If you’re not from Scandinavia, chances are that you might not have heard of semlor or fastelavnsboller before. These pastries are traditionally eaten in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway around the Fastelavn (Shrovetide) holiday. In Northern Europe, this holiday is like a Nordic carnival / Mardi Gras where, similar to the American Halloween, kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. Sweet buns and pastries are eaten on Fastelavnsøndag (the Sunday seven weeks before Easter) and on the Swedish Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday), where Scandinavians indulge in treats in the days before Lent. To help you celebrate the upcoming holiday, we have made a guide to the best semlor and fastelavnsboller in Copenhagen.
Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in the Danish capital? Check out our city map of Copenhagen!
Semlor, Fastelavsnboller, and Gammeldags
There are three common names you might come across during this time in Scandinavia. A semla (plural, semlor) is the traditional pastry served in Sweden leading up to Fettisdagen. Traditionally, a semla is a wheat bun (often flavored with cardamom), filled with marzipan, whipped cream, and almonds, and dusted with powdered sugar. They go crazy for semlor in Sweden, serving semla wraps, burgers, hot dogs, and even milkshakes. (It’s like the Swedish pumpkin spice equivalent – a seasonal special people look forward to every year.) And, like with any holiday, the celebrations seem to come earlier and earlier every year. Fastelavn and Fettisdagen are always mid-February (this year it is the week of February 14th), but most bakeries in Sweden and Copenhagen start serving semla in mid January. It’s almost as if Scandinavians need something to look forward to once Christmas is over and it’s cold and dark outside.
In Denmark, you traditionally eat fastelavnsboller (translated: Shrovetide buns) and gammeldags fastelavnsboller (old-fashioned Shrovetide buns) leading up to the holiday. Unlike the Swedish buns, a fastelavnsbolle is typically a puff pastry or choux pastry filled with jam and cream. It is not uncommon to find long lines of people outside bakeries queuing up for pastries. Probably the reason it has become such a big thing in Copenhagen is due to the incredible bakery scene here in Denmark’s capital.
It’s less of a craze in Norway, as most Norwegians just tend to make fastelavnsboller at home on the weekend of the holiday. The Norwegian tradition is to bake a wheat bun, cut it in half, and fill it with jam and cream. A few bakeries also serve fastelavnsboller on the weekend of Fastelavn, but don’t expect to see lines stretching down the street.
Copenhagen Semla & Fastelavnsbolle Test 2021
We scoured the Internet, stalked the Instagram accounts of Copenhagen’s best bakeries, and asked our followers to submit recommendations of local places serving semlor and fastelavnsboller. We pored through all of the submissions and narrowed them down to a list of nine bakeries in town that looked promising. And thus, we set out on our bikes with a goal of testing them all for our Official 2021 Fastelavnsbolle Ranking. (It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!) Of course, it was very hard to directly compare these pastries, since every bakery decided to go their own unique way and be creative when crafting their holiday buns, but we took our taste testing very seriously. So, here’s how we ranked this list… Presentation: how stunning and jaw-dropping and Instagram-worthy is the pastry? Flavor: how delicious and mouth-watering is it? Value for money: how does the price compare to its size, the quality of the ingredients used, and the other pastries on the list? To get the bakery’s overall score, we took an average of these three numbers. Without further ado, here’s our guide to Copenhagen’s best semlor and fastelavnsboller.
No. 9 – Darcy’s Kaffe
The charming coffee shop on Rantzausgade, Darcy’s Kaffe, went the hipster route, crafting a very non-traditional semla, filled with pumpkin marzipan, citrus marmalade, mascarpone cream, and spruce sugar. Don’t be fooled by its simple appearance – this semla is quite funky in flavor. The bun was a bit dense and not as bouncy as some of the others on the list. The whipped cream had a nice sweetness, but the spruce sugar sprinkled on top completely dominated the flavor. They’ve added pumpkin to the marzipan, which, unfortunately, took over any trace of the almond notes we were craving. To top it all off, the tart citrus marmalade completely clashed with the other flavors. Darcy’s definitely gets points for creativity, but in our opinion, this bun had too many unusual flavors competing with each other and it just didn’t work.
Note: if you’re interested in trying this semla, definitely pre-order it in advance! They only make 20 a day, and it’s only available on the weekend.
