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Scandinavian Bakery in NYC? ISO Semla/Semlor

It's that time of year again, folks: bring on the semla!

What's semla, you ask?

Well, as anyone familiar with Swedish food customs will tell you, a semla is a delectable cream and marzipan filled cardamom-spiced bun that's traditionally consumed during the days right before the commencement of Lent. And since Lent is right around the corner at this point, if there's semla to be found in this great city of ours, now would be the time to find it. Once found, I intend to immediately (and giddily) ingest a good dozen of these creamy babies (any more than that may prove lethal.. don't believe me? Consult the Wikipedia entry for semla and read for yourself!).

Does anyone know of a European/Scandinavian bakery in the city that might make these marvelous little creations? For that matter, does a Scandinavian bakery even exist in the 5 boroughs? You're help would be very much appreciated, and hey - perhaps you'll be inspired to go out and get one (or 12) yourself. You'll be glad you did..

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  1. I have no clue but maybe if you called Aquavit or the cafe they would know...or maybe they make them :)

    1. Not aware of any in Manhattan. But you may want to ask at Scandinavian House in Midtown

      1. Actually, "semla" means bun, any kind of bread bun. (usually not sweet).
        The "delectable cream and marzipan filled cardamom-spiced bun" that you are talking about is called "Fastlagssemla" or "Fastlagsbulle" or "Fettisdagsbulle", and is made with a sweet wheat bun. In Finnish the exactly same thing is called "Laskiassämpylä".

        But basically, what it is, is a "Challah" bun with a hole on top, filled with marzipan (some people also put jam in there), and then you can either put whipped cream on top, or pour warm milk over it, and replace the "cap", i.e., the part that was cut off the top to make room for marzipan.

        Photos of the Fastlagssemla(bulle):

        Info about it:

        I do not know where you can get them in NY. Maybe Svenska Kyrkan (Swedish Church)... at least, maybe they can tell you if there is a baker here who makes them. I know they sell some candies and baked goods there, maybe not stuff as perishable as the Fastlagsbulle, though.

        I would also guess that Restaurant SmörgåsChef http://www.smorgaschef.com/contact.htm might serve them during "fastlag" (Shrove Tuesday) or "fettisdag", as it is also called , or maybe they can tell you where to possibly get the this goodie.

        This Finnish baker, in Port Washington, NY, bakes and ships organic Finnish rye breads, but I do not think he bakes any sweet stuff.
        e-mail him and ask:

        4 Replies
        1. re: FoodWine

          Thank you for all of this great info. In Goteborg, where I grew up, I was vaguely aware of the term, Fastlagssemla, but everyone (including the shops where they were sold), referred to them as Semlor, and knew just what that meant this time of year!

          1. re: FoodWine

            With all due respect, I've never heard a Swede refer to the buns I've described as "Fastlagssemla" or "Fastlagsbulle" or "Fettisdagsbulle" -- only "semla" (alternatively spelled "semlor"). You may well be right that the more accurate word for these buns is "Fastlagssemla" or one of the others, but just about every Swede I know calls them semlas.

            Many thanks for the recommendations, by the way! I contacted the Svenska Kyrkan, and they referred me to Fika - which I will now refer you to, as well! I spoke to one of the owners today, and indeed they'll have semla for sale starting Wednesday. I urge you to support Fika and try one!

            As for Smorgas Chef, I'll be having dinner at their West Village location this Friday, but don't expect semlas to be part of the dessert offerings. They don't really do baked goods and pastries there..

            1. re: sanangel

              Thank you for the recommendation.

              About "semla". Very interesting. If you tell me to go buy one, I will bring you bread, i.e., a bread bun, which, as you know, is what semla really means. So I guess it is regional.
              All my Swedish relatives call them Fastlagssemla, except for one that calls it Fettisdagsbulle (which always sounded strange, but quaint to me). And every single Swedish speaking Finn (after all, the tradition is not limited to Sweden only, the Finns celebrate it, too) calls its Fastalgssemla or Fastlagsbulle.

              Ooh, it would be so tempting to go to Fika and buy one, but I think I will resist. But I will visit them another time.

            2. re: FoodWine

              Hey, whoever wrote the silly statement at the top, above, is all wet, and probably got their information from an old Encyclopedia Britannica. A semla and a fastlagssemla or bulle are all one and the same, denoting time and regional differences for the very same delectable pastry created annually for lent, all over Sweden. The "bread" part of a semla is the same used for, say, cinnamon buns, and simply turned into a large round bun. After baking the ban is eviscerted, that is, a thin cap is cut off the top and much of the bun's innards are pulled out and mixed with a bit of sugar, heavy cream and almond paste. This is then stuffed back into the bun and topped with a generous amount of whipped cream. Finally the thin top (often cut as a triangle) is placed on top and a bit of powdered sugar dusted over the whole. Ahhhh, delicious!!!!

              1. you may also try talking to the people at Fika on 58th st, they bake a bunch of scandinavian stuff and may have them/make them to order...

                7 Replies
                1. re: scanditrash

                  Hey ScandiTrash,

                  Thanks so much for the Fika reccomendation -- turns out we've struck gold!

                  I checked out the Fika website, and it's exactly the kind of place I've been hoping to find in NYC.

                  And... I called Fika and confirmed that they WILL HAVE SEMLAS... starting this Wednesday! Hooray!

                  I can't wait to try this charming little place out... I'll report back soon!

                  Thanks again for the reccomendation!

                  1. re: sanangel

                    Awesome news! I can't wait to surprise my family with them.

