A centuries-old Scandinavian tradition, these soft, slightly sweet, saffron-scented Lucia buns are delicious with a cup of coffee!
This week I made something I had never made before!
Every year at this time, I see all the pretty Lucia Day pics, and I fall in love. It’s such a beautiful tradition, and I’ve always longed to be a part.
So, when my friend Melissa asked me to share a recipe from her beautiful book Scandinavian Gatherings, I jumped at the chance to try my hand at her Lucia Buns recipe!
You may remember back in late October I shared a cute idea for Day of the Dead cupcakes. Well, that got me into trouble. I was accused of “cultural appropriation.” You see, I’m not Mexican, and Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday. Ok.
Can we please agree that learning about and celebrating other cultures is one of life’s greatest pleasures? If I only made and ate the foods I was fed as a child, my life would be pretty boring. No offense Mom!
But there is nothing I love more than trying some delicious morsel of food that I’ve never tried before. Something completely unfamiliar, but something that I fall instantly in love with!
That was just how I felt about these pretty little Scandinavian pastries.
And honestly, it goes for more than just food. Paging through Scandinavian Gatherings is a feast for the eyes. Melissa has some incredible recipes in this book, recipes like Sugared Gingersnaps, Jam Cakes (aka: Swedish Syltkakor), Cream Cake with Fresh Strawberries (aka: Norwegian Blotkake), and Braided Cardamom Bread (aka: Finnish Pulla).
But they’re sprinkled in with the cutest craft ideas! I nearly died when I saw her Teacup Terrariums with red & white spotted Toadstool Garden Picks! And I will definitely be making her Straw Star Ornaments for our Christmas tree.
There are tons of ideas for Scandinavian traditions that can be celebrated all throughout the year. And all of these sweet ideas are set against a backdrop of the most beautiful imagery. Everything is light, bright, and airy, with the cutest colorful geometric floral and animal prints. It made me wish I was Scandanavian!
If I were, I’d probably be making preparations for Lucia Day right now. In case you aren’t already familiar with this holiday, here is Melissa’s explanation:
On the thirteenth of December, when the darkness of the year is growing ever longer, this celebration of light is most welcome. Cities and towns throughout Scandinavia (and American cities with large Scandinavian populations) hold Lucia festivals filled with music and candlelight. The main attraction is always the Lucia procession, featuring a girl clad in a long white gown with a red sash and wearing an evergreen crown with towering candles. In family celebrations at home, one of the daughters dresses up as Lucia and serves her family coffee, gingersnaps, and saffron buns before the sun rises. Lucia Day reminds us of light and generosity, even in the darkness of midwinter.
Doesn’t that sound so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a great way to celebrate this time of year, to take a pause from all the hustle and bustle?
I can’t think of anything nicer than to wake up to a tray of these airy, soft, and slightly sweet saffron-scented buns. Melissa recommends sprinkling them with Swedish pearl sugar, but since I didn’t have any on hand I substituted white nonpariel sprinkles. That extra sweetness and crunch was so nice against the pillow-y, rich bread.
I hope you’ll think about stepping outside of your cultural box this holiday season. There are so many incredible traditions, just begging to be tried! And be sure to pick up a copy of Melissa Bahen’s Scandinavian Gatherings for inspiration!
More great bread recipes on my “Bread Recipes” Pinterest board!
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- 1 pinch saffron strands
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1/3 granulated sugar,, plus 1 tablespoon for proofing the yeast
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter,, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 36 dried sweetened cranberries
- Swedish pearl sugar or nonpariel sprinkles, for garnish
- Grind the saffron in a mortar & pestle or on a small bowl or plate with the back of a spoon.
- Heat the milk in a small pot over medium-low heat, until steaming.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the ground saffron and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.
- Allow the mixture to cool to the temperature of a warm bath.
- Stir in the yeast and set aside until foamy (about 5 minutes).
- Place the sugar, flour, sour cream, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix together on low speed (with the dough hook attachment) until combined.
- Pour in the warm milk mixture and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
- Add the soft butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, while continuing to mix on low speed.
- When all the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl (this may take as much as 10 to 15 minutes).
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm place until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).
- Punch down the dough, knead for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface, and divide it into 18 equal portions.
- Roll each piece of dough into a rope about 12 inches long.
- Roll one end of the dough in a clockwise direction until it reaches the middle. Roll the other end of the dough in a counterclockwise direction until it reaches the middle, so you have a shape that resembles a tightly rolled "S."
- Place the shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Beat the egg and water together in a small bowl.
- Lightly brush the egg wash on the risen dough shapes.
- Place a cranberry at the center of each swirl, and sprinkle the unbaked pastries with pearl sugar or nonpariel sprinkles.
- Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until puffed and golden.
I’m not Scandinavian, but I married the son of a Swede and I want our daughters to be in touch with their heritage. I made these for Saint Lucia day last week and they were wonderful. The recipe was so easy for me even though I had never baked anything with yeast before. Light and fluffy and mildly sweet. I couldn’t find pearl sugar at Walmart (I’m fancy, I know) but I found “sugar pearls” with the other sprinkles and they worked out fine. I used raisins instead of cranberries because that’s how I’ve had them at my in-laws’ house in past years. I was able to get a really good rise on these by proofing them in a cold oven with a loaf pan placed in the bottom if it with 3 cups of boiling water inside (as suggested by Cooks Illustrated). They were so good!
That’s a great tip Rachel! I’m so glad they worked well for you and I love that you are passing the traditions down to your daughters. PS- I used sugar pearls too! Walmart is my jam 🙂
Hi Allie!! Your Lucia buns turned out so beautiful! Thank you for all your sweet words about my book. God Jul!
So glad you were pleased Melissa! Thanks so much for the book and all the other cute goodies! Hope you’re enjoying the holidays!
Are you serious about the “cultural appropriation?!” I cannot believe that! Please do not let that stop you from delving into such creative recipes. I love learning about different worldly desserts. I would have never heard about this Scandinavian dessert without you. Please consider Paska from the Ukraine! Always loving what you do, Allie 🙂
Aw, thank you for the encouragement Amanda! I’m not going to stop 🙂
I was happely surprised that I had to write a comment. Seeing “Lussekatter” (as we call them in Norway), wasn’t something I was preperad to see at your blog, but it is so nice that you share these (christmas) Scandinavian traditions 🙂
I’m so happy you like them Paola! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, it really means a lot to me. I love trying new things and these Lussekatter were such a treat!
Allie, these buns look beautiful! I love learning about traditions in other countries. This Lucia Day reminds me of an old tradition in Slovakia – also called Lucia Day. Girls would also be dressed in white. They would visit houses to get rid of bad spirits, illnesses…
Oh that’s so interesting! I guess the tradition must have spread to other parts of Europe. I wish we celebrated it here in the US! It sounds like such a lovely idea…
Hi Allie: I saw your comment about cultural appropriation and it made me laugh. There’s a troll out there for everything. Baking/cooking from other cultures is a wonderful thing and some people just wait to jump on anything they can find to make themselves feel smarter and better. I wonder if that troll goes out to eat italian food or chinese food or any other ethnic food. In any case, I hope it didn’t bother you too much. I really enjoy your posts; keep ’em coming!
I will certainly do that Susan! Thank you so much for the encouraging words. I agree with you- celebrating other cultures is a wonderful thing!