The Swedish pastry specialty, the ‘semla’ wheat bun is back for the third year at The Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok, served in the Lobby Bar of the hotel where the Swede Eric Hallin is at the helm of the operation.
The General Manager himself presented the semla on the first day of its serving, 7 January, where several Swedish children among the guests were seen munching on the bun as ScandAsia visited. The pastry is only sold during a certain time of the year, connecting to what in Sweden is called the Fat Tuesday and in English known as Shrove Tuesday.
This year the sales period is however longer than the previous two years. Is this based on popular demand?
“We have heard that in Sweden they have started selling the semla already since December,” replied Eric Hallin. “However, it should actually be eaten on Fettisdagen (Mardi Gras in French or Shrove Tuesday in English) which this year falls on 8 February. In Swedish we have many other names for it; such as fettisdagsbulle (Fat Tuesday Bun; actually Mardi Gras also has the same meaning), or ‘fastlagsbulle’, which is basically the bun one eats on the day before the fast.”
“Traditionally lent would start on the following Wednesday and we would feast on the previous day as it was the last day we could eat a lot. However, the semla proved addictive to many. The bakers therefore stated to extend the sale of the semla slightly before and after the actual day. Hence we have this year decided to sell them from 7 January (13th day of Christmas) until the end of February.”
“We find many names for those we love. In Finnish it’s called ‘laskiaispulla’ and ‘fastelavnsbolle’ in Danish and Norwegian.”
“I have always loved semlor, but what set it off was a friend down in Mae Prim who asked me some four years ago whether we had any semla for sale,” Eric explains how it all started. “Unfortunately we didn’t, but that set off a challenge to make one for the following year. David Nilsson, who was then working here, and myself started experimenting both with how to make the bread authentic as well as the almond paste mix. We worked out a way to keep it a bit crunchy, yet creamy. Then we had another semla aficionado, Lars Svensson of Ikea and Oriflame, who came to taste whether we had hit it right. I think we all enjoyed tasting us through recipes until we got it right.”
After the experimentation phase three years ago, Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok has held the recipe pretty consistent, except last year when they decided to go for a second type of a smaller mini-semla for those worried about the effect on their diet, explains Eric.
Being a Swedish favourite the hotel can also tap into the fact that it hosts many Swedes.
“We have a lot of Swedish guests during the period November to April. Actually 8% of our guests are Swedish over the whole year.”
The semla is also available for pre-order/ take-away, while it comes as a combo with fresh coffee at the hotel. Others prefer to have it with tea or hot chocolate, says Eric.
It does also go down well with the locals.
“Many Thais enjoy eating the semla, as do many other nationalities. We have many who have seen us advertising it who would like to try. Many people who only learned about it in Bangkok are now hooked on the bun.”
See also our previous story: