Oh boy, one of my favorite traditions of winter is finally here! Santa Lucia!
One of my goals as a food blogger is to expose as many people as possible to new ideas, traditions, and ethnic recipes. Being raised in a very Scandinavian/German part of the country, I found it only natural to be exposed to these traditions.
As it turns out, I attended a Danish College called Dana, which now rests in peace at the top of a hill, in a lonesome farm town, nestled deep in the midwest. Every Christmas we held a fantastic festival called Sights and Sounds, where the entire campus came together to put on a traditional Danish celebration. The choir and band had spectacular performances, art students showcased their works, choreographers came in to teach Danish folk dance, and the cafe brought forth a glorious smorgasbord of classic Danish food fare.
The smorgasbord looked very similar to this:
My very favorite part of that tradition, however, was that of the Santa Lucia choir. Our director would read the legendary history of St. Lucy as we processed in singing the traditional carol. The seniors took turns each year on being the St. Lucia ‘bride’. Holding candles and singing songs barefoot in long, white robes is one thing that I wish I could still participate in every Christmas season.
I found a few good links to youtube showcasing the Santa Lucia tradition.
The story of Saint Lucia stems back to Italy, where a Sicilian girl was martyred for her Christian beliefs. Through the years, the story traveled to Scandinavia, where today, they celebrate St. Lucia day on December 13th. The oldest daughter in the house dresses in a white robe to symbolize Lucia’s innocence, the red belt for her sacrifice, and the candle crown to bring light into the dark winter nights of the north. She makes saffron buns and coffee to serve to the family members still tucked in their beds.
Here are some other resources on the legend of Santa Lucia day:
Since December 13th has since passed, I decided to share this post on the first official day of winter, aligning with the solstice, to help usher along the darkest and longest nights of the year. It’s time to celebrate the return of the light, and the lengthening days ahead!
I love this tradition, and the food and music that comes with it. So without further ado, I bring you a traditional Santa Lucia Bun recipe, also known as Lussekatter, or Saffron Buns.
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, cut into pats
4 1/2 cups (19 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt*
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk *save the egg white for the topping
For topping :
1 egg white whisked with 2 Tbs. water
Turbinado sugar; swedish pearl sugar; or powdered sugar for dusting
A handful of raisins (also optional)
Combine saffron and milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add butter and reduce heat. Cool the melted mixture by letting it sit or stick it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
Use a thermometer to check the temperature.
When it’s at 104º, you’re ready to add the yeast. If the mixture is too hot, the yeast will die and the bread won’t rise properly.
Add the milk/butter melty-goodness to a mixing bowl, along with the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, potato flakes, salt, sugar, spices*). *optional
If using a stand mixer, use the lowest setting. The dough will be rather thick and hard to turn. As it thickens, switch to a dough hook, instead of using the mixer blade.
Add the eggs and egg yolk. Save that extra egg white for later.
Kneading the dough should last about 7 minutes if doing it ‘electronically’. I’m not sure of the time span if kneading by hand. You’ll have to experiment and then let me know! Scrape the dough down every minute or so, or it might creep up the side and out of the bowl!
The dough should have a texture ranging between smooth and sticky. Results may vary. Don’t knead the dough too long or it will become tight and dense.
Here is great resource for knowledge on kneading dough:
Turn out the dough and put into a greased bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. It should be about doubled in bulk.
Dump the dough out of the bowl and onto a piece of parchment paper. Roll into a smooth ball and then divide into four equal parts. You may use a food scale if you want them to be super accurate.
From there, divide each chunk into three parts, making 12 total pieces of dough. I used a dough scraper to do this.
Next, flatten out each piece, either by hand, or with a rolling pin, and let them rise again in a parchment covered jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Cover them with saran wrap so they don’t dry out like mine did…Let them set for about 10 minutes so the gluten can relax. Then you will have the extra fun role of converting them into ropes.
After the time is up, fold each flattened piece over itself and roll into a 15-18 inch ‘rope’. They don’t have to be perfect, but ideally you want them to be consistent in size and shape. This image does not depict the final product, but rather, the ropes are just starting to take their shape.
After you have lengthened the dough, curl each end toward the middle, each side going in the opposite direction, as to create an ‘S’. Like so:
Beat the remaining egg white and water together to create an egg wash. Use a pastry brush to cover the top and sides of the buns with the wash. Be sure to get into the cracks and seams. Tuck a raisin in each curl of the ‘S’. Sprinkle the coarse, turbinado sugar over each bun. Or, if you are lucky enough to find Swedish pearl sugar, sprinkle the buns with it.
Let rise one more time for 30 minutes. Make sure to cover it again with saran wrap!
While they are rising, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Place the parchmented cookie sheets on the middle rack and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. The saffron will help bring out that warm, golden color.
For the last three minutes, cover the ends with the raisins with tin-foil to prevent the raisins from burning. If you tuck the raisins further down into the dough, rather than on top, you may have already prevented this from happening.
Just look at that beautiful hue! Let me know how yours turned out! 🙂
Inside, the bun should be nice and light in color, completely baked through, with fluffy air pockets throughout. The outside is a little hard, but should pull apart fairly easily. Enjoy with butter, tea, coffee, or milk!
And as always, these delightful saffron buns were so good, I had nothing left but an empty plate:
Until next time! Glaedelig Jul! (Merry Christmas)