Santa Lucia Buns
lebrate the returning of the sun with Santa Lucia Buns.
Santa Lucia Day (Dec. 13) marks the beginning of the Christmas season for most Scandinavian families. These rolls are one of the Swedish Christmas traditions that remains popular to this day. They may even pre-date Christianity with their "S"-shape being reminiscent of the symbol for the mythological trickster Loki. The celebration of a seasonal festival on Dec. 13 does in fact pre-date Christianity as Scandinavians used to celebrate the Winter Solstice on Dec. 13 rather than Dec. 20/21 as we do in today's calendar.
According to tradition, Santa Lucia in Norwegian and Danish or Sankta Lucia in Swedish was a Sicilian virgin martyred in the fourth century. She is said to have brought food to starving Christians hiding in the catacombs. Her name "Lucia" (Lucy in English) comes from the Latin word for light "lux." According to Scandinavian legend, Lucia arrived in Southern Sweden on the darkest day of the year on the prow of a ship dressed in white and glowing withh heavenly light. She is said to have distributed wheat to the people so that they would have bread for the winter. For more on Lucy, see this article from St. Lucy's Parish that bears her name,
Because of this legend, Swedes prepare lussekatter or Lucy Buns in honor of the saint on Dec. 13. Traditionally, the oldest daughter of the family will serve the buns to the family on the 13th wearing a Lucia crown of green and candles. (Today, the candles are often better operated for safety.) People also dedicate the day to visiting the homebound and serving the community by sharing coffee, saffron buns, and singing the traditional Santa Lucia song. These saffron buns have been associated with Lucia since at least the 1880s. To learn more about Swedish Christmas traditions, especially Santa Lucia, visit Sweden.se.
For this Lucia Day, our neighborhood is having a community Christmas lights walk—how in the spirit of Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia Buns (Saffron Buns)
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup granulated cane sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup of whole milk Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten
Raisins, currants, dried blueberries, or dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
Pour half and half in a saucepan, stir in saffron threads and one teaspoon of granulated cane sugar. Over low-medium heat, warm the half and half, sugar, and saffron to about 110-120°F. Pour warmed half and half into a bowl and sprinkle yeast on top. Set the bowl in a warm spot, such as on top of a oven heated to 200°F, and allow the yeast to "bloom" for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, while yeast blooms, measure three and one-half cups flour, salt, and the additional half-cup of sugar in the mixing bowl for a stand mixer. Create a volcano divot in the center of the flour and pour in bloomed yeast mixture. Then in the now empty bowl in which you bloomed the yeast, beat two eggs until yellow. Stir yogurt into eggs. Then pour the egg-yogurt mixture into the divot. Using the dough hook attachment on your mixer, first stir the ingredients until incorporated, then kneading them on a low setting until dough ball forms and "walks" the bowl.
Spray a large bowl with canola oil spray and place dough ball in it. Roll the dough ball around the sides of the bowl until it is shiny from the oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen bowl and place in warm place, such as on top of a oven heated to 200°F, until it doubles in size. This may take between one to two hours.
Once the dough has doubled in size, place it on a floured surface and separate into 10 to 12 dough balls of about two to three inches in diameter. Roll the dough balls into dough snakes, about 12 to 14 inches long. Then shape them into "S" shapes. Beat an egg to make an egg wash, Brush the buns with the egg wash with a silicone brush. Then place a dried fruit of your choice in the centers of each of the curves of the "S." Place the buns on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
While the buns rest, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls in pre-heated oven for 10 to 13 minutes until golden. Allow the buns to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving,
Serve with tea with elderflower syrup or kaffee.
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.