Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Semla Cupcakes

Something a bit different for Shrove Tuesday.  Rather than the traditional pancakes, I made cupcakes based on a Scandinavian treat called semla, specifically the Swedish-Finnish version, which consists of a cardamom spiced wheat bun, filled with almond paste and whipped cream.  I'd seen cupcake versions of it a few weeks ago and went investigating as to what they were.  When I discovered they were associated with today, I knew I would have to give them a shot.  However, the original ones that inspired me were made with boxed cake mix.  I am not a fan of using cake mix.  I prefer doing things myself.  So I decided to find a recipe that did it from scratch.   And I found one.  In Swedish.  Luckily, Google translate did a pretty good job on changing it over to English and I could work out what I needed to do easily enough from it.  Admittedly some areas omitted amounts, namely for the decorative fillings, so I had to guess those myself but otherwise it was fine.

So these cakes are cardamom spiced with their tops cut off, almond paste in the centre, and topped with some sweetened whipped cream.

Well this one was a venture into some new territory for me, since I was using some ingredients that I've never used before.  The first was cardamom and the second was almond paste.  Now cardamom, I expected to find ground up in the spice section of the supermarket but no: I could only find it in pods.  You can apparently get ground but apparently most people grind up the seeds inside the pods themselves for baking.  This is probably quite easy if you have a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder (which I'm thinking I will invest in somewhere down the line) but I don't, so I had to settle for trying to smash them with a rolling pin.  Not entirely effective but not a complete failure either. 

As for almond paste, I've not worked with anything like it, including marzipan, since I don't like it.  However, I wasn't just using it, I was making it.  As far as I understood, marzipan and almond paste are not quite the same?  I could be wrong but a number of places seemed to imply you could buy almond paste in tubes.  I could find no such thing, only marzipan.  So I decided I would make my own, since it didn't look too hard.  And it really wasn't.  Seemed to come out how it was supposed to, though I made more than I needed.  Possibly the only concern for some people is the use of raw egg white.  There are a few no egg recipes out there, but otherwise I believe you could substitute in pasteurised egg white instead.  That's what another site was saying anyway.  You should be able to find that in the supermarket too, though I wasn't able to.

So what was the verdict from the tasters  Well according to the fiancĂ© they were all devoured quite rapidly.  He says they have a slightly tangy flavour and that all the individual elements work really nicely together, which was nice to hear because he hadn't been to keen on the almond paste when he tried it on its own. 


Almond Paste - adapted from BBC Food
  • 55g/2oz icing sugar
  • 55g/2oz caster sugar
  • 100g/3.5oz ground almonds
  • 1/2 egg white (or pasteurised egg white)
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Put the caster sugar into a medium bowl, and sift the icing sugar into it.  Add the ground almonds and mix together.
  2. Add the lemon juice and mix in.
  3. Lightly beat the egg white.
  4. Add the egg white a little at a time to the dry ingredients and mix together until you get a stiff dough.  You may not need all the egg white.
  5. Roll into a ball and knead gently.  If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more icing sugar.
  6. Put in a plastic bag until ready to use.
Cakes - adapted from Kelly Biddle 
Makes 12 
  • 2 eggs
  • 340g/12oz caster sugar
  • 50g/1.7oz butter
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 125ml/4.5oz milk
  • 1.25 tsp baking powder
  • 280g/10oz plain flour
  • 225g/8oz almond paste
  • 4 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 175ml/6fl.oz double cream
  • 30g/1oz icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add in the melted butter, cardamom, milk, baking powder and flour and mix everything together until you get a smooth batter.
  5. Spoon the batter into the cases, filling them 2/3 full and then bake for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are risen, golden and springy to the touch.  A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.
  6. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. In the meantime, first mix the 4 tbsp cream into the almond paste.  You can add the almond extract here too if you want to enhance the flavour.  You're aiming for a fairly smooth paste.
  8. Whip the 175ml/6fl.oz cream with the icing sugar until you get stiff peaks.  Put into a piping bag fitted with a large, closed star nozzle.
  9. Cut the top off of each cake to make a 'lid' and scoop a little of the middle out of the cake with a small spoon.
  10. Fill the scooped out part with almond paste and then pipe a swirl of cream on top.
  11. Place the lids back on the cakes and then dust with icing sugar.

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