Swedish Saffron Buns “Lussekatter” (or St Lucia Buns) are an S-shape sweet bun flavored with saffron. They are traditionally eaten around Christmas in Sweden, and especially on Saint Lucy’s Day, together with some mulled wine “glögg”.
Santa Lucia: A lovely Swedish tradition
One of my favorite Swedish traditions is Luciadagen (literally “Lucia Day”), on December 13th. Most aspects of the festivities celebrate light and the event is one of the biggest celebrations during Advent in Sweden. It’s also the reason why we named our sweet baby Lucie, that brought light to our lives. And like for most Swedish celebrations, St Lucy’s Day comes with a dedicated traditional pastry: some delicious curled up saffron buns!
What is St Lucy’s Day? On Luciadagen, there are processions featuring choirs of children all dressed up in white robes with a red sash, singing together with one girl selected as “Lucia” who wears a crown of lit candles, while the others carry a single candle. Traditionally it is said that at home, the oldest girl would deliver coffee and saffron buns to her parents’ bedroom for breakfast.
Nowadays, St Lucy’s Day is a very festive day observed in the entire country of Sweden, with choirs of children singing everywhere, mostly in school or at church, but also visiting some hospitals or elderly home to bring light to everyone’s life. And the event is usually followed by the traditional fika with saffron buns served along with mulled wine glögg.
The origins. Like many winter celebrations, St Lucy’s Day blends Christian and pagan practices. Prior to the conversion to the Gregorian calendar, December 13th was the longest night of the year. While waiting for longer days, people would sing and light bonfires to drive away darkness and nefarious spirits. After Sweden’s conversion to Christianity around the 12th century, legends surrounding St. Lucia (a figure also associated with light) were incorporated into the tradition. Although we have no evidence that Lucy existed for real, she is nonetheless strongly connected to light.
What is a Swedish Saffron Bun Lussekatter?
The curled saffron buns that go with this traditional celebration are S-shaped, with a single raisin in the center of each spiral. They are lightly sweet, soft and fluffy, with a vibrant yellow from the saffron-infused dough.
Why is it called Lussekatter? It is thought that the buns were originally modeled after a sleeping cat (the S-shape being the curled up tail), believed to ward off the devil. Although cats were traditionally a figure associated with the devil, the use of saffron would bring some “magical” properties to the buns, altogether with a bright, sunny color. With this reasoning, the original name of “devil cat”(djävulskatter in Swedish) later changed to the more polite “Lucia cat” (lussekatter), strongly associated to light.
Ingredients and how to use them
I tried several saffron bun recipes over the years, with various results. With this recipe, I can guarantee a soft and fluffy texture, and lightly sweetened buns.
Except for the saffron of course, which is a pricey spice, you need very basic ingredients:
- All-purpose flour. The quantity of flour can vary a little depending on the brand you use and its density. Instead of sticking exactly to the measurements, try to “feel the dough”: it needs to be supple, slightly elastic, and slap from the sides of the bowl. Don’t add too much flour or your dough risks being a little too dry.
- Fresh yeast. Check the yeast ratio below if you need to convert it into dry yeast.
- Milk + melted butter. The way it works is the following: melt butter in a saucepan, then pour the milk over. The temperature should be lukewarm around 98°F (37°C). If too hot, it can kill the yeast, if too cold, the risk is that it won’t activate the yeast enough.
- Sugar. To sweeten the buns a little bit. Note that saffron buns are generally mild and not too sweet.
- Egg. It brings some moisture to the dough.
How to use saffron? This pricey red spice which tints food in a bright yellow color comes in various qualities. So first things first, make sure the one you’re using is of great quality, not too old, and stored in a sealed container/package. Now in order to develop its flavor, mix saffron with a little bit of sugar and some brandy of your choice and let sit for a little while before using (ideally overnight). Be aware that saffron stains easily so try to not spill it out on your countertop.
Perfect yeast ratio:
In order to convert from fresh yeast to active dry yeast, multiply the fresh quantity by 0.4. To convert from fresh yeast to instant dry yeast, multiply the fresh quantity by 0.33.
How to shape lussekatter?
The traditional so-called Lussekatter come in an S-shape, but it comes with many possible variations. It’s actually a very entertaining activity to do with kids (each year I find an excuse to “borrow” my friends’ kids as little “helpers” to shape the buns). Here’s how to do the traditional shape:
- Break off a piece of dough and form it into a ball, of about 60 to 70gr (you don’t have to be exact).
- Roll the ball out into a snake.
- Then curl the ends in opposite directions, forming an S-shape with spirals at each end.
- Brush with beaten egg and place raisins in the centers of the “S” spirals.
Leftovers and storage
Usually, we recommend to eat these buns the day of baking, as they tend to dry up easily over time. If however you happen to have leftovers (which you will, most certainly), here are 3 options you may consider:
- Freeze them right away in a ziploc bag, and keep them up to 3 months.
- Slice them in two, toast them, and spread butter on each side. It makes a perfect saffron morning toast for breakfast!
- Use them to make French toast brioche casserole.
Other recipes using saffron:
- Saffron Cheesecake
- Braided Saffron Bread with Vanilla Custard
- Moist Orange and Saffron Mini Cakes
- Saffron Pear Tarte Tatin
- Crepes with Saffron and Rum
More traditional Swedish pastries to discover:
- Classic Swedish Cinnamon Rolls (Kanelbullar)
- Swedish Orange Cardamom Buns
- Swedish Semlor
- Ooey-Gooey Swedish Chocolate Cake (Kladdkaka)
- Swedish Vanilla Hearts (Vaniljhjärtan)
Lastly, if you make these Swedish Saffron Buns, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating, letting me know how you liked it. And of course, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Thank you and enjoy!Print
Swedish Saffron Buns “Lussekatter” are an S-shape sweet bun flavored with saffron and containing a single raisin in each curl.
For the dough:
- 1g saffron
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) cognac or other brandy
- 2 Tablespoons (30g) sugar
- 1.7 ounces (50 g) fresh yeast
- 2 cups (50 cl) milk
- ¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons (180g) sugar
- ¾ cup (175g) unsalted butter
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 7 to 7 1/2 (840-900g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 Tablespoon 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.
Keywords: Swedish Saffron Buns (Lussekatter)
Important note: this blog post was updated as of December 4th, 2020 with new photos, more detailed instructions and much more.