Fastelavnsboller – Lenten buns
You’ve probably heard about Swedish Lenten buns called semlor – which are ever so popular, even outside Sweden. However, Danes often make this version called fastelavnsboller. If you aren’t into marzipan and whipped cream, then this is the Lenten bun for you.
A fastelavnsboll is eaten on the Monday before Lent, not the Tuesday, because we Danes do the traditional Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras celebrations the day before. The kids dress up in fancy dress and play a type of piñata with a real barrel. Then they do a Danish version of trick-or-treating (for money or sweets) to maximise their sugar intake for the day.
And we eat buns. Lots of buns.
In Danish bakeries you will find fastelavnsboller are made with a type of pastry dough, like Danish pastry but more flaky. However, at home people make these yeast dough buns, which are heavier and more wholesome. I’ve kept the recipe for the buns very similar to the dough we use for cinnamon buns, although there’s extra butter and a bit of baking powder.
These buns are sometimes also served in Norway, although Norwegians have both these and also a bun closer to the aforementioned semla, but with jam inside as well as whipped cream. It’s hard to be super specific about the origins of some Scandi foods sometimes because all the countries are so close and sometimes recipes travel across borders or via families. This particular recipe is based on what my Danish granny Erna made for Lent, so I think it’s the best!
To make the dough:
- 25g (1oz) fresh yeast OR 13g (just under ½oz) dried yeast (read the yeast section of the method carefully for what to do before you start baking)
- 250ml (1 cup) whole milk, heated to 36-37ºC (97-99ºF)
- 100g (just less than 1 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 40g (3 tbsp) caster sugar (granulated will be OK
- 400-500g (3 – 3⅔ cups) strong white bread flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg, beaten
To make the pastry cream filling:
- 500ml (2 cups) whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 100g (½ cup) caster sugar
- 30g (3 and a bit tbsp) cornflour
- 25g (just less than ¼ stick) butter
To make the topping:
- 150g icing sugar (1 cup confectioner’s sugar)
- 50g (3½ tbsp) melted dark chocolate
- Hot water
Have some additional beaten egg ready to brush the buns before baking.
How to make the buns:
- Start by making the pastry cream by adding the milk and vanilla pod to a saucepan and bringing to the boil.
- In a food processor, whisk the sugar, eggs and cornflour together.
- Pour one third of the hot milk into the egg mixture at medium speed, then pour the contents of the processor bowl back into the saucepan. Bring it back to the boil, taking care not to burn. It needs to be at boiling point to thicken, which will take around 30 seconds, so keep your eye on it.
- Take the saucepan off the heat, add the butter and stir. Transfer the cream to a cool bowl and leave it to set.
- If you’re using fresh yeast, add the warm milk to a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast until it’s dissolved. Alternatively, if you’re using dried yeast, sprinkle it into the warm milk and whisk together. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to become bubbly.
- Pour the yeast-milk mixture into a food processor with a dough hook attachment. Start the machine and add the cooled, melted butter. Allow everything to combine for a minute or so, then add the sugar. Leave to combine for another minute.
- In a separate bowl, weigh out 400g (3 cups) of the flour, add the cardamom and salt and mix together. Start adding the flour and spices into the milk mixture, bit by bit. Add the beaten egg. Keep kneading for 5 minutes. You may need to add more flour – you want the mixture to end up a bit sticky, but not so much that it sticks to your finger if you poke it. It is better not to add too much flour as this will result in dry buns. You can always add more later.
- Once mixed, leave the dough in a bowl and cover with a dish towel or cling film. Allow to rise for around 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
- Dust a table top with flour and turn out the dough. Using your hands, knead the dough and work in more flour if needed. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 30x40cm rectangle (approx 12x16in). Cut the dough into 12 equal squares.
- On each square, add a good tablespoon of pastry cream. Gather the corners together on top, then slowly gather the sides to ensure the pastry cream stays inside the bun and won’t seep out during baking.
- When the bun is completely closed, turn over and place on a lined baking tray, seam side down. Leave the buns to rise for a further 20-25 minutes.
- Heat your oven to 180ºC fan (200ºC conventional, 400ºF, gas mark 6). Brush the buns with egg. Pop the buns in and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden and baked through, then leave to cool. Baking time may vary depending on your oven – adjust your baking time accordingly.
- To make the icing, melt the chocolate. Mix the icing sugar with a tablespoon of hot water, and maybe another one, until you have a thick, smooth mixture. Add the melted chocolate and stir until smooth, then set aside to cool a bit (or your buns will have melted icing all over them when you just want it to sit neatly on top).
- Top each bun with chocolate icing, add sprinkles, and serve!