St. Lucia Saffron 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.

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


  • 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


  • 1 egg, beaten


1 Heat milk, saffron, sugar: 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.

3 Whisk flour, sugar, salt, cardamom: 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.


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 Knead the dough: 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.


6 Let dough rise: 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.)

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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.)

7 Form dough into S shapes: 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.

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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.

8 Let sit for second rise:  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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9 Brush with egg wash, place raisins on buns: 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.

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10 Bake: Place in the oven and bake at400°F (205°C) 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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  • S

    Made these tonight without a mixer as I’m not at my own home, and replaced active dry yeast with fresh yeast (0.67 oz), I also soaked the saffron and raisins (separately) in bourbon for ~30 minutes. They came out so beautifully and light and flaky, they were a huge hit at home! Thanks for the lovely recipe!


  • Kelly Norberg

    I followed your recipe to the T and these buns were fabulous. The dough was so soft and smooth. I made the night before let it rise and then put in the fridge overnight. I took out the next morning and let it warm up and then I made these. The finished product was amazing…I loved that buns were soft and flaky. I am definitely making these again. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.


  • Nadine

    I made these today. My dough did not rise to double its size, but I went forward after letting it sit all day. The dough was easy to work with and the “S” shapes were great. Again, the dough did not rise for the hour before cooking. After 11-12 minutes in the oven, I took them out. They were heavy and dense and dough-like (not light and flaky). Taste is there, but not texture.

    (It was new yeast from the store and not expired. It did not seem to be ‘foamy’ as you described after adding it to the warm milk. But I wonder if there was a problem with it.)

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Nadine! Unfortunately, this does sound like a problem with the yeast, even though it was a new packet. That’s such a disappointment, I know! Better luck next time!

  • Terri

    If I make the dough the night before , do I have to get up 3 hours early to get through the 2 bouts of rising? Or can I do one rising and refrigerate and do last rising in morning before baking?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Terri! You can just refrigerate the dough after the first rise, and then the next morning, you can go straight into shaping the rolls and then letting them rise the second time. Enjoy!

  • Nicole

    Recipe was perfect!


  • Jennifer

    Hi! My dough turned out super sticky and I can’t shape the buns. I do not have a standing mixer, other than that, I’m not sure what I did wrong. Can I fix it?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jennifer, as indicated in the recipe, you need to keep adding flour, a tablespoon at a time until the dough is a little sticky to the touch, but not too sticky (“tacky” is the word I think do describe this). Then you need to let the dough sit in a warm place to double in size. After that, the dough should be easy enough to work with. If not, flour your hands before trying to shape the dough.

  • Christianne

    Very tasty! The dough is very lovely to work with (I knead by hand) and the resulting buns are light, fluffy and flavourful. I made them without the cardamom and subbed plain 6% yogurt for the sour cream.


  • Cinzia

    Hi, I have made these buns for a few years with varying success. When they work they’re great. When the don’t, I’m sure I did something wrong.

    Anyhow, my husband just was diagnosed with Celiac disease, so now I have to try to make them gluten-free. Anyone tried to substitute the flour with any luck?


  • Ylva

    I have made lots of “lussebullar” every year since my childhood (I am Swedish). I use quark and eggs in the dough, have done this for the last 15 years. The buns do stay more moist. They don’t get dry if you don’t want to put them in the freezer at once. We like them better this way.

  • susanne

    Dont use quark/sour cream. Swedish dairy companies had surplus quark and tried to found new uses for it and said it made the buns more moist. But thats not true.
    So quark are no longer used in Sweden because the pastry chefs have debunked the dairy companies.
    Grind whole saffron threads with some sugar in a pestle and mortar before adding it to warm milk.

  • Marija

    I made the rolls and they turned out lovely even though I forgot the sour cream! It was on the counter in front of me too lol! When I started to mix everything it was dry and crumbly and I was wondering what I did wrong so I just added a bit of warm water and managed to create the dough. They still taste great and nice with a cup of coffee. I have a Croatian background and we have a lot of traditional recipes for Christmas so it was nice to add something different!

  • Alyse Johnson

    What is wrong if the dough is lumpy?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Alyse, you mean lumpy after you’ve kneaded it? It could be because the flour was added too quickly to the dough as it was being mixed, or perhaps the flour was lumpy and needed to be sifted or more thoroughly whisked first.

  • Danielle

    Could you make these a few days before and freeze them and dethaw in the fridge and then microwave? Or wouldif not that, could you freeze the dough and then make them the day of?

    • Elise Bauer

      I don’t think microwaving would be a good idea. But I do think you can freeze the dough, as long as when you defrost you give it time to rise.

      • Henrik

        Yes you can freeze and microwave them to thaw. However, be VERY careful to serve immediately as they will become bone dry within 15-20 mins after they come out. (Better is to thaw at room temperature for 1-2 hours; then warm up for 1-2 mins in hot oven immediately before serving.)

        Also – recommend doing it like we do in Sweden; dunk in coffee or hot cocoa. Delicious!

  • Elvina

    How much pre-grinded cardamom seeds would you use in place of cardamom seeds? I do not have a spice grinder.

  • JB from DC

    Hi there, How much yeast should I use if I have a bottle (not a packet)? Also, same question for if I have bottle of ground cardamom rather than the pods. Thanks!!! :)

    • Debbie

      I have a jar of Red star active dry yest and it says 2-1/4 tsp (two tsp plus one quarter tsp) is the same as one packet.

  • 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.

  • 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 :)

    • Elise Bauer

      Congratulations! LOL on the “boobs”. I think you may just need to roll out the ropes longer, and then makes sure you have fairly tight spirals.

  • 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!

    • Elise Bauer

      I’m so glad you made it Maria and the recipe worked well for you!

  • 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.

  • Espahan

    This looks so good. I love the shape. This is going on my list of breads to make. I love cardamom but prefer it well ground up.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • semiswede

    Should have mentioned you can also make some great bread pudding and/or stuffing if you end up with an abundance of Lucia buns. The saffron makes both dishes really intriguing!

  • 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.

  • 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!!

  • 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!)

    • Elise Bauer

      Cardamom is a spice traditionally used in Scandinavian cooking and baking, but not necessarily in these particular buns. Cardamom is terrific in this Swedish tea ring.

  • 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. :->