St. Lucia Buns (Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread)

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

1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
Swedish pearl sugar
  1. 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.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.
Heather's notes:
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.

link St. Lucia Buns (Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread) By Published: St. Lucia Buns (Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread) Recipe


  1. Heather! Oh my goodness! I love EVERYTHING about this post. Everything. Love, love, love!

    I really want to try making those!

  2. Pretty buns, cute pug and gorgeous you!



  3. Love that your posting scandinavian christmas food! In Norway we call them "lussekatter" and also put raisins in the swirls of the buns :)
    And ps, you have the prettiest baking blog ever! Holiday greatings from Bergen, Norway! :D

  4. I love that you made your own crown! It makes the buns look so special in the centre :)

  5. Is it weird that I can almost smell how delicious they are from over here? And your pug melts my heart.

    Amanda Rose

  6. I love the spiralled shape of these, very whimsical!

  7. These are lovely. I didn't realize saffron made it as far as Scandinavia.
    Happy St. Lucia Day!

  8. Thank you for this lovely recipe, the beautiful photos and the HILARIOUS video link!

  9. Love, love, love this post!!! Have to try then buns!

  10. I'm Swedish, and I was really excited to see you posted this recipe! We usually put a bit more saffron in them, though, so they're bright golden yellow when you bite into them. I don't mean that as criticism - just thought I'd chime in! Although considering I've grown up with my mother's lussekatter, I don't think I can ever really see any other recipe as good enough, haha.

  11. You've swirled them so perfectly! They look so scrumptious!
    Jenna x

  12. How nice to find a Swedish recipe at my favorite baker blogger! I've never seen such perfectly swirled "Lussekatter". My mom (and I) have always had 0,5 gr of saffron for 500 ml milk. Most people use 1 gr but it depends on how much you like the taste, I guess. I think it looks cute with the pearl sugar on - I've nerver seen it though in Sweden as most people put 2 raisins in "the swirls". Pearl sugar is classic here for or cinnamon rolls. Have a great Christmas season!

  13. How nice to find a Swedish recipe at my favorite baker blogger! I've never seen such perfectly swirled "Lussekatter". My mom (and I) have always had 0,5 gr of saffron for 500 ml milk. Most people use 1 gr but it depends on how much you like the taste, I guess. I think it looks cute with the pearl sugar on - I've nerver seen it though in Sweden as most people put 2 raisins in "the swirls". Pearl sugar is classic here for or cinnamon rolls. Have a great Christmas season!

  14. Oh dear... these look absolutely perfect!!!! Yummmy!!!!

  15. I love Lussekatter!! I bake them every year since I moved to Sweden.Yours have the most perfect shape! I'm jealous! I like the pearl sugar idea, it looks very Christmassy. I also love your Lucia crown! There is the safer battery operated crown but they still wear the real thing with a towel on their heads for the melted candle. A little scary for me but it is a nice tradition that leads you to Christmas, the best holiday! :)

  16. If you make them again, you could try and dissolve the saffron in alcohol after crushing the threads with sugar, to create an extract. The saffron will have a beautiful flavour and the colour will really come out. I use more, in weight, 1 gram. Pricy but worth every penny. A friend of mine makes her extract in October, using 1 gram of threads, but she's really into saffron. When done the buns will be very yellow. I'm sure she'd send you a batch if you lived closer :)

    As for saffron making it to Scandinavia. Another very popular spice in pastries is cardamom. "Exotic" spices made it here quite early. For example, one of the spices of traditional ginger snaps is ginger.

  17. And btw, I wouldn't call myself upset, nor would my friend who basically saves all her baking energy for These Buns. It is, as you mention, not all that easy to pick up a recipe and make it without any references. I've been told that something I made that I had never done before wasn't exactly how it should be. It's expected. I also use only cold ingredients and fresh yeast (and leave it to cold rise twice). The latter is far more common here than in other places. I tried to make cinnamon buns in California but because I had never really used dry yeast, it took me 3 tries and a tizzy fit before I got it together. I have an amazing recipe that uses saffron extract, fresh yeast and that you cold rise.
    Traditional events/foods (like this one), is basically like best turkey recipe. There was an article in a newspaper recently on which ingredients NOT to use.

    The swirling looks amazing! By that time I am usually like yea yea yea, swirl away now.

  18. Hi Jessica!
    I think your idea for an extract would be helpful in my case. Some of the recipes I studied called for powdered saffron, which would dissolve easier, but it is not readily available in my area. I feel the crushed saffron threads I used did not distribute the color evenly, so making a saffron extract is appealing to me.

    I did suffer a little swirling fatigue toward the end of my second dozen. They swirls were much fatter, but we just ate those imperfect ones first. :)

    Thanks for your insightful comments!

  19. The extract is really simple:
    1 gram of saffron threads (preferably from Iran or Spain)
    2 tablespoons of regular sugar
    3 tablespoons of cognac

    Put the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle. Add the sugar and grind the sugar and saffron together.
    Place the saffron sugar in a clean jar, pour over the cognac. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Store in dark and cool space for at least 24 hrs before using.
    The aroma can be overwhelming, the dough will be VERY yellow. One can use less of it, although I don't. Add it at the same step as other ingredients.