DARCY'S KAFFE Price: 45 DKK Presentation: 6/10 Flavor: 5/10 Value: 6/10 Overall score: 5.7/10
No. 8 – Andersen & Maillard
Andersen & Maillard was the last bakery to begin serving their fastelavnsboller in Copenhagen, but they finally joined the pastry party on the last weekend of January. (Ironically enough, two weeks before the actual Fastelavn holiday is late compared to the rest of the shops, who began baking buns as soon as we rang in the new year!) Andersen & Maillard’s fastelavnsboller are available at both their Nørrebro and their Nordhavn outposts, and are the most traditional (at least in terms of appearance) of this Danish style of bun. They serve two varieties – both have a croissant base and whipped cream, and one has blackcurrant jam while the other has a chocolate/orange spread. Neither pastry satisfied our sweet teeth. The croissant was buttery enough, but the cream was practically sugar-free. The tart jam only enhanced that detail, giving the chocolate orange flavor ever so slightly the advantage at this bakery. Perhaps Andersen & Maillard has captured the essence of the traditional Danish fastelavnsbolle, but we personally prefer other styles.
ANDERSEN & MAILLARD Price: 40 DKK Presentation: 5/10 Flavor: 6/10 Value: 7/10 Overall score: 6/10
No. 7 – Hart Bageri
Hart Bageri, one of Copenhagen’s trendiest bakeries, has been drawing long lines of Danes since they began selling their fastelavnsboller. Hart is selling two variations of buns: a fastelavnsbolle (filled with blackcurrant jam and cream), and a gammeldags fastelavnsbolle (a brioche bun glazed in chocolate). Our favorite of the two was the fastelavnsbolle – at first glance we thought the shape resembled the cardamom croissant (our favorite pastry from Hart). We wish they had used their addictingly delicious cardamom dough, but the base was just a plain, laminated pastry dough that wasn’t as buttery as we had hoped for. The vanilla cream was pretty good, but the tart jam was overpowering – we would have preferred more cream and a little less of the super tart jam. The gammeldags fastelavnsbolle, however, was the most disappointing pastry. The brioche bun was pretty dry, and biting into it revealed a gaping cavern rather than the gooey, creamy center we had envisioned. At the bottom of the bun was a very thin layer of remonce that didn’t add much marzipan flavor. The chocolate glaze was fine and the sea salt on top added a nice saltiness, but overall the bun left us pretty unsatisfied.
Note: After our test, Hart Bageri upgraded their gammeldags fastelavnsbolle and filled it with whipped cream. While this indeed improved the bun, it still wasn’t enough to cause a change in the final score or ranking of this bakery.
HART BAGERI Price: 40 DKK each Presentation: 6/10 Flavor: 6/10 Value: 7/10 Overall score: 6.3/10
No. 6 – Buka
The small bakery Buka opened a year ago in the city center, but the first time we tested it was while creating this guide. The owners are the people behind District Tonkin (a popular Vietnamese restaurant); they told us that they had never baked anything before opening last year, so with that in mind we were very impressed. Go for the semla – the filling on this bun is one of the best we tried. The almond paste is crunchy with sugar and a copious amount of real vanilla bean, and it came filled with a lovely vanilla whipped cream. While the cardamom brioche had great flavor, it sadly was pretty dense and not as fluffy as we hoped for. We didn’t love the chocolate cream-filled fastelavnsbolle as much – the croissant base was only okay, and there wasn’t as much balance in the flavors in this pastry.
BUKA Price: 42 DKK (semla), 38 DKK (fastelavnsbolle) Presentation: 7/10 Flavor: 7/10 Value: 6/10 Overall score: 6.7/10
No. 5 – Il Buco
Sylvain Tarpi, a former baker at Juno, is now the pastry chef at Il Buco in Islands Brygge – the only bakery in town that used choux pastry for their fastelavnsbolle! This bun was pretty tasty, but it reminded us more of a classic French pastry than a Danish/Swedish pastry. There was a nice egginess/popover-like quality to the dough and the cream was lovely, but if there was marzipan in this bun (and we were told there was!), it was completely overpowered by all of the tart blackcurrant jam. It had a fresh berries & cream vibe, but we wish it had been a little more balanced with nutty almond flavor. This was also the smallest fastelavnsbolle by far that we tested (and one of the higher-priced buns on our list as well).
