St. Lucia Day is December 13th, so celebrate with this saffron bread recipe. It’s braided and stacked into a crown and sprinkled with pearl sugar.
Happy St. Lucia Day! This is the day that our Scandinavian friends celebrate St. Lucy, an ancient martyr with an abiding role as a bearer of light in dark winters. On this feast day young girls dress in her honor wearing white robes with a red sashes. The girls form a procession that is led by a young lady selected to portray St. Lucia, who wears a crown of candles while carrying a tray of baked goods.
Some of you may remember my previous Lucia Day post from 2013. That’s when I made traditional saffron buns (Lussekatter). Soon after I was introduced to powdered saffron, thanks to the advice of my Scandinavian readers. I had used saffron threads in the dough and my buns were only slightly yellow. Apparently, you should always need a pair of sunglasses to look at properly-hued saffron bread. In other words, the brighter the better!
(I think I got it right this time!)
Choose your saffron.
Saffron threads will work in this recipe, but you’ll need to grind them to a powder first in a mortar and pestle. I prefer powdered saffron. It isn’t available to me locally so I had to order it online. I chose this Spanish saffron powder because it had the most favorable reviews. I used four 1/4 gram capsules which yielded the brightest yellow dough I’ve ever seen!
Shape the saffron dough.
The dough was easy to handle and roll into three 36-inch ropes. I did the work on my dining room table so I’d have plenty of room and you may want to do the same. Braiding the dough is simple: start in the center and braid one end, and then turn it around and braid the other end. This way you’re braiding 18-inch lengths at a time, and not trying to flip 36-inch lengths of dough over one another by starting at one end.
When you’re all finished weaving the strands together, you’ll have something akin to Rapunzel’s braid. Cut the messy end pieces away using a knife or bench scraper.
Coil the braid around itself so that you have a round loaf and tuck the end piece under.
Just before baking, the loaf is brushed with egg wash and topped with Swedish pearl sugar which gives it a touch of sweetness. When sliced, its crumb is soft with a flaky crust. The favor is yeasty and bright with saffron. I think it’s best eaten warm with a pat of salted butter.
Lately I’ve been using lecithin granules to extend the life of my yeast breads. It doesn’t affect the taste of the bread, and I really like being able to enjoy my baked goods for longer than just one or two days. If you’re making this for a gift, then I suggest using the granules for prolonged shelf life. Just whisk them in with the dry ingredients. It takes about 1 tablespoon per cup of flour.
Since this saffron bread recipe is also called ‘Lucia Crown’ then I think it’s appropriate to top it with candles (I used these).
Want more giftable goodies?
Last year’s thirteenth day advent recipe was Mini Gingerbread Bundt Cakes!
St. Lucia Crown (Swedish Saffron Bread)
- 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°F)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm milk 110° to 115°F
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup butter softened
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 4 capsules 1/4 gram each powdered saffron
- 4- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons lecithin granules optional (see notes at bottom)
- 2 eggs
- Egg wash 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water beaten together
- 4 tablespoons Swedish pearl sugar
- Place half of the warm water (1/4 cup) in the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir briefly with a spoon. Add the remaining water and the milk, sugar, butter, salt, saffron; add 1 1/2 cups flour along with optional lecithin granules, if using. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on low until combined. Add the two eggs and mix again; exchange the paddle attachment for the dough hook. Add flour a little at a time until it forms a soft and slightly sticky dough (you may not have to use all of the flour). Set a timer and knead the dough on medium-low speed for 6 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and turn the dough over once. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour (mine took longer at 1 hour 35 minutes).
- Gently deflate the dough with a fist and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a 36-inch long rope. To braid, place all three ropes parallel to each other; begin in the center and braid one end. Move to the other side and braid the other end. Cut the messy ends of the braid away with a knife or bench scraper. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place one end of the braid in the center of the sheet and coil the braid around itself until you have an 11-inch (approximate) round loaf. Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and lightly drape over the loaf. Let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour. Brush the loaf with egg wash using a pastry brush and sprinkle on the Swedish pearl sugar.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Bake the loaf for 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on the bread during the last 10 minutes of baking. If the bread starts to over-brown place a sheet of aluminum foil on top. When done, transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool slightly. Cut into slices using a serrate knife. Enjoy warm with salted butter or lingonberry jam.