Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Swedish Saffron Buns (Lussekatter)

Safranisaiad / Saffron buns / Lucia buns / Lussekatter / Lussebollar

Saffron buns like this are eaten all over Sweden on St Lucia's day on December 13th. Lucia's buns are rather decadent buns, with lots of sugar, butter and eggs. I've used a recipe containing cream cheese, which makes these especially soft and luxurious. In Sweden, they mark the beginning of the Christmas season, and there are lots of interesting traditions associated with Lucia's Day, including small girls walking around early in the morning, wearing white and carrying burning candles on top of their head ;)

We left out the burning candles, and enjoyed these buns simply with a cup of coffee :)

A note about using saffron. Saffron is water-soluble, not fat-soluble. I am surprised how many recipes ask you to simply add the saffron threads in with the rest of the ingredients (the oil or the flour), without infusing it with the liquid (NOT oil!) beforehand. You can extract so much more flavour and colour by the simple infusion process, and given the price of good-quality saffron, you can use much less of that precious spice and get much more out of it. The recipe here is based on a recipe in a Swedish Allt om Mat recipe. As most other recipes, the Swedish one asks you to put milk, melted butter, saffron and cream cheese all together. No wonder they also ask you to use 1.5 grams of saffron. I used just one packet (0.5 g), and the resulting buns had a beautiful, intense saffron flavour and a gorgeous dark yellow colour. If I had used triple the amount of saffron (AND infused it properly to start with), then the buns would have been way over-the-top!

You can read more about saffron on Lydia's blog The Perfect Pantry and more about these Swedish buns over on Anne's blog.

Swedish Saffron Buns
(Luutsinakuklid ehk safranisaiad)
Makes about 30 generous buns

500 ml milk
0.5 grams saffron strands
50 g fresh yeast
170 g caster sugar (200 ml)
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
0.5 tsp fine salt
about 1 kg plain flour
250 g cream cheese, softened
150 g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, divided
raisins or dried cranberries
pearl sugar (optional)

Heat milk in a small saucepan until steaming. Remove from the heat, add saffron threads and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. You'll need to cool the milk to about 37-38 C. (Or 42 C, if using instant yeast; in that case simply stir the instant yeast into the flour).
When the milk is lukewarm, then crumble in the yeast and stir, until dissolved.
Add salt, cardamom, sugar and about half of the flour. Stir until combined, then add the cream cheese, butter, ONE egg (lightly whisked), and then gradually knead in the rest of the flour. The final yeast dough should be soft and supple.
Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm room for 30-60 minutes, until doubled in size.
Knead the dough gently and turn onto a lightly floured work surface. Twist small amounts of dough (about the size of a large egg or a tennis ball, depending on whether you're making small or larger buns). Roll each piece of dough into a long "sausage", then twist it from both ends to form a letter S (see the photo above). There are several traditional ways of shaping Lucia buns, but this is the only way I usually do. It's also easy enough shape to understand for my almost-3-year-old kitchen assistant, you see :)
Place the shaped buns onto a baking sheet that's been covered with a parchment paper. Leave to prove for another 10-15 minutes, then press a raisin or a craisin into each end.
Brush with an egg wash (= an egg whisked with a spoonful of water) and sprinkle with pearl sugar, if you wish.
Bake in a pre-heated 220 C oven for 12-15 minutes, until light golden brown.
Remove from the oven, transfer onto a metal rack to cool a little. If you want softer buns, then cover them with a clean tea towel when they're cooling.

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