Semlor or awesome cardamom-spiced, almond paste and cream filled Scandanavian Lent buns

Semlor (singular : semla) is the Swedish name for these delectable little (OK my version was little) buns. I first saw them on a friend’s Fascebook page more than two years ago. Her Scandanavian partner had produced these around Easter time and from her pictures, they looked delicious. I remember reading at the time that the buns were full of cardamom and that’s all I needed to know. Buns with cardamom, almond and cream sounded like something that would be right up my alley.

All my semlor-related knowledge came from Wikipedia and from this page which is also the source of my recipe (s). Traditionally, these buns are meant to be eaten on Mardi-gras or Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday – the day before the start of Lent. Apparently, in Sweden there are long queues at bakeries that specialise in making and selling semlor on Shrove Tuesday. Having made semlor once, I reckon they should be an all-year bun, not just Mardi-gras buns. Just make sure you don’t eat them like the old Swedish King Adolf Fredrik did. Fable says that he died after eating 14 servings of semla in hot milk.

With this post, I have provided links to the recipes I used and have demonstrated the methdolofy in pictures. Hope you find it useful and give it a try!

 

Whole cardamom pods in the background. In the foreground, from left to right (1) half-open pod (2) peels (3) seeds (4) ground cardamom

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Carrot halwa/halva or Gajar ka halwa/halva

WARNING!! This dish is not for the lactose-intolerant or those watching their waistlines. Once-a-year is about the right frequency for this dish. 

Halwa (or halva) is a kind of dense dessert that takes many different forms and is consumed in many different countries around the world. Wikipedia says that the following countries produce and consume some kind of halwa –  Albania, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria,, Libya and Tunisia, Lithuania, Palestine, Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, Romania and Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Turkey and United States. This is pretty amazing given that for most of my life, I’d only met 2 types of halwa – carrot and beetroot. In Melbourne however, I met the Lebanese halwa made with tahini (sesame paste), ridiculous amounts of sugar and pistachios – yumm!

In most cases, halwa refers to a dense, sugar-rich and hence, calorie-rich dessert. My partner calls it “Diabetes-in-a-block” or “Heart-attack-in-a-bowl” but having grown up eating Indian halwa (amongst other sweets), I have a soft spot for halwa. When I was young, I remember mum making two kinds of halwa – one with carrot and one with beetroot. All I remember is that it would take her forever to make.  Much of the process involved reducing the vegetable, sugar and milk down to a thick sweet paste. The end result, in my opinion, was delicious and totally worth the wait. Perhaps that also had something to do with the fact that mum only made it once or twice a year, given it was such an arduous process.

When I moved to Melbourne to do my PhD,  I lived in an apartment on my own for the first year and a bit. There, I spent many an evening experimenting in my studio kitchen. This kitchen was equipped with 2 electric plates and a convectional microwave (One that can perform the task of a microwave and an oven). My heart almost stopped when I first saw that there was no regular oven but the convectional microwave yielded many a tasty cake and tart. Hooray for technology!

It was in this microwave that I made my very first halwa – a microwave carrot halwa and the recipe is one I follow even today. It doesn’t take as long as mum’s used to on the stove and is practically a one-pot dessert.  Given how rich it is, the serving sizes ought to be really small and hence this dessert can come in handy if you have a large number of guests. Hope you like it !

Carrot halwa

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Quick and dirty saffron pulao

I’ve been travelling for work and pleasure and hence my absence from the blog. I will post a couple of recipes to make up for my absence. The first of these was inspired by the Spanish saffron I got my hands on during one of my recent trips. Beautiful, long strands of saffron that impart a mild, yellow colour to rice and a wonderful and unique flavour too. For those of you who are unfamiliar with saffron, it is the most expensive spice in the world. Each saffron plant has upto 4 flowers and each flower has 3 strands of saffron and each strand has to be hand-picked from a flower. So when you go to the supermarket and see that 1gram of saffron costs 7 GBP, try not to balk.

Growing up, I almost never saw saffron until the time dad went to the Middle east for work and came back with some saffron. Mum used it mostly in desserts but it is also commonly used in flavouring and colouring savoury rice dishes. This pulao is no Spanish paella (pronounced pa-aye-ya) but there is taste in its simplicity. Also, it goes very well with a lot of curries – be they mild or potent. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the final product as we were really hungry and ate it pretty quickly. Hope you try this easy recipe and like it!

Strands of saffron on a bey leaf

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Holige or pancakes stuffed with coconut, cardamom and palm sugar

Note: This recipe has a pronunciation section at the end for all underlined words in the text. If you find it useful (or not), let me know at canwehavesomerasam@gmail.com

A couple of weeks ago, people all over India celebrated their new year. New year in March/April might sound weird but the Hindu calendar is a lunar calendar which means that it doesn’t coincide with the English calendar which is solar. The lunar calendar often means an exact date cannot be set each year so it varies each year. Whatever date it might fall on, the new year in India brings with it new clothes, new resolutions, more school holidays and lots of yummy food.

The Kannada New Year is called “Ugadi”   and is celebrated all over my state of Karnataka (yes, each state also has a different day of celebration – don’t ask me why).  Traditionally, this means lots of festive food including special desserts.  Mum always calls to remind me what festival is on and I usually respond with “What do I cook for it?”. This time she said “Holige” and so I went ahead and made some.

Holige or Obbattu is a bread-based dessert. An authentic holige consists of dough made with a special flour called “chiroti rava” or super-fine semolina. This dough is stuffed with a mixture of fresh coconut, cardamom, jaggery (palm or unrefined sugar) and ground poppy seeds (“gasa gase”  in Kannada and “khus-khus” in Hindi).  The stuffed bread is rolled and cooked on a pan with a little bit of ghee or butter. Below is my attempt to make it with the ingredients I could find in my local supermarket.

Holige or pancake stuffed with coconut and palm sugar

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