Fastelavn - Danish Mardi Gras

swedish semlor fika danish pastry

Fastelavn is the Danish version of the pre Lenten celebrations, such as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday and Carnival, that are common all over the world at this time of year. In many ways it's a time for children. Costumes and candy make Fastelavn similar to Halloween, but instead of collecting candy by trick or treating, the treats are knocked out of a barrel in the same way as a piñata in a tradition known as "slå katten af tønden" ("hit the cat out of the barrel").

old photo
One of the Great old Photos Of Fastelavn from
In medieval times this game had supersticious origins - a live cat would be placed in a barrel, and the barrel was beaten with sticks until it broke and the cat escaped. It was then chased out of the town, and people believed that it would take the collective bad luck and evil spirits of the town with it. Now a black cat is traditionally painted on the side of the barrel instead of a live cat and the child who causes the barrel to fall apart is crowned "Kattekongen" ("the King of cats"). In Amager, the part of Copenhagen I live in, "slå katten af tønden" was an adult contest done on horseback in a tradition that goes back many years. A man is chosen from each area farm and smashes the barrel with a club. The rider who breaks the last piece of the barrel, the "Kattekongen" , was rewarded with his farm being exempt from paying taxes for that year, a prize that made for a serious competion.
fastelavn amager mardi gras denmark

store magleby fastelavn denmark

Mia and I took a bus to the village of Store Magleby, where they still "slå katten af tønden" on horseback. We watched the festivities then headed to the Amager Museum for æbleskiver and Amager Punch - a hot toddy made with a special strong rum.

Most pre-Lenten celebrations have special food traditions associated with them. Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday in the English world, paczki for Ostatki in Poland, cannoli for Carnevale in Sicily, king cake in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and in Scandinavia fastelavnsboller or semlor.

Classic Swedish Semlor

Almost every konditori will have fastelavnsboller or semlor in their shop window in the weeks leading up to Fastelavn. In Sweden Semlor are a sweet bun with marzipan and filled high with whipped cream, Sometimes they are served as hetvägg, where warm milk is poured over and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Apparently one of the kings of Sweden died after overindulging in 14 bowls of hetvägg.
fastelavn copenhagen
Various Fastelavnsboller

In Denmark fastelavnsboller can take various forms. Some bakeries offer something similar to semlor, while others are more like "danishes" with a jam or custard center. "Gammeldaws fastelavnsboller" are filled with a custard creme before they are baked and topped with a dollop of icing or chocolate. I end up buying a lot of these, and this year I decided to make my own. I used a basic semlor recipe for the buns, and got a bit creative with the fillings. I made half with a mocha filling and half with a chai latte filling.

For the chai latte cream I warmed about 100ml of 35% cream with 3 tbsp chai latte powder and 1 gelatin leaf. I whipped 400ml 35% cream to soft peaks and slowly poured in the chai latte while still mixing. I did the same for the mocha cream, but used 1 tbsp ground espresso, 1 tbsp cocoa powder and 2 tbsp icing sugar instead of the chai latte powder along with the gelatin leaf


Link to Basic Semlor Recipe from





swedish semlor danish pastry
After baking the buns I scooped out the centers and mixed half with marzipan and raspberries, and the other half with marzipan and chopped poached pear. I glazed the tops of the raspberry bottoms with chocolate and ground hazelnuts, and glazed the tops of the poached pear bottoms with salted caramel, chopped pistachios and chopped poached pear. I let them set for a bit then piped in the mocha and chai latte creams





fastelavnsboller danish pastry
Chai Latte Semla with Pistachio, Caramel and Poached Pear
fastelavnsboller danish pastry
Mocha Semla with Raspberry, Chocolate and Hazelnuts

Although these aren't traditional Swedish semlor, or traditional Danish fastelavnsboller, they turned out to be pretty delicious, and I think kept with the spirit of Scandinavian Fastelavn treats.
They were very rich and one with a coffee was more than enough. Next year I think I'll make them again and try out different fillings and flavour combinations.

swedish semlor fika danish pastry

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