Dark. Darkity dark dark. I know I sound like a broken record.
Although I do find the darkness overwhelming at times, one of the things I love about winter in Sweden is how the people here answer the darkness with an onslaught of lights. At this time of year, pretty much every window has some sort of lamp, advent candle arch, or star shaped paper lantern glowing in it. Businesses have torches burning outside their doors, and candles are lit everywhere. I’m burning through my own body weight in tea lights these days, and happily, a string of star shaped lights the previous owner of our apartment left behind is brightening up our balcony.
Previously, when Sweden used the Julian calendar (prior to 1753) December 13th was the darkest day of the year. Each year before dawn on December 13th, the oldest daughter of a family will enter her parent’s room wearing a white robe with a red sash, and a crown of seven lighted candles. The younger siblings will follow in a procession also wearing white and each holding one lit candle. The children will serve their parents mulled wine (glögg) and Lucia buns (lussekattor), and sing Lucia songs and other Christmas songs. The celebration is now very public, with each city electing a Lucia, schools and office places also having a Lucia and procession of her maidens partake in a Lucia ceremony. You can see a video of a Lucia procession here, or read more about Lucia day in Sweden here.
I decided to try my hand at making some Lucia buns, a sweet, saffron scented yeasted bun. What I produced were probably the most gargantuous Lucia buns ever made:
Note a distinctive difference in a) size, and b) colour. Regarding the size, the recipe said it made 45 buns and I made, well, 12. One day I’ll learn to follow instructions. But when I rolled out the little ropes of dough and twisted them into shape they *did* look like they would be the right size. It was only after I put them into the oven and they began puffing up that I realized how huge they were. I think 45 would be a stretch, but you’d get 24 nice sized buns rather than 12 huge ones if you went that route. As for the colour, I found out after the fact that you can buy little packets of ground saffron. I used threads of saffron which we bought in Thailand last December, so its not the freshest, and is also of questionable quality. The saffron flavour is there, though, and not too overpowering as I find it can be sometimes.
In any case, I hope you’ll give these Lucia buns a try and enjoy the light they bring to this dark time of year.
Lucia Buns Recipe:
I used a blend of all purpose, whole wheat, and high gluten bread flour in my Lucia buns, mainly because I failed to check my baking cupboard before I started and didn’t want to head out for more ingredients. The original recipe calls for all purpose flour, I used 1/3 of each.
Makes 12 (huge) 24 (reasonable) or 45 (small) buns.
Recipe from Sju Sorters Kakor
3 Tbsp (50g) butter
2 cups (500ml) milk
50g fresh yeast or 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
6 cups all purpose flour (see headnotes)
1/8 tsp saffron
1 sugar cube or 1 tsp cognac
1/2 cup (125g) room temperature butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Melt 3 Tbsp butter in a sauce pan. Add the milk and heat to room temperature. If you’re using active dry yeast, heat slightly more.
Crumble the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and add some of the milk, stirring until dissolved. Add the remaining liquid, salt, sugar, and 6 cups of the flour. Stir to combine, then use the dough hook to knead until the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl. Sprinkle with a little flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Crush the saffron with the sugar cube using a mortar and pestle, or mix with the cognac and set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat 1/2 cup of butter with 2/3 cups of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the saffron. Knead this mixture into the risen dough, then add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Knead until the dough is smooth and is pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
Pre-heat the oven to 250C / 450F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease well with butter.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top, and divide into pieces (I suggest 24). Roll each piece into a long rope, then coil the ends of the rope towards the center from opposite sides. Place each coiled bun onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise until almost doubled.
Brush buns with beaten egg and garnish with raisins. Bake on the center rack for 8-10 minutes. Buns should be puffed and golden, brown on the bottom, and sound slightly hollow when tapped.
This is 100% a moderation situation. These buns are all kinds of delicious, and all kinds of full of saturated fat, sugar, and white flour. Enjoy them, tis the season. Then go for a walk and admire the festive lights around your city, and later do some damage control. How about this roasted kale salad for dinner?
Do ahead: These buns can be made, and shaped, then kept refrigerated overnight or frozen for longer. Just be sure they come to room temperature for a final rise before baking. Baked buns will last about 3 days at room temperature in an air tight container, or about 3 months in the freezer.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2012