Today is St. Lucia day! The day that our Scandinavian friends celebrate Saint Lucy, a symbol of hope and light in dark times. If you're not familiar with her story, you should definitely read up about it here and watch the adorable video here. In short, The festival of St. Lucia begins the Christmas season in Swedish custom, and she comes as a young girl crowned with fresh greens and lit candles carrying a tray of baked goods. These sweet, spiral buns are traditionally served on this day.
I decided to create a traditional candle crown to surround my bowl of Lucia buns, so I spent some time yesterday in the woods collecting pine branches. I'm not at all qualified to play Lucia, but I couldn't resist trying on the crown. It's hard for me to imagine anyone walking around with lit candles on their heads! These days a safer battery operated candle alternative is offered (which I think is a good idea, considering the use of flammable hair product and whatnot).
It's difficult to be in a bad mood with the delicious aroma of yeast buns and evergreen floating around the house. Even the little sleeping dogs got feisty once I brought in those branches. You'll notice Churro-pug in some of the pictures here -I couldn't keep his sniffer out of my wreath pile!
This is one of the easiest yeast breads I've ever made. It's almost no-knead, and the dough can be refrigerated overnight, which is a nice convenience if you're considering these for breakfast. I really love the flavor and golden color the saffron lends to these airy, puffed buns. If you can't find the non-melting Swedish pearl sugar in your grocery store, it can be ordered online.
Note: Whenever you participate in a tradition that you admire - but don't necessarily belong to - you often run the risk of missing a detail and upsetting those who hold it dear. I've received a couple of messages about these buns saying there's not enough saffron in the dough, and that they should be much more yellow in color. The recipe I used was from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas, and I followed her recommendation for the amount of saffron to use. I appreciate the correction/instruction from my Swedish readers and will apply it to my next batch of St. Lucia buns. Thank you!
St. Lucia Buns: Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread
[click for printable version]
Source: Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
Yield: 24 buns
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, 110F to 115F
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk
Swedish pearl sugar
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast in the warm water; stir gently and briefly with a fork. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir again. Let mixture stand until the yeast foams, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, butter, cream, milk, saffron, salt and eggs. Fit mixer with the paddle attachment and beat well on medium-low speed until combined. Remove paddle attachment from mixer and fit with the dough hook. Add flour 1 cup at a time mixing well with each addition to keep the dough smooth and satiny. You may not need to use all of the flour.
- Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 24 even pieces (about 2-inches square). Roll each square into a long rope, about 12-inches long. Curl each end of a rope in opposite directions, creating an "S" shape (or a backward "S" shape). Lift the bun onto the parchment; repeat curling with remaining dough ropes until there are 12 per baking sheet.
- For the glaze, beat the egg in a condiment cup and stir in the milk. Brush each bun with the glaze then sprinkle over pearl sugar. Place sheets in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes
- Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.
I use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make this bread, but it requires no intensive kneading. You can stir the ingredients by hand until a satiny, soft (but non-sticky) dough is formed.
You may not have to use all the flour. I used a little less than 4 cups. I stopped adding flour when the dough started pulling away from the sides of the mixing bowl (while beaten with the dough hook).
I place the sheets of buns on the range-top of my preheated oven. The heat from the oven encourages the dough to raise.