Celebrate Fat Tuesday with Swedish Semlor (Yes, It’s a Gluten-Free Version)

Gluten-Free Swedish Semlor for Fat Tuesday - Foodie Underground

Semlor have always been my favorite Swedish baked good.

There were two times of the year that my mother would bake classic Swedish recipes. One was at Christmas, with pepparkakor and the like, and the other was in late winter, when it was semla time.

Semlor are traditional sweet rolls, where the inside dough is removed, mixed with almond paste and milk, and put back in before being topped off with whipped cream. It’s the kind of baked good that sits on a plate and stares you down, daring you to eat the whole, decadent thing. In this sense, it’s the perfect thing to eat for Fat Tuesday; it’s the day before Lent after all. A fat and festive baked good is all you need.

Nowadays however, you can find them far before Lent. Swedish bakeries offering an onslaught of semlor pretty much all through January, February and March. Of course, having this with your afternoon coffee every day during the late winter wouldn’t be the healthiest of choices. But if there is one day that you should eat a semla, it’s Fat Tuesday. 

I remember being little and carefully cutting out the middle of the buns. Placing the inner parts in our large red mixing bowl, and combining with almond paste and milk to get the perfect consistency. In fact, growing up in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, I never had the luxury of getting one from the local bakery. There wasn’t a bakery within miles, and even if there was, they certainly weren’t making semlor.

So while for many Swedes, a semla has become a treat that you eat out during a coffee break, or bring home in a fancy pastry box, for me it has always been homemade, and the process of baking them invokes as many memories as eating them. The top is always dusted with powdered sugar, which I remembered finding humorous as a child, because it was almost impossible to eat that part without breathing in a little sugar, or at least just getting it all over your face.

And because this recipe is such a staple for me we get to a very important question: to revamp or not to revamp?

I really do believe that some recipes just shouldn’t be changed. For example, if you love croissants, but try to do a gluten-free one, you’ll just end up being disappointed. Better to make a gluten-free dessert that is mind-blowing in and of itself (ahem: chocolate cake) and forget the crusty, flaky, airy recipes that require all the gluten.

This is sort of how I feel about semlor. I don’t eat them any other day of the year, and if I am going to make them, I really crave that special taste that only comes from making them with butter, flour and milk.

However…

We all know that I like a kitchen challenge. And while I can get away with some flour and butter every once in awhile, other people can’t. And should they have to go without semlor? No, certainly not. After all, aren’t baked goods for sharing?

I happen to have a favorite buckwheat roll recipe that I thought would work perfectly for a semla rendition. The result is a gluten-free (and vegan) semla bun. No, it doesn’t have exactly the same taste as a regular one. But it’s damn tasty. Fill it with almond paste, top with cream (hello, whipped coconut cream for the vegan and non-dairy crowd!) and you are as close to a traditional semla as you are going to get, without all the hassle of a multitude of flours that gluten-free baking often entails.

And as it turns out, I actually really love this version. Maybe even a little bit more simply for the fact that I know it’s not full of industrial white flour.

But I wouldn’t be a true Swede if I didn’t include the classic version. So here we are. It’s Fat Tuesday and you have two semla recipes depending on your various dietary restrictions/life eating choices. Get to baking.

Gluten-Free Swedish Semlor 

Actually, just call these what they are: Gluten-free, Vegan Cardamom Buckwheat VIKING BUNS!

Makes: 8 buns

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons active yeast

1 cup  + 2 tablespoons warm water

1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 50 grams) natural cane sugar

1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces, 35 grams) raw almonds, chopped

1 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces, 240 grams) buckwheat flour, preferably a lighter variety if you can find it – or grind your own

2 tablespoons olive oil

Filling + topping

Almond filling (recipe below)

Milk or non-dairy milk

Heavy whipped cream or whipped coconut cream

Powdered sugar (optional)

Gluten Free Semlor Foodie Underground

A bit of a buckwheat flour mess… you can see that the exact shape of these isn’t so important. 

Preparation:

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. Set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast has bubbled and risen a little bit.

In a bowl, mix together the sugar, almonds, cardamom and salt. Add in the buckwheat flour and stir together. Add in the yeast and olive oil and slowly pour in the cup of water. With a wooden spoon, work all of the ingredients together for 3 to 5 minutes. You will notice that this has more of a batter consistency than a dough consistency. Don’t stress, it’s supposed to. Sprinkle a little buckwheat flour over the top, cover with a tea towel and let rise for an hour and a half.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 480°F (250 °C).

Grease a baking sheet (or use a silicone baking mat) and dust with buckwheat flour. Drop the dough in large spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. You want 8 evenly sized drops. Carefully using your hands, form them into rounds. You don’t need to roll them or anything, just push them together into round shapes. The dough is super sticky, so to make this easier you can wet your fingertips with water. Note that you don’t need to do much to the dough, just get the drops into approximately round formations.

