This month Judy picked Lussekatter for the Bread Baking Babes to make. She said she chose a celebration bread that would light up the dark days. That’s the reason I decided to make them too, despite having posted them before a few years back. They’re truly all that’s good – mildly sweet, bright and full of cardamom. Lussekatter or Saffron Buns are made in Scandinavia to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day on the 13th of December. In fact, these buns are also known as St. Lucia Buns. Other names include Lussebulle, Dövelskatt, and Saffransbullar.
In the old days when superstition was rife, Lussinatt was marked and celebrated as the longest night of the winter solstice. It was thought that evil spirits and things wandered outside at night. Children were kept inside with stories of the fight of good against evil. Lussikatt, the devil disguised as a cat, supposedly beat up badly behaved children! A Christ figure, in the form of a child, would hand out bright yellow sweet buns to good children. The buns were also supposed to scare away the cat as the devil is scared of light.
This eventually is said to have evolved into St. Lucia Day. Young women in the 19th century in Sweden would dress as an angel with a wreath of candles in their hair. In many families, a young girl will dress as St. Lucia and present her parents with breakfast in bed. That breakfast tray usually includes a pot of tea, milk, and bright-gold St. Lucia Buns. Lucia meant light of the sun symbolized by the yellow of saffron in the buns. St. Lucia Day is also thought to promise the end of a dark, cold winter.
Lussekatter are shaped in various forms, but the traditional spiral “S” shape is most popular. The S is thought to be an ancient symbol for the sun and life. Some people think it resembles the curl of a cat’s tail. The shapes are adorned with a couple of rains or currants. Cardamom is not necessarily a must in these buns.
This recipe uses eggs while my other Lussekatter one is egg free. Both recipes make equally delicious and soft Saffron Buns. The key to really good buns is good kneading and a soft, elastic dough that stops just short of sticky. If you want to break up the process of making these buns, you can let the dough do a slow overnight first rise in the refrigerator. The next morning, let the dough come to room temperature and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
My recipe is adapted from Judy’s recipe which in turn is an adaptation of this one. This recipe makes about 12 to 14 largish Lussekatter or 16 medium sized ones. If you do not have saffron on hand you can substitute for it with a little turmeric powder. Just be light handed with it as too much of it will leave an unpleasant taste. You can leave out the cardamom also, but for me these buns aren’t as good without it.
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 to 6 pods cardamom powdered
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup thick yogurt or sour cream
- 75 gm unsalted butter softened
- Raisins currants or dried cherries
- milk or cream for glazing
- Pearl sugar for decorating optional
- Heat 1/2 cup of the milk in a small pot until the milk is steamy. If you’re using turmeric, add it to the milk. Remove from heat and stir in the saffron threads. Let it cool until it is warm to the touch, but not hot.
- Lightly warm the remaining 1/4 cup of the milk. Stir in 1 tsp of the sugar and the yeast into it. Let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes till frothy.
- In a large mixing bowl or bowl of your kneading machine, whisk together the flour, remaining sugar, salt, and powdered cardamom. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Add the milk-saffron mixture, frothed yeast, eggs, and yogurt or sour cream.
- Start kneading on low speed. Now add the butter and knead some more. Add a little more flour or milk, if required, until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not really stick to your hands when you handle it.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl. Turn the dough so it is well coated and loosely cover. Let rise until double in volume (about 2 hours). At this point you can refrigerate the dough overnight if you wish.
- The dough is ready when you poke your finger in it and it takes time for the indentation left by your finger to go away. Gently press it down and knead it a couple of times. Divide the dough into 14 or 16 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the others covered so they do not dry out.
- Roll each ball of dough into a rope about 12 to 14 inches long. Very lightly dust your working surface with flour if the dough feels very sticky. Too much flour will not give the dough traction and it will be difficult to roll out.
- To make an “S” shape, curl the ends in opposite directions, with spirals at each end. Similarly shape the other balls of dough into whichever shape you wish. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving enough space in between.
- Loosely cover and let them rise for about 30 to 45 minutes till almost double in size. Using a pastry brush, glaze the tops and sides with milk or cream. Press in a raisin or currant in the middle of each spiral, so about 2 for each bun. Sprinkle a little pearl sugar if using.
- Bake the buns at 200C (400F) for about 12 to 15 minutes or till they turn golden brown on the top. Let them cool on racks. They’re best eaten when slightly warm.