Swedish St. Lucia Buns
I first learned of St. Lucia buns back when I was a little girl, thanks to the American Girl doll Kirsten Larson, sadly, long since retired. It was in her third book (at that time there were six books for each doll), Kirsten’s Surprise (these were always the holiday themed stories) that I learned about St. Lucia day, one of Sweden’s biggest holiday celebrations all year.
St. Lucia (Lucia means Lucy in English) was a young Christian girl who was martyred and killed in the 4th century because of her beliefs. Legend has it that she would secretly bring food to persecuted Christians in Rome who were living in hiding; she would wear candles on her head so that both of her hands were free (Lucy also means light). The stories about St. Lucia were brought to Sweden by monks who were also the first people to bring Christianity to the Scandinavian nation.
Today in Sweden, St. Lucia day is celebrated on December 13, which in the old Julian Calendar once marked the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Celebrations typically include a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. If you haven’t gathered by now, Kirsten’s outfit in Kirsten’s Surprise is her in a typical St. Lucia dress and candle wreath (she was an immigrant from Sweden who came to America in the mid-19th century).
St. Lucia buns are the most popular and well-known food associated with St. Lucia day. Similar to a teacake, the buns are a rich, spiced, yeast-leavened sweet flavored with saffron and cinnamon or nutmeg and containing currants. The girl who dresses as St. Lucia will wake her family, taking buns to them with only the candles in her wreath guiding the way.
While my The Scandi Kitchen cookbook has been barely used, once December 13 was nearing, naturally I made plans to try the recipe for St. Lucia buns. While it was a little time consuming due to the yeast factor (you have to let the dough rise multiple times), it wasn’t by any means overly difficult. In fact, I was quite pleased with how the buns turned out, looking almost as pretty as the ones in the cookbook picture.
And even though we’re months and months away from 2017’s December 13, make them anytime you want and just call them “teacakes” as they do in Cornwall, England. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Lucia Celebration Buns
Recipe courtesy of The ScandiKitchen by Bronte Aurell
3 tbsp. fresh yeast or 1 oz. dried/active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups whole milk, heated to 97-99 degrees F
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Greek yogurt, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened, at room temperature
approx. 5 3/4 cups white strong/bread flour
handful of raisins
beaten egg, for brushing
3-4 large baking sheets, greased and lined with baking parchment
If using fresh yeast, add the yeast and milk to a mixer with a dough hook attached. Mix until the yeast has dissolved.
If using dried/active dry yeast, pour milk into a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and whisk together. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to activate and become frothy and bubbly. Pour into a mixer with a dough hook attached.
Add the sugar and mix together for a minute or so, then add the yogurt, salt, and egg, and mix well. Gradually add the the softened butter in pieces and begin to add the flour gradually while mixing, making sure there are no lumps of butter. You’ll need around 5 3/4 cups of flour roughly, but the exact amount depends on how the dough feels. Keep mixing until you have a dough that is still sticky, but doesn’t stick to your fingers too much when you poke it. Too much flour makes the buns dry, if you’re using an electric mixer, knead for about 5 minutes or knead by hand for 10 minutes. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size (about 30-40 minutes in a bowl covered with plastic wrap).
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Cut the dough into 30 equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece in your hand into a long cylinder, then transfer to the baking sheets and mould into an ‘S’ shape. Add a single raisin to the center of the point where the ‘S’ shape curves (two raisins for each bun.) Leave to rise again for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Brush gently with egg and bake them in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. The buns should have a slight tinge of brown on top.
Leave to cool under a damp dish towel (this prevents them from becoming dry.)