Spoilt for choice – a Swedish pastry ranking

Hej hej! Happy 2024! To start off the new year on a lighter note, before all of the Global Health related content I have planned, I thought I’d give you my personal ranking of some Swedish pastries I’ve tried over the last few months. Clearly, I’ve dived headfirst into the Swedish tradition of fika, but since this is such an integral part of the culture I believe it’s important to know which pastries should be on your hit list when you arrive in Sweden. It should be noted that many Swedish pastries are seasonal, and so are only available for certain periods during the year, so you have to get them while you can. Nevertheless, here’s my personal ranking of 5 classic Swedish pastries.

Number 5 – Lussekatter

Said to be shaped like cat’s tails, lussekatter (or lussebullar) are one of the traditional Lucia pastries. Lucia is Sweden’s winter holiday of light, which falls in mid-December during the darkest time of the year. These saffron-flavoured buns have a bread like texture, and often include raisins in the dough. Whilst I like these, I think I had too many grocery store versions which I found a little dry and so didn’t enjoy them as much. However, when the Global Health department held a Lucia celebration for us, they managed to find some really good lussekatter that we enjoyed with glögg (mulled wine) and pepparkakor (gingerbread) – so look out for that invitation in your schedule next year!

Number 4 – Semla

Now hear me out, before someone gets upset that Semla are only number 4 – I do think they are yummy! – but I think I’d heard so much about Semla buns that by the time I actually tried one, my expectations were too high. Semla buns are the traditional Swedish Lent bun, which are filled with almond paste and whipped cream, and often topped with chopped nuts too. However, they are so beloved in Sweden that they are often sold from the beginning of the New Year all the way to Easter, so you’ll have plenty of time to get your hands on one. I did enjoy the Semla bun, but I think my expectations were to love it as much as my number 1 pick, which didn’t quite happen. Nevertheless, very delicious and very worth a try! I’ve also seen advertisements for a pistachio-flavoured Semla floating around, which may change my opinion on the ranking of Semla…

Semla buns
Photo credits: Visit Stockholm

Number 3 – Kardemummabullar

A staple of fika, and a pastry with which you can never go wrong! Kardemummabullar are the cardemom-flavoured version of the famous Swedish cinnamon bun, and a nice alternative if you want something a little different to cinnamon. These are my sister’s personal favourite, and it’s easy to see why! They’re not something you can easily find outside of Sweden, and I definitely fill up whilst I’m here!

Author eating cardamom buns
Photo credits: Isobel Tan

Number 2 – Kanelbullar

The Swedish classic! Although you can find these across the world, nothing quite compares to the ones you can get in a Swedish cafe. Spiced, filling, and best when fresh out of the oven, it’s unsurprising that cinnamon buns are considered by many to be the national pastry. There is a debate between those who enjoy the sugar crystals scattered on top, and those who scrape them off – but either way, these pastries are delicious and if they’re a big factor in your choice to move to Sweden, join the club. There’s even a whole day for cinnamon buns in October (although apparently most desserts have a national day in Sweden, which is probably a crucial tactic for surviving the winter…)

Cinnamon buns
Photo credits: Emily Tan

Honorable mention – Prinsesstårta

Prinsesstårta, or princess cake, isn’t technically a pastry, but had to get an honourable mention because of how iconic it is! (Also probably because I’m craving a slice right now..). It was introduced to my by one of my good friends from my Global Health class, and she was so right in urging me to try it! This cake consists of layers of light sponge, whipped cream, and (the best part), raspberry jam with potentially fresh raspberries! This is all covered in a layer of green marzipan, giving it the iconic green dome look. If you can find a version with fresh fruit, the lightness from the fruit and cream compared to the sweeter and heavier marzipan, make this a glorious experience. Definitely worth a try!

Princess cake on a table with cream and a red drink
Photo credits: Visit Sweden

Number 1 – Saffransbullar

The sister pastry to the lussekatt, saffransbullar or saffron buns, are a saffron flavoured version of a cinnamon bun, and the best thing I have ever eaten (no joke). These are also only available around Lucia time, from November to December, so make sure to eat your fill. If you find other bullar to be too sweet, these are perfect for you. They’re buttery and rich rather than overly sweet, without the saffron flavour being too overpowering. Some friends even bought some, froze them, and took them home on the plane for winter break because they loved them so much. I can’t recommend these enough!

Photo credits: Emily Tan

Once again, thanks for following along for this slightly silly post! I have much more Global Health-related content to come, so stay tuned. Tack, and see you next time 🙂

Emily - Global Health

Emily - Global Health

Hi, I’m Emily! I’m from the UK, the USA and Malaysia, and I’m studying the Master’s in Global Health this year. I’m a medical student in the UK, and hope to work either in Emergency Medicine or Women’s Health, as well as in health policy development and implementation. In my free time, I love playing sports, thrift shopping, hiking and the outdoors, and trying out new cafés (all of which I have heard Stockholm is perfect for!). I’m excited to travel around Scandinavia this year, start some new sports, and explore the shops and cafés in Södermalm.


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