A First for Bangkok: Scandinavian ‘Semla’ Pastry

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Keen on a Scandinavian classic? Something that is, for Scandinavians in particular, exotic over in tropical Thailand? In Bangkok, on-going until March 16 to celebrate the Fat Tuesday (this year on March 4), Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok serves a pastry that is much appreciated in Scandinavia and only eaten during a special period of the year, connecting to what is in Sweden called the Fat Tuesday and in English known as Shrove Tuesday.

It is the Semla that is (to our knowledge) for the first time being offered in Bangkok. Have it plain or together with freshly brewed coffee (which is recommended as this is for coffee lovers a superb combination.)

We find many names for those we love so it’s also called fastlagsbulle or fettisdagsbulle. In Finnish it is called laskiaispulla and or fastelavnsbolle in Danish and Norwegian.

The oldest version of the semla was a plain bread bun, eaten in a bowl of warm milk.

Back in Scandinavia it is a much anticipated highlight when the semla once again is served at cafes and on offer at the patisserie, coinciding when people are beginning to come back to life again after a long period with dark winter months, and with spring on the horizon. And depending on where buying it, one can get anything from small and ordinary to extra large and deluxe versions (usually recognised patisseries offer the best ones, in competition with home-made versions by skilled housewifes.

These days outlets begin to sell them already shortly after Christmas and up until Easter.

Students, seniors and families rush to buy and munch on these sweet rolls (similar to a bun with filling and cream) and they are baked at home as well in large quantities.

One of Sweden’s previous Kings died of digestion problems (in year 1771) after a large meal topped off by fourteen helpings of this the king’s favourite dessert.

The semla was originally eaten only on Shrove Tuesday, as the last festive food before Lent (the period for solemn religious observance and strict fasting.)

Today’s version, superbly described by Wikipedia, consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off, and is then filled with a mix of milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar.

It is sought after also here in Thailand, at least according to the hotel’s General Manager, Eric Hallin.

“It is mostly intended for the Swedish (Scandinavian) diaspora,” explains the Swede.

“It is s request that was brought up on several occasions. Lars Svensson ran a semla campaign at IKEA in Singapore in 2011 and it also came up as an idea on SWEA Bangkok’s Christmas Dinner.”

The downtown hotel is now serving (and selling as take-away) this Scandinavian wheat bun in two of its outlets, including in the lobby café.

“And for those afraid of calories we offer ‘Semla Light’, which is a smaller size version.”

In order to compose the recipe, a mix of the Internet as source and input from Lars Svensson along with the GM and David Nilsson, another Swede working at the hotel, was used – testing to find a formula they were satisfied with.

The hotel’s pastry chef explains that they had to redo the filling to get it right.

He says that Thai staff in the hotel that tried the Semla a la Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok liked it.

“Thai people like buns with filling so it’s familiar.”

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