    As saffron is so incredibly expensive, high-end sellers usually won't sell powdered saffron. The colour of saffron can be emulated with other spices. Hence, most sellers view saffron threads to be part of authentication. I buy saffron at a grocery store that primarily sells food from the Middle East, or I go online.
    Cooking rice with an addition of saffron adds a whole other dimension to it. Check out iranian polow recipes if interested, but just rice cooked with saffron is amazing :).

  20. Great information, Jessica! Thank you so much for sharing. I'll be sure to give the extract a try!


  21. Since there are different sizes of packages of yeast in different countries, could you add the amount in grams or spoons? thanks!

  22. Hi yael!

    2 packages of yeast is equal to 4 1/2 teaspoons. Hope this helps!

  23. My dough isn't coming away from the edges of the bowl after adding 4.5 cups of flour. Help! I must admit that I had to use a bit of whole-wheat white since I ran out of regular all-purpose white. Did yours come away from the edges of the bowl? I don't know how I'm going to roll it out.

    Your pugs are THE CUTEST! Also you and your creations are beautiful.

    <3, Lindsay

  24. Hi Lindsay!

    Gosh, sorry you've run into some trouble. It's okay if the dough doesn't fully pull away from the sides - but do test it with your fingers - it should not be awfully sticky, just a little bit sticky. No two flour brands are the same, so it's hard to say how much to use. The dough will firm with refrigeration, so you should be able to roll it out after it thoroughly chills.

    Thanks for the kind words, and best of luck with the buns!


  25. So beautiful!

    My mom and her side of the family are Norwegian. In fact, I have skillingsbolle in the oven at this exact moment! :)

    God Jul!

  26. Hi Heather! I Love you blog and your book! :)

    It's when you're making saffron buns or "lussekatter" you really can feel the christmas spirit coming! This year I made mine a little less traditional. I filled half with cinnamon,sugar and butter and the other half with butter, vanillasugar and marzipan, sprinkled with pearl sugar. The marzipan ones were amazing :)

    I use 2g crushed saffron threads (directly imported from iran) for a dough with 50g fresh yeast and 5 dl milk :) I love the color, taste and smell the saffron gives :)

    Merry Christmas

  27. Love your Blog Your mint Chocolate cheese cake look so good
    Love a Spriters at this moment it is so warm here

  28. I will not get saffron threads where I live so I'll have to use powered saffron how much will I need?

  29. The bakeries in Oslo start selling these tomorrow (Dec. 4th) but I am looking forward to making my own with this recipe for Luciadagen (St. Lucia Day) next weekend in Oslo! :-) Will be making the saffron extract to get the bright yellow color. Thanks to the commenters for the tips. Would love to see your take on a suksesskake (success cake)! It's my favorite Norwegian cake. Not very difficult to make but beautiful mix of chocolate and vanilla egg cream with an almond flour cake.

  30. Today I chose this recipe to save and transfer to my own files to keep to bake in the future. While reading the comments, which at times on recipes from all sorts of sites I occasionally discover very helpful hints from other readers. While reading many of these I was a little surprised to see so many bringing up Middle Eastern cooking and getting their saffron directly from Iran and so on and so forth. It got me to thinking about something and perhaps this is something a reader could answer in the future. This recipe I believe is very old Swedish traditional item to be made at Christmas. Even many many years ago as a child (this would be in the 60s and 70s) I would heart of this or see it in cookbook. I loved baking even as a child. Other children, if bored with the program on one of our FIVE or so different channels we received at that time, would go and read or play or yak with friends on the ONE telephone in the house or so forth. Me, I would wander upstairs (our family room was in the renovated basement of our rancher style home) and do something like bake some homemade bread or make cookies or cupcakes at times. Trust me, I didn't try fancy things. The most elaborate is one Christmas I did the braided bread with the colored eggs in it. Want to hear something crazy, that one I did around age 13 or 14, was nicer than any I've ever done as an adult in the 40 years since. Now does that make ANY sense at all? I know a 1,000 times more about baking and I think the best one I ever did was as a completely self-taught kid who didn't really know what they were doing. Weird. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.....I don't believe Sweden had a great partnership with Iran or any Middle Eastern country a couple of hundred years ago so how did saffron, definitely a middle east spice, become such an integral part of this bread? It doesn't even seem to fit as part of the Dutch East Indies which used to be such an influential part of the past. It seems odd to me and definitely a mystery.

  31. Loved making these with my family! Thank you!

  32. My middle child is doing a project at school and picked Sweden as her family history country, so we had to go looking for Swedish traditions. We decided to celebrate At Lucia day this year and this dough is resting in the fridge right now! One note- the instructions say to add eggs, but they aren't listed in the ingredients. I looked up similar recipes and decided to add two.....

    1. Hi Britt, the eggs are listed right after the salt? It says 2 eggs at room temperature?


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