IL BUCO Price: 45 DKK Presentation: 8/10 Flavor: 7/10 Value: 6/10 Overall score: 7/10
No. 4 – Bageriet Brød
Bageriet Brød in Enghave Plads is serving three special pastries: a semla, a semla croissant, and a gammeldags fastelavnsbolle. The regular semla was our favorite: quite large in size, with a sweet cream, and loads of cardamom flavor in the bun. Brød’s almond filling had a wonderful rustic texture – large chopped almonds instead of a finely blended paste, more reminiscent of chunky nut butter than of smooth marzipan. The semla croissant was a fun seasonal special, basically like Brød’s signature almond croissant with the addition of whipped cream. The gammeldags fastelavnsbolle used the same cardamom dough as the semla, and the inside was filled to the brim with a tasty vanilla cream. While this bakery lacks a bit in presentation compared to the other spots, it definitely offers the best value for money in town.
BAGERIET BRØD – best value for money! Price: 28 DKK (semla), 35 DKK (croissant), 25 DKK (gammeldags) Presentation: 6/10 Flavor: 8/10 Value: 9/10 Overall score: 7.7/10
No. 3 – Juno the Bakery
Juno, sweet Juno! Leave it to a Swedish baker to perfect the classic semla – this is easily the best traditional bun in town. A fluffy cardamom bun is filled with marzipan, whipped cream, and topped with roasted Valencia almonds. It’s a practically perfect bun, soft and bouncy, with a very strong marzipan flavor to the paste. If we were to be extremely nitpicky, we would perhaps want the cream to be a little bit sweeter (but we understand some people might prefer it not so sweet)! Overall, an excellent pastry with a classic, traditional presentation.
JUNO THE BAKERY – best traditional semla! Price: 40 DKK Presentation: 8/10 Flavor: 9/10 Value: 7/10 Overall score: 8/10
No. 2 – Alice
The pastry nerds at Alice have crafted a heavenly Fastelavn treat: cardamom dough glazed with caramelized cardamom sugar, filled with vanilla custard, black currant jam, chantilly cream, and dusted with black currant powder. Ding ding ding! Alice yet again delivers pastry perfection, a spot-on balance of flavors and textures. There’s a nice tartness from the blackcurrant jam, but it’s kept in check by the sweet vanilla custard and chantilly cream. The cardamom glaze has a delicious crunch – the caramelized sugar makes you feel like you’re biting into a creme brûlée. This pastry had the best overall flavor on this test (and this is the one we could eat over and over again), but holding it back from first place is the fact that it’s not shaped like a bun! Call us old-fashioned, but we wish it was circular. It’s a perfect fastelavnsbolle, it’s just lacking the “bolle.”
Note: Alice has a very small production and sells out of their fastelavnsboller by 11:00 a.m. Pre-order is not possible, so go early to snag one!
ALICE – best flavor! Price: 40 DKK Presentation: 8/10 Flavor: 10/10 Value: 7/10 Overall score: 8.3/10
No. 1 – Andersen Bakery
Listen up, y’all – we’re just as surprised as you. Andersen Bakery, a Japanese / Nordic bakery in Islands Brygge, has swept aside our bakery darlings (Juno and Alice) and taken the number one spot on our fastelavnsbolle guide! Andersen Bakery is a spot that tends to fly a bit under-the-radar in the Copenhagen bakery scene. We’d only visited once before, but after seeing photos on Instagram of the colorful pastries on offer during this Fastelavn season, we knew we had to visit for the test. To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. The presentations were striking, but would the flavors match? Well, we’re here to tell you that these pretty pastries are not just for show – Andersen Bakery was the clear winner on our test. They serve six different flavors of their “luxury” fastelavnsboller. All have a buttery croissant bottom, are filled with a jam or spread of some kind, topped with a flavored cream, finished with a crispy, buttery cookie lid, and dusted with some kind of powdered sugar. We tried all six flavors – nougat, salted caramel cream, and cocoa powder; apple and yuzu; raspberry and matcha; black currant, lemon verbena, and mascarpone cream; roasted almonds, cream, and powdered sugar; and (our favorite!) rhubarb jam, vanilla cream, and raspberry powder. Of all the pastries we tested, this was the most like a dessert, with very thick whipped cream. Andersen showcased impressive technique and pastry skills, and gained creativity points to the max with their eye-catching presentations. Their gammeldags fastelavnsbolle was the best we tried of this style – we loved the chocolate on top and the flavor of the vanilla cream inside (we just wish there had been a little more of it!). At Andersen Bakery, you can get delicious old-fashioned and modern buns in one place – it’s especially impressive that they excelled at both styles.
ANDERSEN BAKERY – best overall fastelavnsbolle! Price: 28 DKK (gammeldags), 55 DKK (luxury) Presentation: 10/10 Flavor: 9/10 Value: 7/10 Overall score: 8.7/10
What is your favorite semla or fastelavnsbolle in Copenhagen? Let us know in a comment below.