Taste Test: We try a semla - the Scandinavian equivalent of Shrove Tuesday pancakes

Semla in Soderberg's windowSemla in Soderberg's window
Semla in Soderberg's window
You’ll find these buns in Edinburgh’s Soderberg.

What is it?

A semla is a traditional sweet bun, made in various forms in Scandinavian and Baltic countries. Depending on where you are, it’s also known as a vastlakukkel, laskiaispulla or fastlagsbulle. For pronunciation reasons, we’ll stick with semla.

This cakey treat is traditionally eaten on fettisdag – Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday – as part of a celebratory binge before Lent.

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Although the recipe seems to vary slightly, they usually consist of an icing-sugar-dusted cardamom bun, smeared with almond paste, then lashings of whipped cream, all topped with a cut-off top, which is used as a sort of lid.

Apparently, they’re sometimes served in a bowl of warm milk and called hetvagg (hot wall or slice).

Go easy, as in 1771, it’s said that King Adolf Frederick from Sweden ate 14 as part of a huge meal, which also involved lobster and kippers, then passed away in the night. Stop at 13, and we’re sure you’ll be fine. Should you wish to make your own, you’ll find recipes online that feature matcha tea or jam.

Where can I buy one?

Soderberg's semlaSoderberg's semla
Soderberg's semla

We found ours – the size of a cat’s head – at Edinburgh’s Swedish cafe chain Soderberg, where they sell for £3.50 each. They’re available at most of their seven branches, which include bakeries in Stockbridge, Morningside and on Broughton Street, up to and including Shrove Tuesday, or order online for delivery within the capital, www.soderberg.uk. They’re quite delicate, with that tall quiff of whipped cream, so make sure to carry yours home as if it’s a priceless Faberge egg.

What does it taste like?

The sweetness of the bread-y cardamom bun is tempered by a little bit of saltiness, which stops the whole thing tasting too sugary. The frothy cream is light and vanilla-y, and ours had a tiny triangular lid on top, like an itsy-bitsy bikini on Lolo Pops. I don’t know if I’d choose one of these over Soderberg’s other fika o’clock treats, since I usually choose a mazarin or a cinnamon bun, but it was pretty outstanding with a mug of tea.


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