On Friday morning, Swedish daughters everywhere will be rising early to serve their families strong coffee and warm saffron buns.
They'll wear a wreath of candles on their heads and as the family gathers, they'll sing carols together (my favorite part). Through the day, they'll look for opportunities to do small acts of kindness and gather for parties and festivities.
It's Santa Lucia Day, a Swedish celebration of light on one of the darkest days of the year and one my absolutely favorite parts of the Christmas season.
Santa Lucia Day is celebrated every December 13 and you can read more about the traditions surrounding Santa Lucia Day here.
And whether or not you make traditional saffron buns for the celebration or not, or whether you make these particular saffron buns for Santa Lucia Day or not, may you find ample opportunity to live generously and may you enjoy these delicious sweet rolls whenever it suits your fancy.
Oh, and by the way – these buns go very nicely with glögg, the Swedish mulled wine that brings cheer and warmth in the depths of winter. Perhaps the pairing would go well on Christmas Day or in a quiet New Year's Eve celebration!
Sourdough Santa Lucia Buns
This produces one of the most gorgeous, soft doughs I've ever worked with, but the buns themselves will dry out quickly if left uncovered. Store leftover buns at room temperature in an air-tight container.
Yes, as usual, I am mixing volume and weight measures! I prefer volume measures, as they are far easier for most home cooks (myself included), but I do include weight measures for the ingredients that can vary greatly when measured by volume. The saffron is given by weight because it's universally sold that way and it's nearly impossible to measure it by volume due to its threads.
(P.S. If you love saffron, feel free to double the amount in this recipe, but just remember that the more saffron there is, the quicker they'll dry out if not stored in an air-tight container.)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 gram saffron
- 500 grams (~2 cups) sourdough starter
- 225 grams (~1 cup) plain yogurt or ricotta
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1.125 kg (~7 cups) all-purpose flour or white whole wheat flour
- 90 grams (~1 stick) butter, at room temperature and cut into 8-9 pieces
- 2 eggs, beaten (for egg wash)
- Place the milk and saffron in a small saucepan and heat gently over medium-low heat until steaming. Remove from heat and let cool until still warm but your pinky finger can be held in the mixture comfortably.
- Meanwhile, combine the sourdough starter, yogurt, honey, and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Stir until loosely mixed.
- Add the saffron and milk mixture, then with the motor running on "low" (or bit by bit by hand), slowly add the flour. Mix and knead until the dough is very elastic, about 10 minutes.
- With the motor still running, add in the butter one piece at a time, kneading between each addition to make sure the butter is fully incorporated.
- Continue to knead, either with the mixer or by hand, until the dough is very elastic and just slightly sticky, about 10-15 minutes.
- Cover and let rise for 45 minutes, then scrape onto a lightly floured work surface.
- Divide into 36 pieces, then roll each piece into a 12-inch snake. (Cover the other pieces while you're working to keep them from drying out.)
- Shape each bun by rolling each end of the snake toward the center, rolling each end in opposite directions. (See photos for a visual.)
- Place shaped buns on buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets, then cover and let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F.
- Brush with the egg wash, then bake for 5-10 minutes. Keep a very close eye on these buns, as they brown (and burn) very quickly.
- Remove from the baking sheets immediately and let cool on wire cooling racks.
- To bake these first thing in the morning, you may place the rolled buns into the refrigerator overnight. Let the buns sit at room temperature while the oven preheats and reduce the baking temperature to 400F.
Shaping the buns