Misi Test Panel: Semla
The Misi.se Test Panel is back for another season, this time kicking it off with a test of the famous Swedish ‘semla’, which apparently is of Roman origin originally. You can read more about that later on in this article, but suffice it to say: we added the cream, and that makes all the difference! Although traditionally eaten only once a year, commercial interests have long since broken with this tradition, and the semla now a days appear in early January through at least the end of February. We’ve tried ‘semla’ from four different stores/bakeries – read on to see how it went!
But before we get to the results, I’d like to briefly touch upon the background of the semla.
What is a semla?
A semla is a cardamom spiced bun cut in half much like a hamburger bread. In between the two halves is firstly a layer of almond paste, and secondly a thick layer of whipped cream. Icing sugar is sprinkled on top of it all to give the the bun a white and sweet coating.
Why only once a year?
In the past, Sweden observed the Catholic 40-day fast that finished at Easter every year. In order to prepare for the long fast, the Swedes would traditionally eat supremely filling food, much like the bears stock up on fat during the summer to survive the long winter in hibernation. The semla fit the bill perfectly, and so the Swedes would eat semla every year on the last day before the fast. This day is now remembered as ‘semeldagen’ (the day of the semla), or ‘fettisdagen’. The semla itself is sometimes referred to as ‘fastlagsbulle’ (bun of the fastlag), derived from ‘fastlagen’ which is what the period leading up to the fast is traditionally called. The end of the fastlag, and thus the 'semeldagen' of this year is on Tuesday 21st of February.
From where does it come?
Some sources suggest that the semla was imported from the Romans sometime during the 16th century. At that time, whipped cream was not part of the concept. A spiced bun with almond paste was all it was. It was however made with the finest of wheat flours, and consequently affordable only to the wealthy. Indeed, the name ‘semla’ is believed to be derived from the Latin word ‘simila’, which means fine wheat flour.
For this test, we tried ‘semla’ from 7-Eleven (14 SEK), Cederleüfs (30 SEK, Ahlsgren (30 SEK), and Brogyllen (28 SEK).
- Appearance and smell: Naturally, there are many ways for bakeries to be creative when making the semla, despite the well established traditional appearance. Because it is a spiced bread (cardamom), the smell was also deemed imortant.
- The bun: Taste and consistency of the bun.
- The whipped cream: Taste and consistency of the whipped cream.
- The almond paste: Taste and consistency of the almond paste.
- The sugar topping: The amount and way the icing sugar has been sprayed at the top.
- The balance of the flavours: How well the ingredients and flavours have been balanced to make for a well-rounded total impression.
- The price: Naturally, this is where we present the price of the semla.
1) 7-Eleven (photo – right): Surprisingly, the winner of this test was also the cheapest among the ‘semla’ we tried. At 14 SEK, the 7-Eleven semla is half the price of the second cheapest semla in the test, which makes it great value for your money.
- Appearance and smell: Largely a traditional design, apart from the top which had been shaped like a heart. This was likely due to the fact that we did the test on Valentine’s Day, but it was nonetheless a nice touch. It smelt fresh and you could sense the cardamom. Although the bun appeared rather pale, certainly in comparison to some of the other ones we tried, the taste did not disappoint.
- The bun: The bun itself was nicely soft and spiced with cardamom.
- The whipped cream: The whipped cream was plenty-some, sweet and fresh. Do take care not to breathe in while taking a bite, though, lest you end up whipped cream in your nose.
- The almond paste: The almond past was good, but some members of the panel felt would have preferred more almond paste than was found on this semla.
- The sugar topping: There was a generous amount of icing sugar coating the top of the semla, and as a nice touch, the words ‘med kärlek’ (with love) had been written in suger.
- The balance of the flavours: We found the semla to be well-balanced. You could taste all the ingredients – none was overshadowing another, although as previously mentioned, the opinions on the amount of almond paste differed among the members of the test panel.
- The price: 14 SEK.
2) Cederleüfs: Being the largest of the lot, having a spoon handy when eating may be advisable.
- Appearance and smell: The largest of the lot, and the least mysterious as we could immediately tell it contained almond paste from the fact that some of it was escaping down its side. Just like the 7-Eleven semla, it featured a nontraditional top. But unlike the 7-Eleven semla, the top was not heart-shaped. Instead it was shaped like a pizza-slice with the tip cut off, and unlike all other semlas I’ve ever seen, the top was very thick. For people who enjoy dipping their semla in hot milk, this is probably a good thing; for people who enjoy using the top to scrape off and eat the whipped cream on the semla, it is probably a less appreciated change. The colour of the bun was nice and dark.
