Have you ever heard of St. Lucia buns? These bright-yellow saffron rolls are a traditional Swedish Christmas bread, served on December 13 for St. Lucia's Day. They are not only gorgeous treats, but are also quite tasty and fun to make!
Below is pictured the ram's horn shape.
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What are St. Lucia buns?
They are lightly sweet saffron buns that originate from Sweden. They are traditionally served on December 13, which is St. Lucia Day. This festival of light is held on the darkest day of the year, and these sunshine-colored rolls are perfect for the celebrations.
On St. Lucia Day in Sweden, the oldest girl in the household will dress in a long white gown and put a crown of evergreen branches and candles on her head. She arises early and serves her family fresh St. Lucia buns and hot coffee as breakfast in bed.
Why are they made into different shapes?
The varied shapes are actually symbolic. For example, the baby-shaped bun reminds us of Jesus' birth at Christmas time, while the cross reminds us of His sacrificial death for us. The animals may represent the animals present in the stable during Jesus' birth, while other symbols represent St. Lucia.
What shapes can I make?
There are over 12 different shapes. You can always invent new designs if you're feeling creative! Some design ideas include pig or boar, oxen, ram's horns or lyre, priest's hair, cross, Baby Jesus, Lucia crown, Christmas cake, cat, horse, or lily.
What makes them yellow?
The spice saffron is what makes them such a beautiful sunshine color. Saffron is the stamen of the crocus sativus flower, and is one of the most expensive spices in the world, since it must be hand-harvested. The individual red stamens of these special flowers are called saffron threads, and are used to flavor many sweet and savory dishes throughout the world.
Can I make them ahead?
Yes, you can make the dough the day before and let it do its first prove in the fridge overnight. You can shape, prove, and bake the buns the next day. Alternatively, you can bake them and freeze to enjoy later.
Can they be frozen?
Yes, you can freeze St. Lucia buns. Seal them inside of a freezer zip-top plastic bag, then freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost individual ones in the microwave for 45 seconds, or let them sit at room temperature until defrosted.
I like to toast my saffron threads on a baking tray in a 275 F oven for 10 minutes to bring out extra color and flavor. Then, I crush the saffron by squeezing the threads between my fingers to break them into smaller pieces.
The most important part is to infuse the saffron, which brings out its beautiful color. Do this by soaking the saffron threads in 3 tablespoons of boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Then you can add the liquid to the bread dough, tinting it a wonderful yellow.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients. You'll need bread flour, salt, fast-action yeast, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, saffron threads, and mascarpone cheese (or quark cheese, if you can get it).
Spread the saffron threads on a small cookie sheet and bake them at 275 F for about 10 minutes. This will dry out the saffron, making it a deeper shade of red. Just make sure to keep an eye on it as it toasts so the delicate threads don't burn.
Crush the saffron with your fingertips, then pour 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of boiling water on top. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes to infuse the saffron.
To make the dough, start by melting butter in a saucepan, then adding the milk and heating it to 115 F on a thermometer.
Dump the bread flour into a bowl and add the salt and fast action yeast on opposite sides. Stir each one in with your finger. This step keeps the salt from touching the yeast, as it can kill the yeast on contact.
Add the sugar, mascarpone cheese or quark, and egg.
Add half of the milk mixture and start mixing the ingredients together with your hand. Gradually add more of the milk mixture until the dough is somewhat sticky and all the flour is picked up from the bowl.
Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be smooth, glossy, and no longer sticky.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it prove until at least doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours. My dough broke through the plastic wrap, so that's why it has such a funny shape.
Punch down the risen dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces using a bench scraper. I like to weigh each piece on my kitchen scale to make sure that each one is the same size.
Roll each piece of dough into a rope about 16 inches long.
Curl and twist the ropes into various shapes. For the photos, I did 6 different shapes: Baby Jesus, ox, pig, ram's horns, priest's hair, and cross. The ones on the first cookie sheet below are Baby Jesus, ram's horn, oxen, and pigs.
On the second cookie sheet is a ram, priest's hair, and crosses. Have fun and I encourage you to try a variety of shapes.
Cover the buns with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm place until springy to the touch, about 30 minutes. Brush them with egg yolk and place a raisin inside of each curl.
Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, then let them cool for at least 10 minutes on a wire rack so they can set. Enjoy fresh with a hot cup of coffee!
- Always use bread flour. All-purpose flour contains less protein than bread flour does, which means it will produce a flatter, denser bun.
- Be careful to add enough liquid when mixing up the dough. The dough should be a little sticky, not dry and floury; it will get much less sticky as it is kneaded.
- Use the windowpane test to see if your dough has been kneaded enough. You should be able to stretch a piece of the dough thin enough to see light through it without the dough tearing.
- In a hurry? Make the dough the day before and let it to its first rise in the fridge overnight. Shape the dough the next day and let them rise in a warm place until springy to the touch, then bake.
- Try different shapes. Try the golden wagon, the lyre, Lucia's crown, wheel, wreath, lily, Christmas cake, priest's hair, cat, horse, and bird. Feel free to make a double batch of the dough to make them all!
- Let them cool for a few minutes before enjoying. This will ensure the best texture of the bread and will keep you from burning your mouth.
- Badia Saffron: this affordable saffron is a great choice.
- Bench Scraper: this handy tool is perfect for cutting bread dough into pieces.
