Every year on 13th December, the Nordic people celebrate the day of St Lucia, the festival of light. On this day, originally the longest night of the year according to the Pagans, we rise early to bring in the light and break the spell of the darkness.
Processions of people singing walk, wearing long white robes tied with red sashes, through towns, holding candles and singing in the light. At the front, a Lucia bride – traditionally usually a girl but nowadays it can be both boys and girls – lead the way wearing a crown with real candles.
In Sweden and Norway, saffron flavoured wheat buns are often eaten on this day (in some places in Denmark, too). These buns have many names, the mopst common being Lussebullar (Lucia buns) or saffransbullar (saffron buns) or Lussekatter (Lucia cats – referring to the curled up shape of the buns, like a sleeping cat). We also enjoy these buns at our famous Glögg parties throughout the days of Advent. If you like saffron, you will really enjoy these – they are delicious alongside a hot cup of mulled wine.
This recipe is taken from Bronte Aurell’s new book ScandiKitchen Christmas (RPS, £16.99). Photo by Peter Cassidy.
You can get your hands on a signed copy of the book in our online shop – or get a copy in all good book stores (available world wide).
You can halve the recipe – but we are adding the recipe for the large batch here as most people bake for a crowd at Christmas time. The buns freeze very well – and taste wonderful toasted with a bit of butter, although Swedes would wrinkle their nose at this suggestion.
50 g fresh yeast or 25 g dried active yeast granules
400 ml whole milk, heated to 36–37°C
1 g saffron powder (if using saffron strands, grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar and soak in the milk beforehand)
150 g caster sugar
200 g plain skyr, quark or Greek yogurt, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
175 g butter, softened, at room temperature
approx. 800 g white strong flour
handful of raisins
beaten egg, for brushing
3–4 large baking sheets, greased and lined with baking parchment
If using fresh yeast, add the yeast and milk to a mixer with a dough hook attached. Mix until the yeast has dissolved, then add the saffron powder. If using active dried yeast pour milk into a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and whisk together with a spoonful of the sugar. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to activate and become frothy and bubbly. Add the saffron powder.
Pour into a stand mixer with a dough hook attached. Add the sugar and mix together for a minute or so, then add skyr, quark or Greek yogurt, salt and egg, and mix well.
Gradually add the softened butter in pieces and begin to add the flour gradually while mixing, making sure to incorporate the lumps of butter. You’ll need around 800 g or so of flour, but the exact amount depends on how the dough feels. Keep mixing until you have a dough that is still sticky, but doesn’t stick to your finger too much when you poke it. Too much flour makes the buns dry – and saffron is extremely drying, so do watch it.
If you’re using an electric mixer, knead for about 5 minutes or knead by hand for 10 minutes. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size (about 30–40 minutes in a bowl covered with clingfilm).
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Cut the dough into 30 equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece in your hand into a long cylinder strip, then transfer to the baking sheets and mould into an ‘S’ shape (see picture). Add a single raisin to the centre of the point where the ‘S’ shape curves (two raisins for each bun). Leave to rise again for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.
Brush gently with egg and bake them in the preheated oven for 10–12 minutes. The buns should have a slight tinge of brown on top but not be dark. Leave to cool under a damp tea towel (this prevents them from becoming dry).
If you don’t eat them all in one go, freeze immediately as they go stale quickly.
You can get saffron and fresh yeast on our webshop.