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)

St. Lucia Saffron Buns Recipe

  • Prep time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 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.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-1 st-lucia-saffron-buns-2

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

st-lucia-saffron-buns-3

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.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-4 st-lucia-saffron-buns-5

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.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-6

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.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-7 st-lucia-saffron-buns-8

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.)

st-lucia-saffron-buns-9 st-lucia-saffron-buns-10 st-lucia-saffron-buns-11 st-lucia-saffron-buns-12

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.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-13 st-lucia-saffron-buns-14

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.

Links:

Swedish Lucia for Dummies - a tongue in cheek video about Swedish traditions of St. Lucia Day

Swedish Tea Ring or Coffee Bread - here on Simply Recipes

Lussekatter or St. Lucia Rolls - an in-depth explanation of the history surrounding St. Lucia on My Diverse Kitchen

St. Lucia Saffron Buns - from Kitchen Apparel

Light in the Dark of Winter - from Foodie Underground

 

St. Lucia Saffron Buns on Simply Recipes

23 Comments

  1. Sandy S

    OOH do these look good! Of course, being GF there are days when Wonder Bread could make me drool, until I remember the headaches! Ah but I digress. Loved the link to Swedish Lucia For Dummies! What a hoot! Thank you for ALL that you do for us Elise! Your recipes have become my ‘Go To’ source for the classics and something new.

  2. Diane

    I would have thought they’d be more traditional WITH cardamom as I was always told it was a spice used extensively in Swedish baking. But then, that’s just an assumption I made. :->

  3. Wendy in Seattle

    I’m pretty sure it is more traditional with cardamom, because, as Diane says, it is a spice used extensively in Scandinavian baking — perhaps THE spice of Scandinavian pastry! (I grew up near Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle with deep Scandinavian roots; each year they have a Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day, parade, and some years the King and Queen of Norway have come to be in the parade!)

  4. Isabel in Spain

    I plan on trying this out during the Christmas holidays and like all your recipes I am sure it will be a hit. Also happy that for once I have all the ingredients even the quark a staple here in Málaga in all the supermarkets!! Merry Christmas to all!!

  5. semiswede

    Nice to see Lucia buns on your site! The video was fun too, hadn’t seen that before. It’s pretty accurate. We have been to two Lucia processions for our 4 and 6 year-olds today, and tomorrow my husband is having a Lucia procession at his office. I love Lucia. This time in Sweden is dark, but cozy. Thanks for sharing the tradition and recipe with the audience on your site. If you are interested, there is a more in-depth history I posted on my site a couple of years ago. It’s rotating as a featured post at the moment.

  6. Marion Olson

    Hi, Elise – I just checked my mother-in-law’s very thumbed Swedish Christmas cookbook and much to my surprise, the recipe for Saffronsbrud doesn’t contain cardamom, although I’m pretty sure we have put it in. It does have a lot more raisins than this one, and chopped or ground almonds to sprinkle on the top. Otherwise it’s just about the same.

    Lucia’s Day means it’s about time to start making the pepparkokor and and the spritz cookies, and for my husband to make his glogg. ‘Tis the season for the meatballs, too. It’s the Dark Season, so we’ll light the candles and have all the festive foods!

  7. Ida

    In Denmark most schools and churches have a Lucia procession too, but people usually don’t have it at home.

    My mom bakes these too, I think the recipe is a little different – I will have to compare.

    She does make more shapes though, in addition to the S shape, take two strands and put next to each other, and roll all four ends up so it looks like a butterfly.

    A nice reminder of home, thank you!

  8. Kate in New York

    You beat me to it! I was going to write a post about St Lucia buns and have been digging around for a good recipe. I’m not Swedish but when I was little my mother and I used to bake St Lucia buns because we had learned about the holiday from the American Girl Doll books, when they were actually books. ;) As my childhood Christmases were already a little confused, what with a Japanese dad and a non-Catholic Spanish mom, St Lucia buns made it into our holiday tradition just like everything else! Holiday food is the great ambassador, don’t you think? Anyway, your photos look beautiful. The saffron gives these such a lovely color.

  9. Amy

    My mom introduced Lucia buns to our family tradition over 40 years ago. Few traditions from Sweden made it through immigration two generations ago with our grandparents, so she thought we’d add this one. We didn’t celebrate on December 13 but on Christmas morning. Because all of us kids would wake my parents up too early (4am?), she made it a rule that we had to make coffee, and warm up Lucia buns, then proceed into their room bearing these items, singing a Christmas song, with a wreath on the oldest girl’s head. A candle could be on the tray. My own children love this tradition in our house today and we enjoy Christmas a little later in the morning.

  10. Maria

    I was born in Sweden and celebrated Lucia throughout my childhood in Sweden and here in the US. I am now trying to keep the tradition alive with my own two kids. I was going to make the recipe from my Swedish cookbook, but this one seemed less complicated – perhaps it was all the photos and clear instructions. The “lussekatter” came out great! Thanks Elise!

  11. Nina

    I am so proud of myself for making these! It was quite a task compared to my regular baking, especially with the yeast and the kneading which I’m not used to. Oh and mine didn’t turn out as pretty as yours; you couldn’t really see the “S” as well (it has the unfortunate resemblance to boobs actually lol!) but I was so proud of how it tasted and that I made bread :)

  12. David

    I am swedish and love lussebullar! I read in a magazine that they will taste even better if you infuse the saffron in some brandy or other liquor. I have not tried it, but I know meatballs taste better with a little cognac in them, so it is worth a try.

Post a comment

Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for waiting. First time commenting? Please review the Comment Policy.

Some HTML is OK. URLs are automatically converted to links. Line breaks are automatically converted to paragraphs. The following HTML tags are allowed: a, abbr, acronym, b, blockquote, cite, code, del, em, i, q, strike, strong