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How to make the Swiss Donut: Semla - A Delightful Pastry to Savor


The Swiss Donut, also known as Semla or Fastlagsbulle, is a traditional pastry originating from Sweden, which has gained popularity in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland. Often enjoyed as a treat during the Lenten season and particularly on Fat Tuesday, the Semla is a small, fluffy cardamom-spiced bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. This delicate pastry is not only delicious but also has a rich history dating back to the 16th century. In this article, we will guide you through the process of making your own Swiss Donut - the Semla - so that you can enjoy this delightful treat at home.




For the buns:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/4 ounce active dry yeast (1 packet)
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed to 110°F (43°C)
1 large egg, beaten
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
For the almond paste:

1 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
For the whipped cream:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the buns: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and cardamom. In a separate bowl, combine the warm milk and active dry yeast. Allow the yeast to activate for about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy.

Pour the activated yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Add the beaten egg and mix well to form a sticky dough. Gradually incorporate the softened butter into the dough, mixing until it is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth.

Cover the dough with a clean cloth and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down to release any air bubbles. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and shape each portion into a smooth ball. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, spaced evenly apart. Cover and let the buns rise for an additional 30 minutes, or until they have expanded in size.

Bake the buns for 15-20 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the almond paste: In a food processor, blend the almonds, sugar, almond extract, and salt until a smooth paste forms. Gradually add milk or heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the paste reaches a spreadable consistency.

Assemble the Semla: Once the buns have cooled, use a serrated knife to slice off the tops of the buns. Set the tops aside. Scoop out a small portion of the bun's interior to create a hollow space for the filling. Fill each hollow with a generous spoonful of almond paste.

Make the whipped cream: In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Spoon or pipe the whipped cream over the almond paste in each bun, filling the hollow space completely.

Place the buntops back onto the whipped cream, pressing down gently. Dust the Semla with powdered sugar for a finishing touch.

Serving and Storage Suggestions

The Swiss Donut - Semla - is best enjoyed fresh, ideally within a few hours of assembly. This ensures that the whipped cream remains light and fluffy, while the buns maintain their soft, pillowy texture. To elevate your Semla experience, serve them with a steaming cup of coffee or tea, allowing the warmth of the beverage to contrast with the cool, creamy filling.

If you have leftovers or wish to make them ahead of time, store the buns and almond paste separately in airtight containers at room temperature for up to two days. When you are ready to serve, whip the cream and assemble the Semla according to steps 8 through 10. Alternatively, you can store the assembled Semla in the refrigerator for up to one day, although the whipped cream may lose some of its volume and the buns may become slightly denser.

Variations and Additions

The Semla is a versatile pastry that allows for various modifications and flavor additions to suit individual tastes. Here are some ideas to inspire your culinary creativity:

Add a fruit element: Include a dollop of raspberry, strawberry, or apricot jam along with the almond paste to bring a touch of fruity sweetness to your Semla.

Infuse the whipped cream: Experiment with different flavors in your whipped cream by adding a splash of your favorite liqueur, such as Amaretto, Kirsch, or Grand Marnier.

Spice up the dough: For a more aromatic bun, mix in additional spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves to the dough.

Try a chocolate twist: Substitute the almond paste with a rich chocolate ganache or hazelnut spread for a decadent alternative.

In Conclusion

The Swiss Donut - Semla - is a delightful pastry that provides a perfect balance of flavors and textures. With its soft, cardamom-spiced bun, rich almond paste, and luscious whipped cream, it is no wonder this treat has gained popularity beyond its Scandinavian origins. By following this step-by-step guide, you can indulge in the delicious tradition of Semla in the comfort of your own home. Feel free to experiment with different fillings and flavors, making this versatile treat your own.

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