
While tweaks of the tradition semla have come and gone and also stirred Swedes a bit angry, Erik says he understands its purpose from a marketing perspective.
“People may want to try something different and that will get them in your store but at the end of the day they want to buy traditional semlor whether for themselves, co-workers or families.”
How are Albert & Jack’s spicing it up this year? Throughout all of our tasting the semlor from A&J’s are the only EKO ones available; Erik even special ordered organic almonds from Spain in order to make his own, organic mandelmassa. Impressive! The only thing the market hasn’t had enough demand for is organic cardamom; everything else in the A&J bun is 100& organic.
Albert & Jack’s started making and selling semlor from mid-January and will continue on throughout Påsk, aka Easter.
Albert & Jack’s is estimated to make 1500-1700 Fettisdag 2015 and the Engelbrektsgatan will stay open until they sell out.
When mentioning how Mardis Gras is about taking your clothes off, Erik responded, “Semlor are what keep our clothes on here in Sweden.”
Appearance: Beautiful, a bit of a rustic look.
Taste: Scrumptious EKO Semla (3); Delicious flaky goodness Wienerbröd semla (4)
Quality: Top Notch- we know so!
Specialties: Eko and the flakey Wienerbröd variety
Cream: Cool, as in freshly whipped & Cream: No added sugar; round confectioner’s shape (versus the star shaped)
Mandelmassa-paste: homemade with awesome texture- this add mega points!
Cardamom: It’s there but not overpowering- you don’t wonder if it is there, you know it. Whether you wish there were more or less, well that is personal preference!
Top of Bun: Triangle shaped, topped with powdered sugar
Price: 42 SEK per bun
Our next stop: Café Pascal. Having just opened less than a year ago- March 2014 to be exact- this Odenplan Café has already won the Golden Dragon in the Café realm from Dagens Nyheter. Pretty impressive.
I sat down with one of the three brother-owners Hosep Seropian for our interview and tasting.
Officially this will be Café Pascal’s first fettisdagen ever as a business.
When asked what kinds of semlor CP will offer Hosep says, “in this way, we are conservative. We will offer the classic semla only.”
Café Pascal cooks and makes most of its items in-house but when it comes to baking and the best semlor a café can buy, CP turns to bakery Dessert och Choklad Stockholm. Having a solid reputation. Impeccable professional services and having been given an honorable mention by Dagens Nytheter in 2014, it’s no wonder Café Pascal order from them.
Hosep says the café has been selling about 30 semlor a day and they expect to sell around 200 Fettisdag 2015.
Appearance: Not the prettiest on the market. Less rustic looking than others.
Taste: Yummy (2)
Quality: Unsure of the quality of ingredients used by supplier. Doesn’t taste as fresh.
Specialties: None. Just you classic semla!
Bun: Slightly dry
Cream: No added sugar-which we like; Confectioner’s star shape
Mandelmassa-paste: Much ‘gellier’ than normal with sporadic larger almond chucks adding an awesome texture explosion in your mouth
Cardamom: on level 1-5, it’d be a 3. As a reference, definitely more cardamom present than A&J’s in this bun.
Top of Bun: Triangle-shaped with powdered sugar
Price: 45 SEK a bun
Upon my research before choosing places to reach out to I came across Xoko. I believe they had been on a list for some of the top semlor in Stockholm and their site, so beautifully designed, I couldn’t resist asking them if they would like to participate in this review.
Isabelle Lager, the manager when we visited, was kind answered all of our questions.
Xoko just down the street from St. Eriksplan tunnelbanan, has been open since 2002.
When I asked Isabelle her personal feelings regarding the perfect semla she said, “it’s all in the mandelmassan (almond paste) and simple, quality ingredients.”
The café plans to make 1500-3000 for this year’s Fettisdag. Their semlor supply their café along with Café Komo, Levinsky’s Café and Danderynds Bistro.
Before we get into the judging, I must say that the shop itself is (as well as the other in this article) wonderfully situation, welcoming and makes me feel like Augustus Gloop- I wanted to eat every single beautiful thing in that shop.
When it comes to Xoko they had more variations than any other establishment we visited.
Variations with Prices:
+Vanilla Semla w/o almonds- PERFECT for your friends with nut allergies! 39 SEK
+Wienerbröd Semla-Stor/Big 39 SEK
+ Stor/big & mini classic semlor 39/29 SEK
+ Semeltårta, comprised of 7 regular semlor-wow! 150 SEK
+ Stor & mini chocolate semlor* 39/29 SEK
* The chocolate semlor have powdered cocoa on top, chocolate mouse in the cream and 66% dark chocolate chunks inside. If you’re a choco-fanatic this is your place!
