A semla is not the South of England Men’s Lacrosse Association, as a cursory Google search might suggest. It is a cardamom-spiced bun with the top sliced off, filled with almond paste (similar to marzipan) and whipped cream, with the top of the bun placed back on top. They’re traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday in Swedish. They’re found across Scandinavia, but as I first sampled them in Sweden, I always think of Sweden. I think they might be most popular in Sweden too (any Scandinavians want to offer your opinions on this?).
Given that I wasn’t going to be in Sweden this Fat Tuesday, I decided to seek out what was on offer in London. This quest wasn’t without some hiccups. I tried the Nordic Bakery, which I found to be gloomy and depressing, perhaps in a bid to reflect Scandinavian winters. I was greeted by an equally gloomy lady, who said that there were no semlor in the Nordic Bakery this year. So much for Nordic. I also took a trip to a pop-up bakery in Fortnum and Mason but missed the semlor by a day (look out for a fab feature tomorrow though).
Several trips and much essay-procrastination later, I had three candidates and three semlor. The competition was on.
- Scandinavian Kitchen
61 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PP
This is a fun, cosy place café with plenty of Scandinavian supplies lurking in the back. I was extremely happy to find a Moomin guiding customers to Odin’s Throne (AKA the toilet).
The café serves lots of open sandwiches on crispbreads, which look a little fiddly and small, but their cakes are eye-grabbing – apple and cinnamon cake, chocolate brownie cake… mmm….
I forced myself not to get distracted and to stick to the task in hand. My friend and I ordered a semla each (£2.95).
Sadly, we were distinctly underwhelmed. The semla tasted of nothing. We could not detect any almond flavour at all. The dough was chewy and stodgy, and the cardamom did nothing to enhance it. I tried my hardest not to think about the other cakes. I began humming the Abba tunes that were playing in the background.
Very disappointing, but the café has a chilled atmosphere and the other cakes definitely look like they’re worth trying, so I may return.
- Bageriet, supplying Totally Swedish
Next candidate was Daniel Karlsson of Bageriet (‘The Bakery’ in Swedish). He came to London 6 years ago and has been baking tasty things for a lot longer than that. For Fat Tuesday, he had baked loads of buns and was stacking them high in Totally Swedish, a store that, unsurprisingly, sells lots of Swedish produce.
I got a box of two for £7 and hastily carried them to a friend’s in order to share them.
Mine got a little squashed in the voyage but it still tasted great. The almond paste had a much stronger flavour than Scandinavian Kitchen’s, and it complimented the dough, which had a firmer texture. Very pleasing. I almost regretted sharing.
Bageriet will be opening a shop in Covent Garden next month so look out for it. I will definitely make a visit.
161a Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Situated on Brick Lane, Fika is trendy by virtue of its location. Inside it is dimly lit and contains a few fake grass-covered seats. We visited at 1.30pm on a Friday and found no-one at the counter or serving. Eventually, a guy emerged and told us to wait because there were lots of customers and there was only him in the kitchen. We were distinctly unimpressed at the set-up, but took a seat. At £3.50 for a hot chocolate, we weren’t going to be ordering drinks whilst we were waiting.
Eventually, my semla arrived. It was neat and beautiful. But it was TINY. And it had just cost me £3.50. I approached it with scepticism.
The bun had the most bread-like texture of the three, which I really liked. The cardamom was present but not overpowering. The almond paste had a full, rich flavour, although there needed to be more of it as it was slightly smothered by the cream. However, overall, Fika’s tiny semla snuck into first place in terms of flavour. If they weren’t an outrageous £3.50 each, I’d be stocking my room with them.