It is customary to serve these bright, sunny saffron buns on St. Lucia Day in Sweden (December13), either for breakfast with coffee or for an afternoon fika treat paired with a steaming cup of glögg. Soft, slightly sweet and studded with golden raisins, cheerful St. Lucia Buns are a reminder that longer days and sunlight are just around the corner.
This recipe for St. Lucia Buns is a pleasure to make (and eat) and contains one small special step that makes them extra soft and billowy.
Why this Recipe Works
These St. Lucia Buns are particularly delightful because:
- A little saffron goes a long way, and these buns have just the right amount;
- the dough is soft, not at all sticky and incredibly easy to work with; and
- the recipe uses a special technique which results in soft, tender, and fluffy buns every time.
The ingredients for these saffron buns are pretty straightforward, but there are a few notes worth mentioning:
- This recipe calls for instant yeast, which is not the same as active dry yeast. When you go to the store to buy yeast, you will see two different kinds: Instant or rapid rise yeast and active dry yeast. The essential difference between the two is that instant yeast can be mixed right in with the dry ingredients whereas active dry yeast needs to be proofed in warm liquid prior to adding it to the recipe. Instant yeast is also more reliable, effective and fast-acting. While this recipe calls for instant yeast, you can certainly substitute active dry yeast for the instant yeast by proofing it in the warm milk prior to adding it to the dough.
- Saffron brings its exotic flavor and a lovely golden hue to these St. Lucia Buns. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world by weight. It is derived from the Crocus flower and comes in dried threads that should be crumbled between your finger tips before adding it to the recipe. As I said above, you don't need much! Too much saffron can overwhelm these delicate buns. A little goes a long way.
- The turmeric in this recipe is there to enhance the yellow color of the buns. It's such a small amount that it doesn't change the flavor, but it really does give the dough a beautiful sunny hue.
- Pearl sugar is a common topping for Scandinavian baked goods. It is basically just sugar that is compressed into a pearl shape making it a pretty and delightfully crunchy topping for these soft buns.
How to Make this Recipe
The Tangzhong Method
This recipe uses a simple bread-making technique called tangzhong which helps yeasted baked goods stay soft and tender. Basically, a small amount of the flour and liquid (water, milk or a combination of the two) is cooked on the stove for a very short period of time creating a roux-like mixture. This process gelatinizes the starches in the flour allowing them to absorb more liquid and results in a higher rise and a more tender, moist bun that stays that way for a longer period of time. It's a quick and easy step that makes a big difference in texture.
Here is the step-by-step process for making St. Lucia Buns:
- Steep the saffron and turmeric in warm water and prepare the tangzhong.
- Combine the remaining ingredients except the raisins in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Use the dough hook attachment to mix and knead the dough until it is soft and clears the sides of the bowl. Add the raisins near the end of the kneading process. Set the dough aside to rise for about an hour.
- Roll the dough into a 16 x 6 inch rectangle and cut into 16 1-inch strips using a pizza wheel.
- Working with one strip at a time, roll the strip between your palm and the countertop to create a 16 inch long rope of dough. Coil the ends the rope in opposite directions so that they meet in the middle and form an "S" shape.
- Transfer the buns to a baking sheet to rise for 45 minutes. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.
Expert Tips for Great St. Lucia Buns
- Don't add any flour to the countertop when you are rolling the dough. This dough is soft but not at all sticky so no flour should be needed. It also helps to have a clean, flour-free workspace for rolling the strips of dough into ropes.
- Don't coil the dough too tightly around itself when create the "S" shapes. The dough will continue to rise so it's helpful if it has a little "space" to expand.
- Keep the dough loosely covered with plastic wrap while you are working or the dough is rising. This keeps the dough from drying out.
Before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar we use today, Scandinavians recognized December 13th as the longest night of the year. When Christianity found its way to northern shores, monks brought with them the story of Saint Lucia, a young Italian girl who worked to help persecuted Christians who were hiding in the catacombs of Rome under the reign of Diocletian in 285 AD. In order to keep her hands free so that she could carry as many supplies as possible, Saint Lucia attached candles to a wreath on her head to provide her with much-needed light in the dark catacombs.
