Ingredients

Makes about 30 buns

150g melted butter
1 gram of Saffron saffron threads, finely crumbled
2 cups milk
80g sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 packages (50 g) dry active yeast
850g white flour
One egg white
Raisins or currants to decorate

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Method

1. Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour. This strengthens the saffron flavour.

2. Heat milk to a light boil, turning off heat when it reaches the scalding point (with small bubbles across the top). Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool until “finger-warm” (just cool enough to touch). Stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.

3. Mix half of the flour into the liquid. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough (just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don't want to add too much flour).

4. Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour

5. Punch down risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a golf ball) and roll into "snakes." Shape snakes into "S"-shaped buns. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel again and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).

6. Decorate buns with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 225 C oven about 10 minutes, just until brown.

The Story Behind The Recipe

St. Lucia’s Day is a festival of lights celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland on December 13 in honour of St. Lucia. One of the earliest Christian martyrs, St. Lucia was killed by the Romans in 304 CE because of her religious beliefs.

In Scandinavian countries each town elects its own St. Lucia. The festival begins with a procession led by the St. Lucia designee, who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys dressed in white pajama-like costume singing traditional songs. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia, and it is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year. Schools generally close around noon on the day of the festival so that families can prepare for the holiday.

Families observe St. Lucia’s Day in their homes by having one of their daughters (traditionally the eldest) dress in white and serve coffee and baked goods, such as saffron bread (lussekatter) and ginger biscuits, to the other members of the family. These traditional foods are also given to visitors during the day.

As my family had moved to the Netherlands when I was young, we did not partake in the most traditional form of the festivities every year. However, we celebrated St Lucia in the Swedish community, and even dressed up and sang in the local IKEA. The unassuming shoppers were often puzzled as the lights turned off and a procession of kids dressed in white night gowns carrying candles and singing songs slowly proceeded past the Billy bookcases and silverware.

My father is a talented cook and baker, and he started a family tradition of making Lussekatter with my brother and I. This recipe uses saffron, which is a very expensive spice- it is sold in tiny amounts, even behind the counter in Swedish supermarkets. One year, my father started to prepare the dough. By accident, he had double the amount of milk that was needed for the recipe. As the saffron had already been added, he rushed out and ended up visiting 4 different shops to get the amount needed! It was quite a costly undertaking, as saffron in the Netherlands is sold in 0.05 gram amounts for $1.50- for the recipe we needed 20 packets but now we needed 40! At least we had plenty of lussekatter to share…