Today is Lucia Day in Sweden, one of my favourite traditions. This beautiful celebration of light takes place during the darkest time of the year, right in the middle of winter. It’s celebrated by a procession of men and women, dressed primarily in white gowns, singing traditional songs. One woman, who represents Saint Lucia, a Sicilian saint, carries a crown of candles on her head. The remaining participants carry a candle in their hands. The men have cone-shaped hats with stars on them…
Don’t look at me like that, I’m not making this up!
Growing up I didn’t really reflect on how odd this tradition actually seems to someone who isn’t Swedish… I think Kiwis especially find it a bit odd because there is just nothing quite like it here.
I love Christmas in Sweden, and the build up to it! When I’m over there the excitement builds up for weeks before the big day (which, by the way, is the 24th
in Northern Europe – we celebrate Christmas Eve). The anticipation, the preparations, the decorations, I love everything about Christmas! One thing that makes Christmas in a cold and dark country very special is how it lights up one of the darker months of the year – it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Here in NZ, because it’s lovely and sunny and warm… I actually forget that Christmas is coming… Until someone randomly asks me if I’ve bought all my presents, and I panic, and then forget again until next time someone asks. In the few years that I have been here I have sort of started making Lucia Day my start of Christmas. I can now start decorating, preparing and anticipating the big day (which in our household more accurately is days
because we celebrate both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). For the last few years I have attempted baking Lussebullar on Lucia Day, as is the tradition. My first attempt was not great (rock hard and nowhere near enough saffron) and I think the last two years were ok-ish but I don’t know what recipe I was following so I wouldn’t be able to replicate it. This year though… This year I wanted to make a recipe of my own. It pretty much follows the same style as the traditional Swedish recipes but it makes it a bit more Kiwi friendly. In Sweden fresh yeast is commonly used along with ground saffron and a unique curd cheese called kesella. Here in NZ dry yeast is much more common and saffron is bought in threads. Instead of kesella I used natural yoghurt and it worked really well.
So here it is, my start of the Christmas season, enjoy!
Lussebullar – Swedish Saffron Buns:
800g-1kg white flour (approx. 6 cups)
120g sugar (approx. ½ cup)
3 tsp dry yeast – dissolved in ¼ cup warm water or 50g fresh yeast
130g unsalted butter
400 ml milk (I used full fat Organic milk from Jersey girl)
½ cup natural yoghurt (I used De Winkel’s Natural yoghurt)
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 egg, beaten (for brushing)
Sultanas or raisins for garnish
Measure out all the ingredients before starting, I find his really helps because I am a cook, not a baker. The saffron needs to be ground so if using saffron threads bash them up in a pestle and mortar until finely ground.
Place the butter in a small pot over a low heat and gently melt. Add the milk once the butter is liquid and warm gently. Add the ground saffron and sugar, and stir to dissolve. The mixture will now change colour to an intense dark yellow – that’s the saffron speaking!
While the butter is melting dissolve the dry yeast in warm water (ideally about 40-42°C) in a small bowl. Mix in a teaspoon of sugar to really kick the yeast along. Cover with cling film or beeswax wrap and keep in a warm place. If this has worked properly, the mixture will start to bubble and rise. If not throw it away and start again.
Pour the butter-saffron mixture into a very large mixing bowl and add the yoghurt. Mix in about half of the flour and combine well. Stir in the activated yeast and mix in. Sift in the remaining flour and work the dough with your hands. Add enough flour so that the dough is still a little tacky and shiny but not totally sticky and hard to get off your hands.
Transfer the dough to another large, completely clean bowl (I don’t know why it needs to be clean but this is what my grandmother taught me so I am sticking with it). Cover with a tea towel and keep in a warm place to let it rise. Now is the time to close all the windows – the dough will never rise if it’s drafty and cold. Set aside for 30-45 minutes, the dough should just about double in size.
This is a good time to catch up on something you’ve been meaning to do for a while. For me that was writing Christmas cards…
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured workbench and divide into four pieces. Cut each of those into eight small pieces – this dough will make 32 saffron buns. To make the traditionally shaped saffron bun; roll out each piece into a long snake and then twist in the opposite side of each end towards the middle, creating a short of S-shape. Keep the others covered with a tea towel in the meantime.
Place a raisin in the centre of each twist. Repeat this for all the pieces of dough and transfer to a baking paper lined oven rack – make sure they have enough space between them to double in size again.
Set aside to rise for 20-30 minutes in a warm place and heat the oven to 200°C.
Brush the buns lightly with the beaten egg just before baking. Place each tray in the oven for 5-8 minutes (the others can sit and rise for a little longer – I ended up with three trays). Keep a close eye towards the end – they want a light golden brown colour.
Cool on a wire rack. Promise me you will enjoy one straight from the oven with a glass of cold milk. Promise?