- Wilton Cookie Sheets: these light-colored cookie sheets bake evenly.
- Parchment Paper: keep your trays clean and pretty with this parchment.
- Cooling Racks: these racks ensure that they don't get soggy as they cool.
Other Christmas Breads
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These amazing saffron buns from Sweden make a beautiful Christmas breakfast! Learn how to twist this yellow dough into gorgeous shapes, then enjoy these sweet yeast rolls with a hot cup of coffee. Baking this traditional Swedish bread couldn’t be more fun!
For the Dough
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 3 tablespoons boiling water (45 ml)
- 1 cup whole milk (240 ml)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (56g)
- 4 ⅛ cups bread flour (500g)
- 2 teaspoons salt (10g)
- 3 teaspoons fast-action yeast (10g)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar (50g)
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese or quark cheese (100g)
For the Decoration
- 2 egg yolks
- Splash of filtered water
- 24 raisins
Infusing the Saffron (5 min + 30 min infusing)
- Toast. Preheat the oven to 275 F. Spread the saffron on a small cookie sheet and bake at 275 F for 10 minutes, watching it carefully to prevent burning. You'll know that it's done when the saffron gets brittle and turns a dark red.
- Infuse. Pour the saffron threads into a small bowl and rub them between your fingertips to crush them into smaller pieces. Pour the three tablespoons of boiling water on top, stir with a metal spoon, and let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes. The water will turn a dark orange-red.
Making the Dough (20 min + 1 ½ hrs proving)
- Heat and butter. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the milk and heat the mixture until it reaches 115 F on a meat thermometer.
- Mix dry ingredients. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl. Stir in each one with your finger, then mix in the sugar.
- Add wet ingredients. Add the egg and mascarpone to the bowl, then dump in the infused saffron liquid and half of the milk mixture.
- Mix up the dough. Mix the dough together by hand until all the flour has been picked up from the bowl. Add more of the milk-butter mixture as needed to create a soft, slightly sticky dough.
- Knead. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and need for about 10-15 minutes, until the dough is smooth, glossy, and no longer sticky. The dough should also pass the windowpane test. Break off a lump of dough and stretch it as thin as you can; if it can be translucent without tearing, the dough is kneaded enough. If not, knead for a minute longer and check again.
- Prove. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a lightly buttered bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough prove for about 1 ½ to 2 hours, until at least doubled in size.
Shaping the Buns (25 min + 30 min proving)
- Prep. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Knock back. Once the dough has proved, turn it out onto a large work surface and punch it down all over to knock out any pockets of gas.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces with a bench scraper, using a kitchen scale to make sure each piece weighs the same amount. Roll each piece of dough into a 16-inch rope with the palms of your hands. Spread your fingers apart as you roll to get a thinner rope. If the dough isn't rolling easily, let it rest for a minute, then try again.
- Shape the ropes into pigs, baby Jesus, cross, oxen, ram's horns, or priest's hair. There are many other traditional Swedish shapes you can use if you would like. Please refer to the step-by-step photos before the recipe card for a visual demonstration of the following shapes.
- Pig: curl the ends of the rope in opposite directions to make an S shape. This is the most popular shape, so go with this shape if you only want to do one design.
- Baby Jesus: fold the rope in half and twist the ends together.
- Cross: roll the rope extra long. Fold rope in half to create a loop at the top, then create a loop on each side with each side of the rope. Twist the remaining ends together to form the base of the cross.
- Oxen: curl the ends of the rope towards each other.
- Ram's Horns: curl the ends of the rope away from each other. Make a downward point in the uncurled part in the center to create the head.
- Priest's Hair: cut the rope into three pieces and fold one piece in half, curling the ends upwards slightly. Place the other two strands above the bottom piece, curling their ends likewise.
- Prove. Place the shapes on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them as far apart as possible. Cover the trays with plastic wrap and let them prove for 30-45 minutes, until the dough springs back when lightly pressed with a fingertip.
- Preheat. About 15 minutes before they are done proving, preheat the oven to 375 F.
Baking the Buns (5 min + 20 min baking + 20 min cooling)
- Egg wash. Break up the two egg yolks with a splash of water to thin it, then brush the mixture all over the risen dough. Place a raisin inside each curl of dough.
- Bake at 375 F for 18-20 minutes, until well risen and a rich golden brown. Watch them to make sure they aren't getting too dark.
- Cool completely on wire racks.
- Serve with salted butter and a hot cup of coffee.
- Store. Freeze leftovers within 24 hours of baking for best freshness. Defrost in the microwave or at room temperature, then enjoy. Do not refrigerate, as it will make them go stale.
- Do not use all-purpose flour. Bread flour will give you the extra protein necessary for soft, high-rising buns.
- Use the windowpane test to see if your dough has been kneaded enough. See the instructions above.
- Save time by making the dough the day before and letting it prove overnight in the fridge. Shape the buns the next day, let them rise in a warm place until springy to the touch, and bake.
- Experiment with different shapes. Popular ones include priest's hair, pig, ox, baby Jesus, golden wagon, cross, and Christmas cat.
- Freeze leftovers within 24 hours of baking for the best freshness. Defrost in the microwave and enjoy later with salted butter.
- Category: Bread
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Swedish
Keywords: st lucia recipes, swedish saffron buns, best saffron bread recipes
This recipe was originally published on November 16, 2017.