13 December 2013

Saint Lucia's Day - and Birthday Eats

Today is St. Lucia's Day! Traditionally, Saint Lucia's Day (13 December) is celebrated in Scandinavia and Italy. Saint Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) and the reason for her feast day is derived from two different stories. In one, St. Lucia is believed to be one of the Christian martyrs that suffered a particularly gruesome death during a period of persecution by the Romans. In the other story (the one I learned growing up), she was assisting Christians hiding in catacombs during Roman persecution; and in order to carry as many food and supplies as possible, she freed her hands by making a wreath of candles that she wore on her head to light the way.

My mother's family has Scandinavian roots (Danish and Swedish), and we would often celebrate St. Lucia's Day in a small way in tandem with my birthday. We frequently made St. Lucia's buns (little breads - get your mind out of the gutter) to eat on the day; and while we never did a traditional procession, I did own a white gown and wreath of candles (along with Kirsten, the American Girl doll that was a Swedish immigrant) - just in case. To me, these taste like my birthday and taste like home.

This year, I decided to make a batch of St. Lucia's buns. I was a little worried because the convection oven and I haven't yet come to an agreement as to how things should be cooked and because I've only made one or two batches without my mom's help. But they were a success (phew!), so I'm sharing the recipe with you today. Even if you're not celebrating, these delicious treats are worth the time and effort that go into making them.

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. saffron
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3.5 to 4 c. four
1 beaten egg

The method:

About 90% of this recipe is "preparation" because the bake time is only about 10 minutes. So, be prepared. There's about 20 minutes to prepare the dough, nearly 2 hours of time spent for letting the dough rise, and about 20-30 minutes to form the buns.

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. I decided to use my electric kettle to get the water just below the boiling point. You will need to stir the yeast often to get it fully dissolved.

Looks good, right?

Scald the milk on the stove. My understanding of "scald" means just get it to where the milk starts to boil. This has seemed to work so far. Then add the butter to the milk, stirring until it is fully melted. Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm.

Scalded milk and butter

Using a pestle and mortar, grind the saffron with 1 tsp. of sugar. Yes, this recipe is basically the only reason I own a pestle and mortar - I was thinking of this recipe when I added it to our wedding registry... The sugar/saffron mix should look like a tinged red powder when you're done.

Just in case you need to know, this is what saffron looks like. It's also
something like 25,000 euros for a kilo, so don't be too shocked at the price.
Also, I needed 3 of these to make a teaspoon, something I didn't realize til the milk was scalding.
Pulverized saffron and sugar

Add 1 Tbs. of your butter milk mix to the sugar/saffron mix and mix through. It will turn a vibrant yellow from the saffron.

Add the sugar/saffron mix, your sugar, salt, and eggs to the dissolved yeast and beat the mix until well blended. Stir in 1.5 cups of flour (adding a 1/2 c. at a time) and beat the mix until it is ribbony-smooth.

Saffron turns things vibrant yellow, so watch out for your clothes.


Then add the remaining flour (again, adding 1/2 c. at a time) to make the dough stiff and bread-doughy. You will likely need to kneed in the remaining flour as it gets stiffer. (This time around, I ended up adding about 3.75 c. flour total - add to what you feel comfortable for your dough.)

Completed dough

Leave the dough to sit for 15 minutes.

Lightly oil the bottom of a large, clean bowl. Add the dough, and turn over in the oil to evenly coat it. Cover with a tea towel or cheese cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour. After rising, the dough should have doubled in size.

I like to cheat and set it directly on my heater in the kitchen.

Place your risen dough on a floured surface, and kneed it down. Then divide the dough into 32 even(ish) pieces to make 16 buns. I find that it's best to have the pieces that will be making the same bun even size since the buns will (ideally) be symmetrical.

I say even-ish because there's no way I will ever succeed
in actually getting these even.

Make a long "snake" out of each piece, about 7 or 8 inches long. Put two "snakes" parallel to each other, then curl in the ends to make something sort of like a bow.



Put all of your buns on baking paper, and allow to rise for another half an hour so the buns look puffy.

Risen, puffy bows!

Before baking, brush the tops with the beaten egg. (I forgot to do this, so there's no picture.)

Bake at 450 F/230 C for 10 minutes. The tops should be a golden brown and the dough cooked all the way through.

Completed and delicious!

Enjoy! Traditionally, these buns are served in the morning with coffee - but they go great as a snack with a cup of tea, too.


  1. Oh wow that looks delicious!

  2. Yum, looks awfully familiar! The Lussebullar has been all over for weeks, and then exploded everywhere on Friday. The only difference seems to be the style and that ours here have raisins in them. I went to three kids' pageants for the day, and it was very cute!

  3. There are recipes I've seen for the raisins, but I'm not a huge fan of raisins, so I'm okay leaving them out. =)
    I'd love to see some "real" pageants and celebrations. I bet it was a lot of fun!

  4. They are VERY good. I highly recommend them!


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