Fastelavnsboller: A treat for Shrovetide
Sweet buns filled with airy whipped cream enhance the time before Lenten sacrifice
Norwegian American Weekly
This time of the year, fluffy cream-filled buns start appearing on Scandinavian bakery shelves. Called Fastelavnsboller in Norway and Semlor in Sweden, they would traditionally be eaten during Fastelavn or Shrovetide, the days before Lent. But these days the buns have become so popular that they are served throughout January and February.
People in the Nordic countries aren’t widely religious, and therefore fasting during Lent isn’t common today. Still, the Fastelavnsboller echo the tradition, in that you would eat this rich, special bun before entering a more austere period. Even upon first glance, Fastelavnsboller appear to be something special: plump buttery rolls sandwiching swirls of whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar. As if that weren’t enough, some versions add jam or a rich almond filling.
In his recently released The Nordic Cookbook, Magnus Nilsson writes that people have been filling buns with something rich for Shrove Tuesday since at least the Middle Ages; the cream came during the 16th century but wasn’t whipped, he writes, until the early 20th century. He points out that cardamom wasn’t generally used in these buns until after industrialization, though very wealthy homes might have used the spice beforehand.
While you won’t necessarily find cardamom in every Fastelavnsboller recipe, some of the best boller are unapologetic in their use of cardamom, in my opinion. The spice works perfectly in boller-based desserts, a subtle foil to the richness and sweetness of the rest of the dessert. Whether in skolebrød—school buns filled with rich vanilla custard and topped with a coconut-flecked icing—or Fastelavnsboller, the finished result is proof that the sum should be greater than each part.
• I’ve read varying accounts of how Norwegian Fastelavnsboller compare to their equivalents in the other Nordic countries. While some Norwegians often like to eat these fairly simply, with just whipped cream, I’ve included an almond filling in this recipe (as do cookbooks such as Den Rutete Kokeboken edited by Ingrid Espelid Hovig and Authentic Norwegian Cooking by Astrid Karlsen Scott). If you’d prefer to leave it out, just omit that step from the recipe, simply cutting the buns in half and filling them with cream.
• Do yourself a favor and grind your own cardamom. The aroma is intoxicating.
• Also, a note about the whipped cream: I generally make my own, as I love the taste and feel of the velvety billows and prefer to control the sweetness. But this recipe is an exception—I use a can, if only to easily achieve a decorative look. Of course you can whip your own cream with a little sugar and perhaps some vanilla extract and pipe it onto the buns if you’d like. Some people even serve Fastelavnsboller in a bowl, with warm milk poured over. Alone or bathing in milk, they’d be great with a hot cup of coffee.
For the buns:
1 stick (8 tbsps.) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tsps. freshly-ground cardamom
5 tbsps. active dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
approx. 4 cups flour
1 beaten egg, for brushing
For the almond filling:
1 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
filling from buns
3 tbsps. milk or cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract
whipped cream, for filling (see notes)
powdered sugar, for dusting
To make the buns:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the milk and cardamom and heat until hot but not boiling, then set aside and cool until lukewarm.
Pour a half cup or so of the lukewarm milk into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast and a tablespoon of the sugar. Let sit until the yeast bubbles, about 5 minutes. Pour in the remaining milk, along with the remaining sugar, egg, and salt.
Stir in the flour gradually with a wooden spoon, starting with about half of the flour and then adding a half cup or so at a time until you have a dough that’s firm and releases from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Form it into a large ball.
Lightly grease a large bowl—you can use the same mixing bowl if you wipe it out—and plop in the dough, turning it around until it’s coated. Cover with a damp cloth and set to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment.
Punch down the dough and shape into 12 balls, using your hands to roll them as smoothly as possible. Place them on the baking sheets with the smoothest side up. Cover with a damp towel and let rise again, this time about 20 minutes. Brush with the beaten egg.
Bake in the center of the oven, one sheet at a time, for about 10 minutes until golden on top—watch carefully as they quickly turn too dark. Rotate if needed for even baking. If they’re browning too quickly and the insides need time, then cover the tops with a sheet of foil paper. Cool on a wire rack.
When the buns are cool, use a sharp knife to carefully cut the top off of each one. Scoop out part of the inside; you can use your fingers for this, but I like to cut a circle with the knife and scoop out the bread with a grapefruit spoon. Set aside.
For the filling:
To make the almond filling, whirl the almonds in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add the powdered sugar and the reserved bread filling and pulse a few times until combined. Add the milk or cream and the almond extract and process until the filling comes together.
Evenly distribute the filling into the cavities, then pipe on a generous amount of whipped cream. Top with the bread lids, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.
Daytona Strong is the Norwegian American Weekly’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Scandinavian heritage through the lens of food at www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 5, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.