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!
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Since St. Lucia buns (Lussekatter) are a special Christmastime treat, they do take some special ingredients. Let's talk about each one.
- Bread Flour: Don't use all-purpose here; it won't give you the same texture and rise.
- Saffron: Use the best quality saffron threads (affiliate) you can find. Toast them briefly at 275°F for 10 minutes, then crush them and infuse them in 3 tablespoons of boiling water for 30 minutes. Add this liquid to the bread.
- Quark or Mascarpone: Traditional St. Lucia buns use quark cheese, but that is very difficult to find in the United States. You can make it yourself or substitute with mascarpone, which can be found at most large grocery stores.
How to Make
- 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be smooth, glossy, and no longer sticky.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Roll each piece of dough into a rope about 16 inches long.
9. 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. Have fun and try a variety of shapes.
10. 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.
11. 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!
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.
Since these S-shaped rolls resemble a cat's curled tail, the Swedish name for these rolls is lussekatter, which means "Lucia cats." The Lucia comes from the fact that they are served on St. Lucia's Day (December 13).
You can enjoy them plain, or spread them with butter. The English way to enjoy saffron buns is with jam and clotted cream.
Cornish saffron buns originated in Cornwall, England, but these St. Lucia buns originated in Sweden to commemorate St. Lucia Day. Their bright yellow hue reminds one of sunshine on Sweden's darkest day of the year, December 13.
- Make Ahead: 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.
- Freeze: Seal the buns 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.
- St. Lucia Buns are traditionally served for breakfast on St. Lucia Day, which is December 13.
- Serve the buns with hot coffee.
- Traditionally, the oldest daughter of the family would dress in a long white gown and wear a crown of candles on her head. She would bring the buns to her family for them to eat in bed while it was still dark outside.
- Always use bread flour. All-purpose flour contains less protein than bread flour does, which means it will produce a flatter, denser bun.
- Use the windowpane test to see if the dough has been kneaded enough. You should be able to stretch a piece of the dough to be translucent without 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!
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St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)
For the Dough
For the Decoration
- 2 egg yolks
- Splash of filtered water
- 24 raisins
Infusing the Saffron
- Spread the saffron on a small cookie sheet and bake at 275°F for 10 minutes, watching it carefully. It's done when its color has darkened and is brittle.
- Pour the saffron into a small bowl and rub the threads between your fingertips to crush them into smaller pieces. Pour 3 tablespoons of boiling water on top, stir, 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)
- 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 digital thermometer.
- Put the flour in a large bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides. Stir in each one with your finger, then mix in the sugar.
- Add the egg and mascarpone to the bowl, then dump in the infused saffron liquid and half of the milk mixture.
- Stir the dough together with your 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Line two 11x17-inch cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- 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: Twist or curl the ropes into various shapes, like the Christmas cat, baby Jesus, cross, oxen, ram's horns, or priest's hair. For the cat, curl the ends of the rope in opposite directions to make an S shape. For Baby Jesus, fold the rope in half and twist the ends together. For the 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. For the oxen, curl the ends of the rope towards each other. For 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. For the 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.
- Place the shapes on the trays, spacing them as far apart as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and let them prove for 30-45 minutes, until the dough springs back when lightly pressed with a fingertip.
- About 30 minutes before they are done proving, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Baking the Buns
- Break up the two egg yolks with a splash of water to thin them, 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 the lussekatter are well risen and a rich golden brown. Watch them to make sure they aren't getting too dark.
- Transfer them to cool completely on wire racks.
- Serve the buns with salted butter and a hot cup of coffee.
- 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.
This recipe was originally published on November 16, 2017 and was updated on November 22, 2019. It has been republished on November 6, 2021 with updated photos, questions, ingredients, and other improvements.