The following tasting is for the classic, mini semla-
Appearance: Very neat. Adorable. Simultaneously too cute to eat while giving you the feeling that you need to shove it into your mouth on the spot!
Taste: Much sweeter than most varieties; heavier taste; classic dairy taste present; An intense almond taste, making it the main flavor. If that’s what you dig in your semlor, you’ve found your match. (3)
Quality: All made in house! Fresh.
Specialties: As listed above.
Bun: Flaky but not dry. A lighter bun which is nice when the mandelmassa has such a heavy presence.
Cream: No sugar added; Confectioner’s star shape; very light, very airy.
Mandelmassa-paste: More bitter almond used it seems making it very sweet.
Cardamom: barely there kind of taste.
Top of Bun: Triangle top with powdered sugar.
Price: listed above with variations.
Lisas Café och Hembageri
Lisa’s Café is this little hole-in-the-wall, mom&pop kind of place. Located in one of the hippest neighborhood in town, I think it goes by easily missed but I feel as though some of that is intentional, or at the very least the owners are grateful.
This is the kind of place you really want to take someone to impress him or her. They close by 15 so come early and they only accept cash. Want wifi? Too bad. Posted just outside of the door is a sign that reads, “We do not have Wi-Fi. Talk to each other!” or something of the sorts.
You walk in and the tables are covered with the plastic-type of traditional red and white picnic table pattern. You seat and help yourself. No one is watching, everyone themselves is enjoying the serenity of what feels like being at mormors & morfars (your grandparents).
Lisa is there. She is always there. She has been running the place since August of 1991 and he walls are lined with articles from around the world praising her shop.
When we asked what she thought about Swedish semlor she simply replied, “De är jätte gött.” (They are really good.)
Lisas Café and Hembageri sells semlor until Easter. For this year’s Fat Tuesday Lisa says she will make a total of 700 semlor and do it all herself. Yep, right there in that, no bigger than 30 squared metered kitchen she has in the back of the establishment.
I asked Lisa if her recipe had been passed down by her mother or grandmother. She looked at me and said no, as if the thought had never crossed her mind.
For Lisa, “combination is everything”.
Appearance: Doesn’t look like the average, standardized semla. It’s about the size of your palm but you can tell it’s unique-both by glance and taste.
Taste: Straight up, I uttered the word ‘Omg…nomnomnom… this is so fucking good….nomnomnom.” WHILE it was still in my mouth and people, by this point in the tastings, I was ready to NEVER have a semla again. I was wrong. This was the first semla to really impact both tasters. (5)
Quality: Freshly made, homemade, authentic and just a few meters away in her little kitchen!
Specialties: None. Just her, this semla and all of the serene fika-power, Swedish grandma-love-vibe of the place; a true gem.
Bun: Totally different! Moist x3! Think doughnut meets American biscuit.
Cream: Star shaped; sweetened; warm and much thicker than others.
Mandelmassa-paste: Tastes sweeter, probably due to more Bitter Almond flavoring, less amount of m-paste in the bun and some nice texture!
Cardamom: Barely present.
Top of Bun: Jaw/Clam styled-open display; triangular yet still attached.
What Sets it Apart: This was the first semla either tasters had reviewed where although unique, and therefore not as traditional looking and way better tasting than most semlor, all of the ingredients seemed to be perfectly distributed within the heavenly bun! There was no forking around trying to get more cream in your next bite or finding more mandelmassa to get for the next scoop. Every bite had just the right amount of everything in each and every single taste.
Someone said: “How does she do it?”
Someone replied: “ A lot better than everyone else!”
Woman loves to bake and society is grateful Ms. Lisa!
A classic among classics! I have been seeing- and walking past- this establishment for years. The window-displays along are, I think, both what make me want to go in and tell me it would be disastrous.
As busy as the infamous, two-storied konditori is I had spoken with a Marie-Louise beforehand and she said she would happily receive us regardless of her busy schedule.
One thing a journalist should always do is ask for names and make sure they get the proper spelling. It’s like, rule number one of being a journalist or a writer.
My taster and I wait for a while as the establishment is packed. People are eating, having a fika, buying bread and other baked goods to take home- just madness all over the place. I don’t know who came up with hanging pretzels from the ceilings but I found it rather odd and charming.
