Lucia saffron buns

Lussekatter

Lucia saffron buns

Lussekatter (Lucia saffron buns) are eaten on December 13th to celebrate Lucia (the patron Saint of Light). December 13th was originally thought to be the shortest day of the year and is still the date chosen in Sweden to celebrate the return of lighter days. The celebrations are one of the highlights of the Swedish calendar and the Saint Lucia procession is truly magical, so do try and see one if you can.

Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled up cat, and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil's cats). It's all very strange. I think it's just another excuse for a celebration.

These days lussekatter are enjoyed throughout Advent, also a rather special time in Sweden. Advent is a particularly nice time to visit as the julmarknader (Christmas markets) are attractive, especially if you are lucky enough to be there when they are covered with a blanket of snow. 

There are three recipes below:
1. Using a stand-mixer, such as a kMix or a KitchenAid,
2. Using melted butter (this method is easier if you are making the dough by hand),
3. Using Quark and butter (this a lower fat recipe).

Whichever recipe you choose, I recommend baking some for breakfast each Sunday in Advent to enjoy as you light a new Advent candle, a popular tradition in Sweden. John Duxbury

Summary

Recipe summary for Lucia saffron buns

Tips

A bowl of small Swedish lussekatter (Lucia saffron buns)
Above: small lussekatter for a glögg party

• For a glögg party where I am serving lots of nibbles as well as lussekatter I make smaller buns by dividing the dough into 24 pieces.
• For a little more flavour, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavour of the buns.
• As saffron buns can dry out very easily take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right colour, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth.
Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so for a real breakfast treat prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm (food wrap) and store in a fridge overnight.
• Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.
Lussekatter are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting.

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Recipe 1: using a stand-mixer

Baked saffron buns

This recipe produces lovely light and buttery lussekatter. As the dough is very wet it is quite hard to use this recipe if you are making the dough by hand.

Ingredients

0.4 g (½ tsp) saffron threads, 1 packet
3 g (½ tsp) sea salt
½ tbsp   vodka
36   raisins
300 ml (1¼ cups) milk
1   large egg, lightly beaten
500+ g (4+ cups) strong white (bread) flour
100 g 7 tbsp caster (superfine) sugar
7 g (1½ tsp) "fast action" dried yeast, 1 packet
90 g 6 tbsp unsalted (sweet) butter, softened and cut into small cubes

Method

Saffron threads mixed with salt and vodka

1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.

3. Heat the milk until warm, between 35ºC and 40ºC (95ºF to 105ºF).

4. Sift 500 g (4 cups) of the flour into the stand-mixer's bowl. Stir in the sugar.

5. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.

6. Fit the dough hook to your stand-mixer and with the machine running on minimum slowly add the milk, saffron, salt, vodka and half of the beaten egg, reserving the rest of the egg for glazing.

7. When all the milk has been added, increase the speed to 2 (kMix) or 3 (KitchenAid) and slowly add the softened butter, a cube at a time. Do this very slowly, taking about 3 minutes. If the mixture looks too wet add a couple of tablespoons of flour.

Saffron dough that is a little sticky

8. Continue to knead on speed 2 or 3, slowly adding additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a nice soft dough. The idea is to add as little flour as possible until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it. The exact amount to be added varies, but you will normally need to add 3 or 4 tablespoons of flour. Once you have added enough flour, continue to knead for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Saffron dough about to be proved

9. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Clean out the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap), a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm draught-free place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

10. Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back a couple of times. Divide into 16 pieces, between 65 and 70 g each if weighing.*

Saffron dough rolled into a "tight S-shape"

11. Using your fingers roll out each piece so that it is about 30 cm (12") long and curl into tight S shapes. Place each piece on a lined or greased baking sheet, cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.

12. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F, gas 7, fan 190°C).

Saffron buns about to be baked

13. Brush the buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the centre of each of the two coils. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

14. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

*One way to do this is to roll the dough into a thick rectangle about 30 cm x 20 cm (12" x 8"). Divide the rectangle into two and then keep dividing until you have sixteen pieces. Using your fingers then roll out each piece of dough until it is as thick as your finger and about 30 cm (12") long.

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Recipe 2: using melted butter

Saffron buns cooling on a wire rack

If you haven't got a stand-mixer I recommend this method. By melting the butter it makes it much easier to bring the dough together. If desired, you could knead in a little more softened butter during step 8.

Ingredients

0.4 g (½ tsp) saffron threads, 1 packet
3 g (½ tsp) sea salt
½ tbsp   vodka
36   raisins
250 ml (1 cup) milk
75 g   unsalted (sweet) butter
450 g (3½ cups) strong (bread) flour
65 g (4½ tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp   baking powder
7 g   "fast action" dried yeast, 1 packet
1   egg, lightly beaten to glaze

Method

1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.

3. Heat the milk until warm, between 35ºC and 40ºC (95ºF to 105ºF).

4. Melt the butter separately, allow to cool slightly and then stir into the milk mixture.

5. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and baking powder. Mix with a spoon.

6. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.

7. Stir in the saffron, salt, vodka and the milk mixture. Bring together to form a dough.

8. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with clingfilm (food wrap), a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm draught-free place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

9. Tip the dough out on to a floured surface and punch once or twice to knock it back. Divide into about 16 equally sized pieces, about 65 g each if weighing.

10. Using your fingers roll out each piece so that it is about 30 cm (12”) long, as thick as your finger and curl into tight S shapes. Place each one on a lined or greased baking sheet. Cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.

11. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F, gas 7, fan 190°C).

12. Brush the buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the centre of each of the two coils. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

13. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

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Recipe 3: using Quark

A tub of Quark cheese

Swedes often use Kvarg (Quark), a low fat cheese, when making lussekatter. It reduces the fat content of the buns whilst keeping them light and airy.

Ingredients

0.4 g (½ tsp) saffron threads, 1 packet
3 g (½ tsp) sea salt
½ tbsp   vodka
36   raisins
180 ml (¾ cup) milk
500+ g (4+ cups) strong (bread) flour
55 g (¼ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
7 g (1½ tsp) "fast action" dried yeast
55 g (¼ cup) unsalted (sweeet) butter, softened
60 g (¼ cup) Quark cheese (or sour cream)
2   large eggs, lightly beaten

Method

1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.

2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.

3. Heat the milk until warm, between 35ºC and 40ºC (95ºF to 105ºF).

4. Sift 500 g (4 cups) of flour into a bowl. Stir in the sugar.

5. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.

6. Make a well in the centre and add the saffron, vodka, salt, milk, butter, Quark and most of the beaten egg, reserving some to use for glazing the buns. (Or use another small egg for glazing). Mix the ingredients together with a large spoon until well incorporated.

8. Knead the dough slowly adding additional flour a tablespoon at a time as necessary. The idea is to add as little flour as possible until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it. Once you have added enough flour continue to knead for a few more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

9. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Clean out the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap), a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm draught-free place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

10. Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back a couple of times. Divide into 16 pieces, between 65 and 70 g each if weighing.

11. Using your fingers roll out each piece so that it is about 30 cm (12") long and curl into tight S shapes. Place each piece on a lined or greased baking sheet, cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.

12. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F, gas 7, fan 190°C).

13. Brush the buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the centre of each of the two coils. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

14. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

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