Light in the Dark of Winter: Celebrate St. Lucia with Swedish Saffron Buns
December is a dark month, especially in Nordic lands, which is why celebrating light is of the utmost importance. That need for honoring light, makes December 13th a holy day in Swedish families; the day for celebrating the tradition of St. Lucia.
As the child of a Swede that was intent on preserving tradition, I always knew what would come the morning of the 13th.
In the midst of the pitch black of a winter morning, my mother would gently knock on my door, the sign that I was meant to get up. Propping it open, she would walk away, leaving only the melodic sounds of Lucia sången coming from the downstairs speakers. I would rub my eyes and sleepily crawl out of bed. Outside of my door, a white robe was carefully hung, a thick red sash draped on top.
This ritual was so expected, that even in a semi-conscious sleepy state I knew what to do. Put on the robe, tie the red sash around my waist and procede downstairs. Here, my mother would grace me with our Lucia crown — a green plastic crown with battery operated candles. Thats’ the easy route; traditionally live candles and lingonberry leaves are used. Fortunately my mother knew better and I managed to avoid wax dripping onto my head (I had the chance of discovering that later in life when live candles were deemed “age appropriate”).
Fully dressed in my traditional attire, my mother would give me a tray crammed full of pepparkakor and lussekatter (saffron buns) which I would take to my father.
Thousands of miles away a whole country devoted this day to celebrating light. In Stockholm there would be a national celebration, with striking blondes vying for the ultimate in recognition — being selected for the official procession through the streets of the capital city. There would be newspaper articles and television coverage. School celebrations. A day where the whole country ate the same baked goods, tinted yellow with saffron and dotted with currants.
But on the other side of the world, in our yellow house deep in the dark, and often dreary, winter forest of the Pacific Northwest, in a place where very few people even knew what “Lucia” meant, my mother made an effort to keep the tradition alive. And so it stuck.
In my own apartment nowadays I have no white robe or sash, and I’m not crazy enough to don a crown of candles merely for my own entertainment, but lussekatter are a must.
In honor of light, brew a hot cup of coffee, light a candle, listen to a Lucia playlist, serve a lussekatt and pretend for a moment that you’re surrounded by a choir singing Lucia sången.
Saffransbullar – Saffron Buns
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
7 cups flour
1/4 cup currants
One egg + Currants for decoration
Crush saffron in a small bowl with a little bit of sugar.
Melt butter in a small pot and add milk. Heat until warm (you should still be able to stick your finger in).
Measure out yeast in a large bowl and mix in a couple tablespoons of the butter and milk mixture until the yeast dissolves. Mix in the rest of the milk and butter. Add in sugar and salt.
Add in almost all of the flour (you want to reserve some for rolling later) and mix and knead it together for about 10 minutes. Knead until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
Dust a little flour on top of the dough, cover and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
Knead dough on floured surface.
Roll into classic saffransbullar shapes. The most common is the “S” shape, but get creative.
Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Cover with and let rise for 30 minutes.
Decorate with currants (they traditionally go in the center of where the bun is rolled) and glaze with a beaten egg.
Bake at 400 F for 8-10 minutes.
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