After a bit Marie-Louise sits down with us and offers us something to drink or snack on- wow, such generosity! I requested some water as all of the sweetness of that day’s diet had me quenched and we begin.
I asked her to begin by telling me her last name.
She smiles and responds, “Gunnarsson.”
So wait. You mean to tell me this is a family owned and operated business since 1931 that has stayed in the family? Yep. That is correct.
Since 1931 and in the exact same location as today, the Gunnarsson family has been providing Stockholm and most precisely Södermalm with quality-baked goods.
When I ask Marie-Louise about her personal feelings of the semla she responded, “ It’s about tradition. The time following Christmas is boring and everyone is poor but not too poor for a semla and some coffee.”
And speaking of being poor, Gunnarssons, which starts making and selling their semlor the day after Christmas and on until Easter offers all lunch guests a free semla on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Lunch is served everyday from 11-1430. Marie-Louise remarks a strange but silly observation.
“You know, mostly women come in here but during the semlor season when we have free semla for lunch guests, this place gets full of men! *Giggling* I think it’s because men want their little bit of sweetness after a meal. It’s the oddest thing but I have come to realize this over the years.”
Gunnarssons plans to make over 5000 semlor this Fettisdag! All to be sold at their location- eight confectioners and bakers working around the clock!
“This is the biggest day for Swedish confectioners and bakers. Some of our old staff come by and spend the day with us even though they don’t work here anymore.”
A testament, I think, must be attributed to good times and a good employer.
When asked what the most important things for delicious semla are, Marie-Louise gave us some answers we hadn’t heard.
“Good yeast, freshly ground cardamom, the bun must be baked with butter and high quality almonds from either Spain or California.”
Lyx semla- 46SEK
Special semla- 41SEK
Mini semla- 32SEK
Semletårtas are often available.
Lyx semlor are bigger. Okay, they’re beasts. They are ‘more of everything’, according to Marie-Louise.
Classic semlor are ‘lagom’ in ingredients and normal in size.
Special semlor have the mandelmassa and cream whipped together.
We tried the classic and special. Here you go: Classic / Special
Appearance: Larger than normal sized semlor. / Same for the special.
Taste: (4.5) Supreme!
Bun: Moist, spot on. / Not dry, not moist.
Cream: Star shaped / Rounded nozzle.
Mandelmassa-paste: very thick! / mixed in with the cream
Cardamom: Very present! The most present of any semlor we tasted! YUM. / same goes for the Special
Top of Bun: Triangular topped with powdered sugar / Clam-like opened top.
Friends of Adam
Believe it or not folks, I am gluten intolerant. It’s true. Years ago when I had a test done for it the doctor did say it was a slight intolerance and that certain wheat/gluten-containing foods or products would affect me more or less. When I found a bakery that offered a gluten-free option I thought that for my sake and for all other GF-individuals I had to include it.
Friends of Adam has been open for a bit over four years now. Everything they make is gluten and lactose-free.
For Fettisdagen 2015 they plan to make 1000 semlor, about 500 to be sold in-store and the other half are special orders from around town.
Friends of Adam were kind enough to let us stop by, taste their semlor and ask them a bit about the ingredients. Being gluten-free they use a mixture of rice, maize and soy flour.
Appearance: It looks like a cupcake! Closer look and it seems cookie-ish.
Taste: Totally different than your typical semla but tasty (2.5) plus it has a hint of vanilla?
Quality: Made in house, with only the highest of ingredients and always organic when possible, we think that’s high quality.
Specialties: Lactose free, gluten free
Bun: Dryer when compared to your typical semla. This cupcake-semla had a dryer, crumblier, cookie-like texture and taste.
Cream: Nice & Neutral. Star shaped.
Mandelmassa-paste: Very nice! Not too sweet but has an underlying texture one doesn’t expect.
Cardamom: Extremely light.
Top of Bun: When we went it was the day before V-day so the tops were in the shape of hearts but we were told they’d go back to being triangular.
Price: 35 SEK
In the end, these semlor are definitely different than traditional semlor but they taste good and all GIs and Lactose-intolerants deserve to enjoy and because of Friends of Adam, they can! It’s great to have the option.
PS If you ever stop by or order from Friends of Adam, DON’T MISS OUT ON THEIR cinnamon buns aka kanelbullar. To-die-for-.
*Unfortunately not all places had the time for us to visit and have a quick interview. Some of the places I most wanted to include flat out said they were too busy or couldn’t possibly receive any more business for Fettisdag 2015 and so graciously declined: a true shame. I would like to build to this piece so please, continue to check in regularly.