In modern Scandinavia, December 13th or St. Lucia Day is a celebration of light in the midst of the darkest time of the year and serves as a kickoff to the Christmas season in Sweden. Festivals of light are held in towns and schools all over the country on December 13th, with one girl chosen to portray Saint Lucia wearing a white dress, red sash and a crown of candles on her head. These St. Lucia Buns are served throughout Sweden, either with coffee for breakfast or perhaps with a warm cup of glögg (mulled wine) later in the day.
The name for these buns in Swedish is Lussekatter which means Lucia cats. This is a reference to the way the buns are coiled into an "S" shape like a cat's tail.
Yes, you can omit the saffron entirely if you prefer, or substitute ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg for the saffron. The buns will still have a yellow hue, thanks to the turmeric, but will not be quite as golden in color without the saffron.
They are best the day they are made, but they will keep tightly sealed at room temperature for a day or so.
Yes. Once they have cooled completely, transfer to a freezer bag or other tightly sealed container and freeze for up to a month. Warm them in a 300 degree oven when you are ready to serve (no need to thaw first).
Looking for more Scandinavian favorites to bake during the month of December? Here are a few classics to add to your list:
Give these delicious St. Lucia Buns a try, either on December 13th in celebration of St. Lucia Day or anytime during the holiday season. They are a bright and cheerful reminder that these dark days won't last forever.
St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)
For the Tangzhong:
- 5 tablespoons water
- ⅛-¼ teaspoon saffron threads crumbled
- ⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 5 tablespoons whole milk
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
- 5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter cooled
- ½ cup whole milk slightly warm
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- All of the Tangzhong cooled
- ⅓ cup golden raisins chopped
For the Egg Wash and Topping:
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Pearl sugar for topping
- Make the tangzhong: Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and add saffrom and turmeric. Steep for 15 minutes. Add milk and flour. Whisk until combined and no lumps remain. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Make the dough: While the tangzhong is cooling, begin preparing the rest of the ingredients for the dough. Combine yeast, salt, sugar and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk briefly by hand to combine.
- Attach the dough hook to the mixer. Add melted and cooled butter, slightly warm milk, egg and the cooled Tangzhong (it can be slightly warm to the touch) to the dry ingredients. Mix on medium low until fully combined.
- Increase mixer speed to medium and knead mixture for 3-4 minutes or until dough is slightly tacky but not sticky and clears the side of the bowl. Add raisins and continue to knead until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough. You can also mix and knead the dough by hand but it will take longer, more like 8-10 minutes.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for an hour or until 1 ½ or 2 times its original size. The time will largely depend on the temperature of your kitchen.
- Once the dough has risen, preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust oven racks so that they are in the upper and lower middle positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it onto a clean countertop. Roll out with a rolling pin until it is in the shape of a rectangle that is about 16 by 6 inches in size. The dough should be smooth enough that you do not need to add flour during the rolling process. If yours is sticking the rolling pin, however, sprinkle a little flour over the dough as necessary to prevent this from happening.
- Using a pizza wheel, cut the folded dough lengthwise into 16 one inch strips. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the rest of the dough covered, roll and stretch the strip of dough between the palms of your hands and the countertop into a 16 inch rope. Coil the ends of the rope in opposite directions creating an “S” shape. Place bun onto prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing buns about 2 ½ inches apart with 8 buns on each baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the egg wash. Whisk the egg and water together in a small bowl. Once the buns have risen and are ready to go into the oven, remove plastic wrap and gently brush the surface of each bun with the egg wash Sprinkle pearl sugar over the top of each bun.
- Bake buns for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, switching and rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm. Buns are best when eaten the day they are made.
If you loved this recipe, give it a star review! Also, snap a picture of your St. Lucia Buns and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #truenorthkitchen and tagging me @true_north_kitchen.