As a child, December 13 was a very special day in our home. It was a day that I waited for with excited anticipation. A day when we were awakened by Mamma’s angelic voice, garbed in white with a red sash, a candlelit wreath adorning her lovely head—a tray filled with decadent saffron rolls in her hands for us to enjoy in our beds. It’s Sankta Lucia, one of the most celebrated traditions in all of Sweden. Lucia is the bearer of light in the dark northern winters.
When I grew old enough, I got to participate in the tradition. My sister wore the crown of candles and carried the tray of fragrant bread. I trailed behind her with a candle of my own. It was such a special tradition. Mamma has always been so intentional about bringing these beautiful aspects of her Swedish heritage into our home. My siblings have even passed the tradition on to their sweet girls, and every year, I look forward to the pictures they send of their kiddos dressed for the occasion.
Today, I wanted to share Mamma’s recipe with you all. These are very special rolls, not only because they are part of the Lucia Celebration, but also because they have Saffron in them. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. I read one article stating that Saffron costs $5,000 per lb! My jaw just about hit the floor when I read that. Thankfully, a very little bit goes a very long way, so don’t let that scare you into not trying this delicious bread! The aroma that the saffron gives off is just incredible—oh the memories that it stirs in my mind.
Even if you don’t normally celebrate this timeless tradition, I still encourage you to try making the bread. It’s a marvelous treat to have with friends and family over a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea.
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Sankta Lucia Saffron Buns
- ⅓ cup Milk (82 mls/80)
- ¼ cup Butter, softened (57 grams)
- ¼ cup lukewarm Water (60 mls)
- 1 package Yeast (~ 2 ¼ tsp or 7 grams)
- ¼ cup white Sugar (55 grams)
- 2 Eggs (*save 1 for brushing the buns just before baking)
- ½ tsp Salt
- ¼ tsp partially crushed Saffron
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose Flour (350-400 grams—I use closer to 350 than 400)
- 1 TBSP Water
- 24 Raisins
Heat the milk up in a small saucepan over low heat. You just want the milk to be hot enough to melt the butter, but not so hot that it boils. (You can also do this in the microwave, just be sure to keep a close eye on it.) Turn off the heat. Cut the butter into small pieces, and add it to the warm milk.
In a separate small bowl or mug, add your warm water (~110 degrees Fahrenheit) and yeast, whisking it together with a fork. Set it aside for about 5 minutes while the yeasts activates.
Check the temperature of the milk/butter before moving on to this next step. The milk should be no hotter than 115 degrees Fahrenheit, or it will kill the yeast. If it’s cool enough, pour the milk and water mixtures into a medium mixing bowl.
Add the sugar, 1 egg, and salt. Next, measure out your ¼ tsp of Saffron. Crush it slightly with a mortar and pestle or spoon so that the flavor and color gets well distributed (we don’t want it to be a fine powder). Once it’s crushed, add it to the mixing bowl. Whisk the ingredients together.
Add half of the flour and whisk it again until it’s nice and smooth.
Slowly add the remaining flour and knead it for about 7 minutes. You should have a beautiful, smooth, ball of dough that springs back at you when you gently poke it.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel, and let it rise in a warm place until it’s doubled in size (about 1 hour, depending on how warm your home is).
Punch the dough down, and divide it into 6 equal sections. Divide each section in half, and with the palms of your hands, roll each half into 10-inch ropes. Here, you can be creative and make many of different shapes. The following are my 4 favorites! (This website has lots and lots of different designs if you want to try something different.)
The following are the best descriptions I could come up with for shaping these rolls, though when in doubt, check the pictures…my descriptions leave much to be desired…lol?
Method 1: Lussehjärta—Lucia Heart
Using one dough rope, create a loop/V at the center. Curl each end downward, creating two small coils. Bring the left side upwards, and cross the right over it, keeping the “V” shape as best as possible. Tuck the curled ends into the two looped lobes. Place a raisin at the center of each curl.
Method 2: Juloxe—Christmas Ox
With one rope, form a loop, or a “U” shape. Curl each end tighly in the opposite direction on either side of the “U”. This forms “oxen horns” on each side of a longer oxen face. You can either place the raisin on the face portion, like eyes, or you can place them in the center of the tight circles of the horns.
Method 3: Julgalt—Christmas Boar/Pig (this has been the most common in our house)
Form a backwards “S” shape, and coil the ends into tight circles. Place a raisin in the center of each curled. The raisin are the eyes, and the design represents a pig’s face—you gotta just use your imagination ?.
Method 4: Gullvagn—Golden Carriage/Wagon
This is the same base as the julgalt above, but you make two and crisscross them over each other, making four “wagon wheels”. Place a raisin at the center of each “wheel”.
Once the buns are formed, place them on a greased cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between them. Cover them with a tea towel and let them rise for 30-45 more minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small cup, beat the 2nd egg with a TBSP of water. Gently brush the egg mixture over the tops of all the buns. Decorate them with the raisins, and bake about 15 minutes, or until they turn a light golden-brown color.
Place them on a rack to cool. Enjoy with tea or coffee.
God Jul, mina Vänner!
(Merry Christmas, my Friends!)