My dear mother has a difficult life sometimes… Like when I call in a panic on a Sunday morning to ask her for a recipe. Thankfully she knew this one off by heart and didn’t have to dig out her recipe folder, but of course I interupted her. Thank you, mother!
These buns are what we bake for the 13th December, when we celebrate St Lucia, the saint that brings light into the darkness. In school you elect a girl to be the Lucia and she wears a white gown and has a ring of candles in her hair and a red ribbon around her waist. The other girls follow her in white gowns with tinsel around their waist and a candle in their hands. The boys behind them also wear white gowns with coneshape hats on their heads and a stick with a gold star in their hands. Lastly a few boys are dressed like santas in red trousers and sweaters with a white trim and a santa hat and they usually carry a square hurricane light. In this order, two by two with the Lucia at the front, the children walk around the dark school singing Christmas carols and spreading light and happiness. It is an adorable tradition, and you can watch the Swedish Lucia (it is a bit like a Miss Sweden competition) and her tärnor on TV, there is usually a Lucia concert in the churches early in the morning, and afterwards you eat saffron buns and eat ginger thins.
I really love traditions, and now when I live abroad it is very comforting to make something that reminds me of my childhood. Of course the buns are tasty too, which is a bonus.
I find the buns a bit boring after a while, as they are very plain. It is basically a brioche dough with saffron and cardamom, so I usually make vanilla buns of some of the dough. You just roll out the dough and spread it with butter, sprinkle vanilla sugar on it, roll it up and slice it, and but the slices in cake cases. These have more taste to them and are of course more moist with the butter inside.
If you’d rather make cinnamon buns, you can use the same recipe, exclude the saffron and make substitute the vanilla sugar for caster sugar and cinnamon. They are heavenly when they’re still hot from the oven.
Saffron buns, about 30-40
50 g fresh yeast or the equivalent of dried yeast
150 g butter
500 ml milk
100 ml caster sugar
850 g plain flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 g saffron
Melt the butter and mix with the milk, warm it up until finger warm. Crumble the yeast in a mixing bowl and add some of the milk mixture. Let the yeast dissolve and add the rest. Add the cardamom and saffron (use a pestle and mortar to break it down with a tablespoon of sugar), sugar and egg. Mix it and start adding the flour bit by bit. Mix with the dough hooks on an electric whisk and add flour until the dough lets go of the side of the bowl. Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough, cover it up and let it rise for 30 minutes. Knead the dough and cut into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a roll and cut it in four, then cut each piece in half so you have 8 pieces of the same size. Shape each piece into a Lucia-shape (see the photos) and put raisins in them. Leave to rise on a baking tray. Beat an egg and glaze them before baking. Bake in 225C, high up in the oven until they are golden brown (about 10 minutes). If your oven bakes unevenly like mine, just turn the tray around after 5 minutes.
Use one (or two) of the large pieces of dough to make the vanilla buns. Roll it out thin (2-3 mm thick) with a rolling pin. Spread on softened butter and sprinkle plenty of vanilla sugar on top. Roll it up from the longer side and pinch the edge together with the bun so it doesn’t open lengthwise. Cut into 3 cm wide strips and place these with the cut down in a cake case. Glaze with beaten egg and sprinkle some sugar pearls (Swedish sugar) or caster sugar on top. Bake as above.