Friday, 13 December 2013

St Lucia Saffron Buns

Today, the 13th of December, is St Lucia's day. In most parts of Scandinavia, these saffron buns - also known as Lussekatter or Lussebullar - are made to celebrate.

Lucia of Syracuse was one of the earliest Christian martyrs, killed by the Romans in AD 304. Lucia - Lucy in English - is the patron saint of the blind and her celebration is one of light and hope at the darkest point in the year.

Each country has a different St Lucia song about light and darkness. Here's the first stanza of the Swedish song in English (from, which also has more information and photos of the celebrations):

"The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!"

John Donne wrote about Lucia's day and light too:

"‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;"

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne, c.1627.

Having looked at some more pictures of Lucia buns today I've realised that I should probably be shaping them by coiling the ends round to give a curlier 's' shape. Having said that, I've become rather fond of the way I've been tucking the ends underneath and their slightly awkward shape once they've been baked.

There isn't enough saffron in my recipe to turn the colour of the dough more than a creamy pale yellow but I didn't want to add more (it's so expensive and I don't like a strong saffron flavour) or use food dye. I tried cranberries and raisins to stud the bread but I loved dried cherries the most (as suggested by Signe). The cherries plump up from the moisture in the dough and have a spicy flavour that works beautifully.

I really love these buns - they're soft and tender inside, with a delicate sweetness and a crisp, shiny crust. They've warmed my cold hands and brightened many of my dark December mornings.

St Lucia Saffron Buns
(inspired by Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen, Trine Hahnemann and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas)

180ml milk
10 strands of saffron
60g unsalted butter
10g fresh yeast/4g instant yeast
300g plain flour
30g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 egg + 1 for eggwash*
16 dried cherries (or raisins, cranberries etc)

Heat the milk and saffron in a small saucepan until the milk starts to steam and bubble. Pour into a bowl/jug to steep and cool. Place the butter in the milk pan and heat until melted - leave to cool in the pan. If you're using fresh yeast, when the milk has cooled to body temperature crumble the yeast into the milk and stir. Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir together with a spoon. Stir the instant yeast into the dry ingredients at this point if you're using it. Pour the milk, butter and one beaten egg into the bowl and stir together until it starts to form a dough. Put onto the machine and knead on medium-high (I use 6 on my KA) for 5 minutes (do time this). The dough should be slightly shiny, elastic and coming away from the sides of the bowl - it's quite a wet dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 75 minutes or until doubled (you can also leave it in the fridge overnight to rise).

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a few gentle folds to knock out some of the air. Divide the dough into 8 (around 75g each) and place the dough pieces under a clean tea towel. Take one out and roll and shape it into a rope about 7"/18cm long then put it back under the towel to rest while you shape the others. Get a baking sheet and line it with baking parchment. Take the rope you formed first and shape into an S by curling each end round. Place onto the baking sheet and cover with another clean tea towel. Repeat with the other seven. Leave to rise covered in the tea towel for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

When they've risen, push a cherry into the middle of the swirl at the top and bottom of each bun, pushing deep into the bun (or they pop out). In a small bowl, beat the other egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the buns with the egg wash, carefully covering all of the sides and down into the dips. Place into the oven and bake for 16-20 minutes (mine are usually perfect at 18), turning half way if your oven bakes unevenly - they're ready when they're risen, deep golden brown and sound hollow if you tap them on the bottom.

Remove to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes - eat while they're still hot. They keep for 3-4 days in a sealed bag or box - reheat for 5 minutes in a hot oven before eating after the first day. They also freeze well.

(Makes 8 buns)

*I know using egg wash is a pain as you don't use much but these buns look so much better shiny and brown - I tend to use the remaining egg in scrambled eggs or something similar.

Three more recipes that include milk:
Coconut Cream Cake
Pancakes with Lemon & Thyme Sugar
Vanilla Ice Cream


  1. Warm Vanilla Sugar13 December 2013 11:27

    These are so pretty!! And sound lovely. Yum!

  2. Oh goodness - I love the idea of cherries in these. And the subtle saffron looks heavenly - I adore saffron, but completely agree that in something like this a hint is much better than a blast... They look fantastic!

  3. I love the story with this post. it is so wonderful when food is inspired by times of hardship and triumph. They demand to be the highlight of the kitchen.

  4. poiresauchocolat13 December 2013 18:24

    They're really delicious - I hope you try them someday!

  5. poiresauchocolat13 December 2013 18:24

    The cherries are awesome - I've never really baked with them before but that's definitely going to change. Glad you like them!

  6. I love that golden brown sheen you've got on the buns - sometimes I'm lazy and skip the egg wash when I'm making things like this but you've convinced me that's a big mistake! Beautiful.

  7. poiresauchocolat14 December 2013 10:58

    I'm the same - beating up an egg then only using a tiny bit is annoying (though since it's such a tiny bit used I've taken to chucking it into something else like scrambled eggs). It does give them a gorgeous sheen though - I tried the first batch without it and they didn't look a patch on the ones with ti.

  8. These little buns look beautiful, I love the slightly rustic 's' shape. Perfect festive food.

  9. Thanks Kate - I've become rather fond of their funny shape too.

  10. love boasters, and yes they did have a hazelnut range too! one day i went into Asda and realised after asking staff, that they had stopped selling boasters and started selling their own version!
    been looking for a decent recipe for a while.. these look yum!.. thanks!!

  11. Hello, by double cream you mean heavy whipping cream? thanks you.

  12. British double cream is 48% fat, which I believe is more than heavy whipping cream. Hope that helps.

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  18. I definitely remember hazelnuts in Boasters! These look yummy - do you think they might work ok if I used Pure sunflower spread instead of butter, or do you think the texture might change too much? I've been looking for some biscuit recipes I can make dairy free!

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  20. Thank you posting this. I am homesick and have hazelnuts and flake bars ordered from Amazon and I'm about to make this :)

  21. Gosh, Amy, I'm really sorry I didn't reply to this at the time - not sure how it slipped the net. I'm not sure about margarine, but that's probably partly my great dislike of the stuff - though I believe butter does change the texture a bit. I'd be interested to know how it goes/went though, if you try it?

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