This coming Friday, the Swedes will be celebrating St Lucy’s Day, one of the biggest Swedish traditions around Christmas observed each year on the 13th of December. We usually connect this event to St Lucy processions and saffron buns (Lussekatter in Swedish).
Originally, the celebration comes from stories that were told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. According to them, Lucy was a young Christian girl who was blinded and burned for having given her dowry to the poors. But because she wouldn’t burn, she was stabbed in the heart. Another version about Lucy is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Although we have no evidence that Lucy existed for real, she is noneless strongly connected to light.
Nowadays, St Lucy is celebrated all around the country with a girl (traditionally the oldest sister in a family) dressed in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head (it is always a big deal for the little girl to wear this crown of candles on her head, although electric candles are also available for young kids). According to tradition, children serve coffee and a special saffron bread to the rest of the family, while singing “Santa Lucia”.
Most cities and schools in Sweden also appoint a St Lucy every year. They visit hospitals and old people’s homes singing a song about St Lucy and bringing some ginger snap biscuits (pepperkakor in Swedish). Moreover, because the Swedes love to sing, you’ll find choirs in almost every public place and/or company, which makes this day very special.
A few weeks ago, my friend Audrey L. organised a Swedish baking course and I learned how to bake these lovely precious buns, since saffron is the most expensive spice that you can find. I couldn’t help it, I had to bake them again by myself a week later. And here’s the recipe of the Swedish Christmas Saffron Buns!
Ingredients (20- 30 saffron buns):
- 1g saffron
- 30cl cognac (or other brandy) + 30g sugar
- 75g fresh yeast, finely crumbled
- 2 cups cold milk
- 8 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 handful raisins
- 1 beaten egg
1. Dissolve saffron in cognac mixed with sugar in a small glass bottle and let macerate over night.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the remaining ingredients : saffron, sugar, butter and flour (as much flour as needed).
3. Process the dough in a Kitchen Aid for 10-12 minutes, or by hand for 15 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and cover the dough with a clean towel. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
5. Punch down the risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough and roll into “snakes”. Shape snakes into “S”-shaped buns. Place on a lighly greased sheet.
6. Preheat the oven to 420 F. Put two raisins in each bun and brush with a beaten egg, and bake at 400-420 F for about 10-12 minutes, just until brown.