For an American, Mardi Gras is synonymous with New Orleans. A non-stop party with plenty of good food, alcohol, and some party beads thrown in for good measure. Swedes celebrate Mardi Gras too. They just do it a little differently.
Swedes eat. Specifically, Swedes eat semlor. A semla is a delicious baked good smothered in cream. The pastry itself is a wheat bun, spiced with cardamom. The top of the bun is cut off (but not thrown away) and hollowed out. Inserted into the newly hollowed out bun is a dollop of almond paste. Finally, the bun is filled with cream and the cut off (but not thrown away) top acts as a sort of hat to the semla.
Semlor are traditionally meant to be eaten on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday in the UK), before the Lent fast begins on Ash Wednesday. However, the Semla starts making an appearance in bakeries and grocery stores throughout the country around the beginning of the year and donâ€™t disappear until Easter.
And it is a good thing, because they are delicious. Several years ago, Aftonbladet, one of the evening newspapers in Sweden, reported that the average Swedes eats five semlor per year for a grand total of 40 million semlor.
I had initially planned on ranking my favorite semla places, but itâ€™s just not fair. The beauty of Fat Tuesday is sampling your way through several different semlor. The cafÃ©s in Gamla Stan in Stockholm are a great place to start. If the weather is nice, continue on to KungstrÃ¤dgÃ¥rden and grab a seat at one of the outdoor cafÃ©s. Finally, make your way towards HÃ¶torget. You wonâ€™t be disappointed. You will be full, and if you didnâ€™t pace yourself, borderline sick. Semlor are rich and heavy and should probably be eaten in moderation. Of course, it is Fat Tuesday, so enjoy.
If you canâ€™t make your way to Sweden in time to sample a semla, try this recipe here.