Fettisdagen - day of the cream bun - Moz Sweden

Stories from the north

Fettisdagen – day of the cream bun

The Swedish ”fettisdagen” – translated ”fat Tuesday” – has its roots way back in Swedish history. Today, it’s a loved and celebrated tradition where the beloved cream bun ”semla” can be found at every café – and there are even competitions deciding who makes the best cream bun!

What is a semla?

The cream bun called ”semla” is a fluffy bun made of wheat, spiced up with cardamom. The bun is split and the inside is filled with a soft marzipan paste, and topped off with fluffy, whipped cream. The top of the split bun is placed on top of the cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It’s the bakery goods of bakery goods, and many Swedes have personal preferences on how the bun should be assembled. Some like more or less of the marzipan paste – some want whole pieces of almonds – and some like to eat the bun in a bowl of warm milk: a so-called ”hetvägg”.

Semla with Swedish flag

The history of the semla

The word ”semla” comes from the latin word ”similar”, which means wheat flour. But the original semla wasn’t all that fancy. It consisted of a rock hard, dry wheat bun that might have been filled with raisins and nuts. In some cases it needed to be boiled in hot milk for several hours (which is the origin of today’s tradition of eating semla in a bowl of hot milk), in order to make it edible.

The first written notice of the semla in Sweden was made around the year 1670, but the bun was made and eaten long before that. The marzipan – or at least the use of almonds – was introduced in the 1700’s, when more exotic products were imported to Sweden. But it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the bun became more common in every home, since wheat flour had been a luxury good for centuries.

The reason for the bun’s existence is that people needed to ”fat up”, and eat before the traditional fasting. The fasting occurred before the Easter holidays, and after Christmas, and today it’s celebrated in February.