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!
- 2 Tbsp (30 cl) cognac or other brandy
- 2 Tbsp (30g) sugar
- 1.7 oz (50 g) fresh yeast
- ¾ cup (175g) unsalted butter
- 2 cups (50 cl) milk
- 1g saffron
- 7 to 7½ (840-900g) all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg, beaten
- ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp (180g) sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp milk
- 1 handful raisins
- The day before: place the raisins in a small bowl and pour strong alcohol (cognac for instance) over it. In another bowl, dissolve saffron in cognac mixed with 2 tablespoons of sugar, and let macerate overnight.
- The D Day: crumble the yeast in a small bowl and dissolve with a little bit of milk and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- In a saucepan melt the butter and pour in the milk. Heat to 98 F (37 C) and remove from the heat.
- Transfer the yeast to a large bowl and pour in the milk-butter mixture, stirring as you go.
- Add the saffron mixture, sugar, egg, and the flour little by little, until you get a smooth but sticky dough.
- Knead the dough for about 15 minutes by hand or using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
- Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside for 60 minutes. Let it rise until doubled in size.
- Punch down the risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface.
- Pinch off small handfuls of dough (1.7 oz/50g each) and roll into long "snakes". Shape snakes into "S"-shaped buns, and add two raisins in each bun. Carefully transfer the buns onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat the oven to 420 F (220 C).
- Mix ingredients for brushing and brush onto the buns.
- Bake for about 7 minutes, just until slightly brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.