In Sweden, Fettisdagen (Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday) used to mark the last day before Lent – the Christian fasting period – so this was the day to binge eat and the feast typically included wheat rolls in warm milk (the first kind of semla (before the ritual fasting began. Those wheat rolls really stuck, and over the years, fettisdagen became synonymous with semlor (plural of semla) in Sweden.
Today’s semla has a filling of whipped cream and almond paste, but many Swedes still like their semla with milk, and contrary to the Danish fastelavnsbolle, with a few exceptions, the semla does not seem to have changed much over time. In fact, there is a strange “do not touch my good old semla” attitude among most Swedes, but one exception is the vegan semla. Many Swedes are going green these days, and vegan semlor seem to be one of the few variations that have been accepted by the Swedes and are here to stay.
I have long been curious about vegan baking, and semlor seemed to be a good, but challenging place to start as the traditional semla both has egg and lots of dairy. I was particularly concerned about how to find a good egg substitute, so I asked vegan friend Waz, what she thought. She mentioned that apple sauce would probably do the trick, and I found that it worked out great.
For the whipped cream, I chose coconut cream as it is widely available, but I know there are better cream substitutes out there, so feel free to pick whatever you like. If you also go for coconut cream, make sure to chill the cans in the fridge a minimum of 3-4 hours before use, so the white cream gets solid and separates easily from the clear liquid coconut milk.
The semlor have to cool off before you can add the filling, or the cream will melt and turn runny, so count in at least a couple of hours after baking before they are ready to be filled with cream and almond paste.
Recipe – Vegan Swedish Semlor (makes 12)
1 package active dry yeast (2tbsp)
1/2 cup melted plant-based butter for baking
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup agave syrup/nectar
A pinch of salt
2 tsp ground cardamom
3.5 cups all-purpose flour (might need a little more)
Whipped Cream Filling
1 can full fat coconut cream
1tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar (optional)
Almond paste filling
11/4 cup almond flour
2 tbsp apple sauce
2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar or 1.5 tbsp agave syrup
1/4 cup almond milk
Melt the butter and mix in the almond milk. Heat until lukewarm.
Combine almond milk and butter with yeast, agave syrup and salt in a bowl.
Add flour and cardamom and knead or mix at low speed for 10 minutes.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour
Almond Paste Filling:
Mix almond flour, applesauce, almond milk and confectioner’s sugar/agave syrup to a thick paste. Done!
Now on to the rolls again:
Divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape into balls.
Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 375ºF
Brush the rolls with cold coffee (optional) before baking for 8-10 minutes (until the surface is golden brown)
Let the rolls cool completely (that is 3-4 hours) before proceeding.
In the meantime whip the cream. If you are using coconut cream, take the cans from the fridge. Scoop out the white, solid cream and place it in a bowl. Try to avoid getting any of the clear liquid (the milk) in the bowl, as it will make the coconut cream runny.
Mix the cream with an electrical mixer for 2-3 minutes and you will have rather heavy, but sufficiently fluffy whipped coconut cream. Place in the fridge until using.
Back to the rolls. Now it is time to add the filling
Cut out a triangular “lid” from each roll
Add almond paste
Add whipped cream
Put the lid back on top of the cream
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar
Ready to serve!