Gluten Free Semlor Baked - Foodie Underground

Buckwheat cardamom buns just out of the oven.

Bake at 480°F (250 °C) for 10 to 12 minutes, until a medium to dark golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and place the buns on a flat surface. Cover with a tea towel and let cool.

Almond Filling

Makes: Enough for a batch of the gluten-free semlor, you may want to make a little extra if you’re filling up the traditional ones

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched almonds

1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 50 grams) natural cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preparation:

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and grind until the ingredients start to come together. Since I blanch my almonds right before doing this, they are a little wet, which helps make this into a bit of a sticky paste.

Gluten Free Semlor Preparation - Foodie Underground

Preparing the semlor.

Making the Semlor

No matter what base you are using, preparing these is the same.

Start by cutting off a circular “lid” off of each bun and set aside. Scoop out the inside of bun and mix in a bowl with almond paste. How much you use depends on how many you are making and how sweet you want the filling – since semlor are best made fresh, don’t make the whole batch if you are not going to eat them all. Instead you can freeze the buns in the freezer and defrost them when you want fresh ones.

Gluten Free Semlor Filling - Foodie Underground

Add in enough milk (or soy/almond/hemp/whatever non-dairy milk you’re into) to the almond paste + dough mixture to make a smooth mixture. Fill buns with the mixture and top with whipping cream or whipped coconut cream. Place lid on top of whipping cream and garnish with powdered sugar if you want to.

***

Traditional Swedish Semlor

Makes: About 12 buns

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85 grams) butter

1 cup (240 milliliters) milk

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 egg

1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 50 grams) natural cane sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cardamom, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups (15 ounces, 425 grams) all-purpose flour

1 egg, whisked

Preparation:

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add in the milk and heat until the mixture is warm to the touch but doesn’t burn you. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and a pinch of sugar in a few tablespoons of the liquid. Set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes until the yeast has bubbled and risen a little bit.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Add in the sugar and whisk together until frothy. Add in the crushed cardamom, salt and milk and butter mixture and stir together until well blended.

Add in the yeast and flour and work together until it forms into a ball of dough.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Knead the dough for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should be moist, but if it’s too sticky to knead, sprinkle on a little more flour, but go lightly.

Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise for an hour.

Roll the dough into balls (this recipe is good for 12 decently sized semlor) and place on a greased baking sheet, with about an 1 1/2 inches in between each. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for an additional 30 minutes.

While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 400°F (200 °C).

Brush the tops of the buns with the whisked egg and then bake at 400°F (200 °C) for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and place the buns on a flat surface. Cover with a tea towel and let cool.

Prepare in the same way indicated above.

Comments 4

  1. Gina

    This looks so yummy. I love bread
    Question:
    1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces, 35 grams) raw almonds, chopped
    On this part of the recipe you use “raw” almonds. Does that mean skin on?

    Also I noticed that you do not use xanthum gum in your GF Bread Baking. How does that work out in terms of texture and loft of the bread?

    Thank you.

    • Anna Brones

      Yes, just good ole regular almonds with the skin on.

      As for the xantham gum – it’s not something I usually bake with. I try to do flour blends and use other ingredients to ensure rise and good texture. In this recipe in particular, I find that the buckwheat flour works quite well. That being said, I use light buckwheat flour – made from buckwheat without the hull. If you can’t get your hands on this, you can make it yourself by buying raw buckwheat and grinding it yourself. The lighter buckwheat is idea for baking, but doesn’t have as much nutritional value as darker buckwheat flour, which is made by grinding the seed and the hull.

      Gluten-free Girl has some great insight on xanthan gum which may be helpful for you: http://glutenfreegirl.com/a-guide-to-gluten-free-baking/

      That’s a lot of info, hope it helps!

  2. Shar

    One of my coworkers found this recipe after I told them of the delights of semlor. I am excited to try it out but I’m trying to stay away from cane sugar as well (it really complicates trying to revamp recipes, as I’m sure you can imagine). However, I haven’t done enough baking to have a good understanding of the properties of cane sugar alternatives. Do you know off the top of your head if stevia, coconut sugar, or honey could be substituted for the sugar in your buckwheat recipe?

    • Anna Brones

      Hi Shar! I bake with very little cane sugar – this just happens to be one of the more “classic” recipes that uses it. I don’t bake with coconut sugar, but my mom does and I am pretty sure you can replace that one quite easily. I do bake a lot with honey however, mostly in cakes and cookies. I’ve never done this one with honey, but if you wanted to try it I would recommend 2 or 3 tablespoons. Let me know how it goes!

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