Looking back, I had a not so normal childhood (but then again what is normal?). I grew up in Saudi Arabia, mainly around Swedes and Americans. We lived on compounds with a bunch of Scandinavians because my father worked for a Swedish company and I went to an American school, which was populated with mostly Americans.
Because of that, I had different cultural experiences (all of which I thoroughly loved). It gave me the opportunity – without being aware of it – to grow up without bias and an embracement of people from various countries. I also got to know people from India, France, Ireland, Scotland, Egypt, and well, you name it.
But let me backtrack – the Swedes. Several of them were friends of my parents and their children were my friends. They are some of the warmest people (once you get to know them). They shared a lot of their holiday traditions with us and because of that, I grew up knowing about St. Lucia and the delicious Lucia buns that are made for that day.
Santa Lucia as they would say it is celebrated in December every year in Sweden. If you want to learn more about it, click here. During and around that time, they make Lucia buns that have one main ingredient – saffron.
I wanted to make it this past Christmas so I asked my mother for the recipe that she had in an old Swedish cookbook from the ’80s. She sent it to me but also walked me through it. I’ve finally gotten around to making them again and taking some phone pictures along the way to share with you (in case you’d like to make them yourself).
So here it is: Lucia Buns (the way my mom was taught to make it by Swedish friends).
1/2 tsp saffron
1 package of yeast or 4 tsp of yeast (if from the jar)
1 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 1/2-4 cups flour
Mix the saffron with just a pinch of sugar. Using a spoon, knife or mortal and pestle, crush the saffron until it is fine and sort of sticking to the spoon/knife/pestle.
In a mixing bowl, add the sugar, saffron, and yeast. Melt the stick of butter over low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the cup of milk and mix them lightly using a whisk. Warm the mixture, but do not let it boil.
Once it is warmed, remove it from the heat and add it to the sugar, yeast, and saffron in the mixing bowl. At this point crack the egg into the mixing bowl. Mix everything using either the hand whisk or your machine’s mixer. Honestly either works. I used the hand whisk since I was going to use my dough hook to mix in the flour.
Now comes the slightly tricky part and it largely depends on the flour you buy. Start your mixer and add a cup of flour. Let it all mix in and then add a second cup of flour. Again, let it mix and it should be getting thicker. Add a third cup of flour in and let it mix well. You may have to add another 1/2 cup of flour or a full cup (possibly a bit more) depending on your flour.
You’re aiming for your dough to be soft but not sticking completely to your fingers. At the same time be very careful you don’t make it hard and dry. After three cups of flour, I recommend adding in just 1/2 cup until you get the right consistency.
I buy Whole Foods’ all purpose flour (their 365 brand) and use about 3 3/4 cups of flour.
Once you are done making the dough, take it out of your mixing bowl and form it into a ball. Put it into another bowl and cover it with a wet, warm, thin towel and keep it in a warm place (i.e. NOT in the fridge). Don’t put it in the oven if you have recently used your oven and it is warm.
Allow the dough to rise for about 1-2 hours (it takes 2 hours for me).
Once the dough has risen, punch it down. One way to test it is to poke it with your finger and if it takes some time for the indentation to go away, then it’s ready. Take it out of the bowl and gently kneed it a bit.
Break off a piece of the dough, about a small round ball, and roll it out into a snake-like figure. Then take each end and curl them in the opposite direction until you form an “S.”
Place each “S” shaped dough piece onto a baking tray that is lined with parchment paper. Once you are done with filling one baking tray, cover the Lucia buns with a thin kitchen towel. Keep doing this until you are done with the dough and cover any remaining trays with thin kitchen towels.
Wait about another 30 minutes for them to rise again. Once they have done so, preheat your oven to 400F and place raisins on the top and bottom of the “S.” Using a pastry brush, brush a beaten egg over each of the Lucia buns. Bake them for about 10-11 minutes. Keep an eye on them or they will burn. Once they are a little golden brown, remove them.
Enjoy them with some tea or coffee! (The Swedes prefer coffee.)
If you have any questions, let me know!