- The bun: A nice crispy lid, but the rest of the bun is harder than the one from 7-Eleven. We also found the bun rather sweet, but nicely spiced (cardamom).
- The whipped cream: Again plenty of whipped cream, but somehow lacking in taste. One of the panel members nailed it when she observed that the cream tasted like milk.
- The almond paste: The almond paste was indeed very good indeed. Deep in colour and powerful in its almond taste, not to mention the sheer amount of it. Indeed, the panel is concerned it might be too much for some people. On the other hand, it is really good – certainly the trump card of this semla – and if the almond paste means everything to you, which indeed it does to many semla-loving people, then you won’t be disappointed by this one.
- The sugar topping: Nothing special here. An even, and nice spread of icing sugar.
- The balance of the flavours: With milky cream and the almond paste going overboard (literally speaking, as it was running down the side), naturally the balance was a bit off. It was very sweet and almondy, the cardamom was there, but the cream disapointed.
- The price: 30 SEK.
3) Ahlsgren: Probably the strangest of the lot, although not in appearance. The peanut-tasting almond paste was certainly a surprise, but despite the odd taste, it’s not a bad semla at all.
- Appearance and smell: Of the four semla tested today, this is the only one of traditional design. It looks nice and traditional, just like how you would expect a semla to look. It smells like sweet bread, though, and not so much of cardamom.
- The bun: The bun is soft and not very sweet.
- The whipped cream: The whipped cream appeared unflavoured and unsweetened, so if you like that, this is a winner. We thought it a bit boring, though.
- The almond paste: For all it’s traditional looks, the almond paste of this semla is without a doubt it’s most puzzling aspect. As one panel member observed: ‘it tastes like peanuts’. It does actually taste a little like peanuts, and although it’s not bad, it’s not what you would expect. We feel that if you are one of those people who love the almond paste above all else, you should stick the the Cederleüfs semla instead, but if the almond paste isn’t too important to you, or if you’re looking for something different, you may find this one intriguing.
- The sugar topping: The amount of icing sugar appears supremely random. One of the two semla had a great deal of sugar which made up for the lack of sweetness in the bun itself, whereas the other semla had a very thin coating.
- The balance of the flavours: If you don’t mind the unique almond cream, and if you don’t like your semla very sweet, this one offers a good balance.
- The price: 30 SEK.
4) Brogyllen: A hole in the whipped cream and unexciting almond paste places this semla last in our test, although it should be pointed out that it was still very good. None of the semla tried today have been outright bad.
- Appearance and smell: Just like the 7-Eleven semla, this one has the top shaped like a heart. The top has a great deal less sugar on it, though, which makes it appear golden rather than white. The colour of the top of the bun, then, is very good-looking and golden, but the rest is oddly enough much paler.
- The bun: The bun is harder than the 7-Eleven winner and generously spiced with cardamom, but still doesn’t quite manage to match the winner in taste.
- The whipped cream: There is a hole in the cream! The cream has been sprinkled in a circle, resulting appearance wise in a doughnut-shaped cream circle with a whole in the middle. Thus, although it appears to have a great deal of whipped cream, this semla actually offers less than do all the others. Despite that, the whipped cream is sweet, crisp and fresh, but again falls slightly short of the winner.
- The almond paste: The taste of the almond paste is strangely off, although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with it. It tastes ‘artificial’ one panel member said, and the others agreed.
- The sugar topping: A small amount of icing sugar could be found at the top of the semla.
- The balance of the flavours: The balance was alright but not sensational. The taste of cardamom remained in your mouth much longer than it did when eating any of the other semla. Ultimately, though, the problem isn’t as much the balance, as it is the taste of each individual part. Still, it is certainly not a bad semla, just the weakest among the ones we tried today.
- The price: 28 SEK.
/Misi.se Test Panel, 2012
The Misi.se Test Panel 2012
The Misi.se test panel is a mix of Swedish and International students. Although the members of the panel usually vary throughout the semester, the panel for this test consisted of seven people, of whom two were Swedes. It is important that the panel is International, as it is all about discovering the Swedish brands and flavours from an International perspective.
If you want to participate in the Test Panel, write to firstname.lastname@example.org