I’ve certainly been spending more time at home lately which is equivalent to doing some baking. I’ve been realizing that I am constantly being inspired by the things I eat in and around Toronto. Of course, recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end.
For the next ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as a way of celebrating them. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance. (I’ve decided that day 1 is the banana & dulce de leche french toast I posted a few weeks early, based on a version at BB’s Diner.)
As for today (day 2!), I made semlor, inspired by Fika Cafe in Kensington marker.
Fika is a charming café along a quieter street in Kensington market, tucked between vintage clothing shops. Their Scandinavian baked goods are the star – the cinnamon buns are tight curls of rich cardamom-scented dough smeared with cinnamon. The same dough goes to make their semlor, round buns filled with almond paste and topped with a generous swirl of cream. Cardamom, Scandinavian gospel, is omnipresent, in the cardamom spice latte, and in their buns where coarsely ground cardamom seeds in the dough lend hits of cardamom to some bites.
When semlor are in the case, I find it hard to order anything else. They are sweet, hearty, satisfying and also feel so very, very Scandinavian (bread and butter and cream and cardamom and almond and, well, little else).
While I’ve made semlor before, the pitfall with making something you’ve never actually tried is that sometimes you don’t know what you should be aiming for. I’ve been able to work on mine – namely, making the filling soft and sticky. Typically semlor filling is made by mixing the pieces of bread hollowed out from the inside with almond paste and enough milk to reach the desired consistency. The filling at Fika is very smooth, such that I’m not sure whether they still include the bread crumbs, but I’ve kept it traditional. I like the no-waste aesthetic, the bulk that the bread give the filling, and how it tempers the sweetness of the almond paste. The freckling of coarsely crushed cardamom seeds, as oppose to finely ground, makes a surprising difference, a feature that I adore and that I’ve replicated here.
I’m working off of Magnus Nilsson’s recipe from The Nordic Cookbook, the same recipe that I’ve used before, though this time I’ve dropped the sourdough adaptation and working in the coarse flecks of cardamom as opposed to ground. I’ll admit, I don’t love the method of making dough by melting the butter right in – next time I will try to mix in the butter afterwards, if only because it typically results in a more elastic dough. But this dough produces buns with a sort of tender denseness that does remind of Fika Cafe. Dough making dissatisfaction aside, these semla are heavy on cardamom and soft with cream and sweet almond paste. They are a comfort, and a good home bake – even a bit of a pantry bake so long as you have almonds and cardamom on hand as well.
- 1 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds
- 145g whole milk
- 56g butter
- 3g instant yeast
- 1/2 large egg (25g)
- 40g granulated sugar
- 220g all purpose flour + 10g wheat gluten (or substitute 230g bread flour)
- 50g whole grain spelt flour
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- beaten egg as egg wash
- 65g ground almonds
- 25g powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- a few drops of almond extract
filling and assembly
- 120g heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- icing sugar
To make the buns: Pound the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle until the seeds are coarsely ground with some larger pieces remaining.
Combine the butter, milk and cardamom in a small saucepan and heat until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool until lukewarm.
Add all the remaining ingredients into a bowl along with the milk mixture. Stir together with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 15 minutes to allow the gluten to begin developing, then knead until the dough is smooth and perhaps starting to get a bit elastic. Due to the melted butter, I found it difficult to really get it to a nice elastic stage.
Cover with a damp towel and let rise until double, 1-2h. Divide the dough into six portions, around 90g each. Shape each into a tight ball. Space evenly apart on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
The buns are risen when puffed and, after being poked with a damp finger, the dough slowly springs back, but doesn’t fill in completely. This may take an hour or so.
Brush the buns with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes or until browned and the internal temperature registers at least 180F. Let cool on a wire rack.
To make the almond paste: combine the almonds and powdered sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the cream and almond extract and pulse until it clumps together (if it doesn’t, add another tsp of cream if needed). Pat into a disc, wrap in plastic, and store in fridge.
To fill and assemble: Use a knife to cut a triangular shape from the top of each bun (alternatively cut a flat circle from the top). Use your fingers to hollow out a small cavity from the centre of each bun.
Tear the bun innards into small pieces and place in a bowl. Grate the almond paste into the bowl. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time, stirring until the filling reaches a soft sticky consistency. For reference, I had 60g of bread, around 100g of almond paste and added 4 tbsp of milk. Fill the buns.
Whip the cream until stiff and mix in the vanilla extract. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe a dollop of cream over the filling to level the surface of the bun, then pipe 1-2 swirls of cream overtop. Place the little triangular hats over top and dust with icing sugar. Semlor are so absolutely best enjoyed fresh.