Semlor, or Mardi Gras with marzipan…

After a very long wait since Easter is so late this year, Fat Tuesday finally rolled round this week with its myriad delicious ways to use up rich or fatty ingredients and shrive in time for the start of Lent. Most people went for the always excellent pancake as their Shrove Tuesday treat, but after my recent trips to Scandivanian Kitchen, I decided to celebrate with the Swedish favourite of the cardamom infused, marzipan stuffed and cream filled buns known as semlor. Made with fresh yeast and similar in texture to a doughnut, these chewy soft buns are perfect with a strong coffee and could be sampled in the afternoon, leaving plenty of room for a pancake fest in the evening…

Scandinavian Kitchen are a one stop shop for these little beauties, supplying both the recipe and all the ingredients for them in one place. I stocked up on fresh yeast there for the amazingly bargain price of 45p a pack, but used my own flour and some marzipan I had in the house for emergencies. With the sun shining for the first time in months, I rolled my sleeves up and got baking.

Things got complicated almost immediately as the recipe used volume rather than weight for the sugar and flour and left me feeling uncertain of what I was doing. While the fresh yeast was doing its thing in the warm milk mix, I tried to measure 600ml of flour in my measuring jug accurately. But since it’s a pint jug that’s easier said than done. I tried to find an online conversion but was thwarted no matter how much I Googled. I then weighed the flour and saw that it was approximately 380 grams. I did the same thing with the flour, but the scales chose that moment to pack up and I didn’t see the weight when I added it to the flour. It felt like baking blind and I didn’t like it.

Once everything was combined according to the recipe, the dough seemed very sticky, almost liquid. I attempted to knead it in the bowl to firm it up but struggled to get it to stop being sloppy and wet. I decided to let it sit and rise and see the expanding yeast helped render it less pourable. About 40 minutes later, I went back to it and although it was still gloopy, it seemed to improve when I added the last 100 grams of flour and the baking powder. I then turned it out of the bowl to knead on a floured surface and it was like a slow motion wave of gloop as it spread stickily across the worktop, creeping over everything, gumming my hands together and threatening to drip down the cupboards. I frantically added some handfuls of flour to try and stiffen the slop up enough to get it off my hands and prevent it being glued to my kitchen surfaces forever. Two handfuls later and it was contained enough to resemble an actual dough and stop me fearing I was about to re-enact the baking equivalent of the Boston Molasses Disaster.

I kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes or until it was certainly smooth, but despite repeatedly flouring the surface, it still felt sticky. It didn’t knead particularly nicely and felt tough and hard to work with and I would have preferred no to handle it anymore than needed, but it was still sticky to cut into even pieces and I had to roll the pieces between my hands to get them roughly the same size. I then left them to rise on the baking trays and set to cleaning my kitchen, which looked like a bunch of toddlers had been let loose in it.

What felt like several hours later, I finished up and went back to the buns, which didn’t seem that much more risen than before, egg washed them and popped them in the very hot oven for about 10 minutes. They came out looking very golden and almost tiger striped on top. They seemed quite crispy on the outside and I couldn’t get a skewer into them to check if they were cooked, but covered them snugly with a cloth to soften and cool while I prepped the filling.

Thankfully I had opted to buy the custard from Marks and Spencer rather than start faffing with eggs and milk and I mashed the marzipan into it with a fork, before cutting the buns open to scoop out the middles to add in this lovely almondy mixture. Unfortunately when I opened the buns, they were still sticky inside and uncooked in the middle. I scooped all this goo out, mixed with the marzipan infused custard and then filled the buns up again with a generous dollop, topping that with whipped double cream and popping the cut off tops back on like a slightly jaunty hat, drunk on sugary shriven goodness. Despite the dough catastrophe earlier, I felt positive that these were going to be delicious.

And delicious they were, but unlike the light fluffy doughnut style lovelies I’ve sampled before, these could have knocked you out if you’d bitten in them at the wrong angle. Incredibly doughy and so heavy you could use them as self defense, these were rather firm to say the least. More like a rock cake than a yeasty bun, they were a jaw workout. They were also teeth-achingly sweet and needed about half the sugar to stop both the citrussy cardamom and your insulin levels being overwhelmed.

The custardy marzipan was divine and the semlor tasted fabulous, but the texture left a lot to be desired. We enjoyed them, but no one reached for a second helping. I’d try and be more accurate with the flour in future to see if i can get the dough less liquid, I’d knead less and bake them at about 180° for twice as long to prevent the outsides getting so crisp and I’d halve the sugar to balance out the sweetness of the marzipan and custard. And then I’d eat more than one. In fact I probably wouldn’t stop til they’d all gone, because when semlor are good, they are worth waiting all year for!

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