St. Lucia Saffron Buns

December 13, St. Lucia Day, also known as the Festival of Light, is a day of celebration in Sweden, in the spirit of Advent and Christmas. Young girls are dressed in white robes with a red sash, with one girl selected as “Lucia” who wears a crown of lit candles (or battery powered ones), the others carrying a single candle. Processions with singing and revelry abound.

At home, the eldest girl dresses up in robe, sash, and candle crown, and delivers coffee and lussekatter, or S shaped saffron buns to her parents for breakfast. This was all explained to me the other day by a young Swedish woman named Lisa Persson in college here in Sacramento, a long way from home. She spoke of these saffron buns with such nostalgia, I just had to make some.

The rolls are lightly sweet, buttery, and vibrant yellow from the saffron-infused dough. The raisins in the “eyes” of the rolls give them just a little extra sweetness when you bite into them. Through my research I’ve seen many complaints that lussekatter can be dry or dense. The rolls I present to you here are neither; I limit the amount of sugar and fat in the recipe, the overuse of which can contribute to making yeasted breads dense.

Of course the rolls are best freshly baked. I would recommend making the dough the night before, refrigerating it over night, and then baking the rolls in the morning. Otherwise, the rolls do reheat very well with just a few seconds in the microwave. Enjoy! (p.s. this is a delightful video on the tradition of Swedish Lucia)

  • Prep: 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Cook: 12 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 12 to 14 buns.

This recipe makes 12 to 14 good sized buns. You can easily double the recipe. Note the cardamom is optional. I've made these buns with and without a little cardamom and I  prefer them with. I'm guessing it's more traditional without.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup milk (175 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup (50 g) white, granulated sugar
  • One 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast (check the expiration date on the package to make sure it's still good!)
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups (490 g to 570 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • The seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 4 Tbsp, 56 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream (or quark if available)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Raisins

Glaze

  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

1 In a small pot, heat the milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon of sugar together until the milk is steamy. Remove from heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let cool until about 115°F, or warm to the touch, but not hot.

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2 Sprinkle the yeast over the warm saffron-infused milk and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy.

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3 In the bowl of a stand-up mixer* whisk together 3 1/2cups (490 g) of the flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, salt and ground cardamom if using.

*You can make this recipe without a mixer, for me it's just a bit easier with one.

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4 Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast milk saffron mixture, the eggs, the butter, and the sour cream. Mix the ingredients until well incorporated.

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5 Switch to the dough hook of your mixer (if using, otherwise knead by hand). On low speed start to knead the dough. Slowly add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition. Do this until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it.

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6 Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. (Note at this point you can make ahead and refrigerate overnight if you wish.) Let sit in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size. (One way to tell that the dough is ready is that you poke your finger in it and it takes quite a bit of time for the indentation left by your finger to go away.)

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7 When the dough has doubled in size, gently press it down and knead it a couple of times. Break off a piece and form it into a ball about 2 inches wide (60 to 70 grams if you are weighing). Roll the ball out into a snake, about 14 inches long. Then Curl the ends in opposite directions, forming an "S" with spirals at each end. Place on a lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough shapes double in size, 30 minutes to an hour.

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8 Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Using a pastry brush, brush some beaten egg over the tops and sides of the uncooked buns. Place raisins in the centers of the "S" spirals. Place in the oven and cook for about 10 to 11 minutes (turning halfway through cooking to ensure even browning), until the buns are golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before eating.

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