                  2. re: scanditrash

                    Can you tell me more about Fika? Is it a bakery/restaurant etc.? I really miss Ulrike's, and while I like Aquavit Cafe, it's not a substitute.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Fika presents itself as a coffee shop, but they also offer food. Last time I was there I saw a guy eating a nice looking salad with very thinly sliced salmon in it. It looked good. There isn't a whole lot of seating, just one or two small tables and some stools along the sides.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Fika is very modern euro-cafe with a Swedish slant, named after the popular Swedish term for "coffee break". As you may already know, Swedes are serious about their strong cups of coffee, and consider the coffee break a guaranteed allowance during their workday, much like in Italy. Fika also does a small catering business of updated Scandinavian hors d'oeuvres.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I miss Ulrika's, too. I loved that place, it was like stepping into someone's home dining room in the archipelago between Sweden and Finland.

                          1. re: FoodWine

                            Ulrika Bengtsson was cooking at Roger Smith Hotel last I heard. Not the same atmosphere but good food nonetheless.

                      2. OK, so I had a semla from Fika today. It was a decent substitute for the real thing, but not quite as good as I remembered. The bun was a standard French brioche- I seem to recall the ones in Sweden being a bit larger and softer than the firm, compact French ones we have here. Perhaps a bit sweeter, too. I also felt that a certain flavor was missing, probably also due to the bread lacking. Do the ones in Sweden contain any special flavoring? Cardamom, perhaps? I can't recall. The whipped cream was fresh and delicious. Now, for the most important part: the almond paste. I was looking forward to finding out whether the "marzipan" would have that special texture that I remember- light and smooth, and not too intensely-flavored. And I was not disappointed! The almond flavor was just enough to stand out without being overwhelming, and blended beautifully with the cream. I have a feeling that my overall impression would have been significantly more favorable had the bun been better.

                        As for the rest of my FIKA experience, I was so glad that I went back. The ;ast time I was there, it was a bit empty and stark. There were quite a few Swedes in there today! It was nice to hear people speaking the language again, and smell the aroma of fresh kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls). I also picked up some (very expensive) espresso from Lofbergs, and a bag of Bilar for old times' sake :) I keep telling myself that I will actually have lunch in there one day, but haven't gotten to it yet.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                          Glad you got your fix! I stopped in over the weekend and they looked at me as if I had a hole in my head when I asked them if they had any cardamom buns (couldn't remember the name) - which they didn't. The coffee smelled wonderful, and the sandwiches looked good, though I had hoped they would have had some lovely open faced ones instead.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Yeah, you know, the young lady looked at me strangely for a moment, too, even though they were sitting in the pastry case, plain as day. I then asked for a couple of other things, and she said, "Ar du Svensk?", and then I realized, she thought I might be Swedish. It turns out, she was taken aback by my strong Gothenburg accent. She's not the first person to marvel at how, for a non-Swede, I speak "Goteborska" to a T. :)
                            Anyway, the semla was delicious, but left me a little bit less than satisified (if you check out the photos in FoodWine's post above, it will give you a great idea of how they should look) with their small size and hard bun. But it was better than nothing, and, as I wrote above, the experience of being in there was nice. Should you decide to go back, you'll surely recognize them- they can be found in the case facing the front window, perpendicular to the spot where the counter is. They were right below the sandwiches. I agree, it would be nice if they offered some traditional open-faced sandwiches. I think they probably just don't have the space to run a made-to-order operation. However, I read on their website that they offer Swedish meatballs, which will probably be what I order when I do get around to trying their savory food. Up until now, the meatballs at Smorgas Chef have been quite good... but I must admit, I am crazy for the ones at IKEA. Sometimes I go there just to relive my childhood school lunches. The taste is nearly identical! It's my dirty little secret...

                            1. re: vvvindaloo

                              Thanks! I had seen some of the descriptions on the catering part of their website, and they sounded so good - http://fikanyc.com/catering_bites.html. I make the meatballs at home when I have a craving - just had some leftovers for lunch. If you have a chance - would you mind emailing me (address in profile)?

                        2. The swedish church is selling semlor since the weekend, but since today is the 5th they may not have any left tomorrow...
                          As for fika, it is an amazing place, my hands down favorite there is the baked potato with skagen rora type stuff they call smogen or something (they know what you mean by skagen though). You can also get it on a sandwich or salad...
                          The salmon wrap with the dipping sauce is pretty good too

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: scanditrash

                            I keep hearing about this Swedish church. Then I forget to look into it. Where do I go for all of the food items that they are supposed to sell? Do you think that they will continue selling semlor through lent, or will they stop today?

                            1. re: vvvindaloo

                              The cleaning lady makes the selma and sells it during Lent. It is sold at the small cafe at the library in the Swedish Church. They also got some good cinnamon buns.

                              Swedish Church
                              5 East 48th Street
                              btw 5th and Madison avenues

                              1. re: designerboy01

                                Do they have cinnamon buns, and/or other delights on sale other times at the cafe? I must have passed but never noticed.

                                1. re: Up With Olives

                                  My question about the cafe was meant to be for the Swedish Church at
                                  5 East 48th Street. I realized upon rereading it may have been unclear.

                            2. They carry them at the AQ Cafe, which is near Columbus Circle. I have no idea whether they are authentic, but they are delicious.

                              1. You may want to try Fika: http://www.fikanyc.com/res/default/pr...

                                The one I go to is on Park Ave. S around 29th St. It's a Swedish coffee bar with baked goods, some authentic and Swedish. They sell a Swedish baking book there, so it seems to be the real thing. Give them a try! It's a lovely place with nice design.

                                407 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10016