SWE-Dishes: Saffron Buns (Lussekatter)

Perfectly baked golden yellow saffron buns.
Photos: John Duxbury

Food & Drink

SWE-Dishes: Saffron Buns (Lussekatter)

Tis the season for sitting by the fireside, sipping on glögg and baking. Lots of baking.

And in the spirit of St. Lucia Day and the Advent season, John Duxbury with SwedishFood.com passed along his take on Lussekatter (Lucia saffron buns).

According to Duxbury’s site, “Lussekatter are eaten on December 13 to celebrate St. Lucia, the patron Saint of Light…Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled-up cat, and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats). It’s all very strange. I think it’s just another excuse for a celebration. These days lussekatter are enjoyed throughout Advent, also a rather special time in Sweden.”

Duxbury offers three methods for making saffron buns. Enjoy!

John’s Tips

  • For a glögg party where I am serving lots of nibbles as well as lussekatter, I make smaller buns by dividing the dough into 24 pieces.
  • For a little more flavor, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavor.
  • As saffron buns can dry out very easily, take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right color, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth.
  • Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so for a real breakfast treat, prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm and store in a fridge overnight.
  • Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.
  • Saffron buns are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting.

Method 1: Using a stand-mixer

This recipe produces lovely light and buttery saffron buns. As the dough is very wet, it is quite hard to use this recipe if you are making the dough by hand.

Ingredients

  • ½ tsp. saffron threads, 1 packet
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. vodka
  • 36 raisins
  • 1¼ c. milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4+ c. strong white bread flour
  • 7 tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1½ tsp “fast action” dried yeast, 1 packet
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

Directions

  1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and leave them until required.
  3. Heat the milk until warm, between 95°F to 105°F.
  4. Sift four cups of the flour into the stand-mixer’s bowl. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.
  6. Fit the dough hook to your stand-mixer and with the machine running on the lowest setting, slowly add the milk, saffron, salt, vodka and half of the beaten egg, reserving the rest of the egg for glazing.
  7. When all the milk has been added, increase the speed by a setting or two and slowly add the softened butter, a cube at a time. Do this very slowly, taking about three minutes. If the mixture looks too wet add a couple of tablespoons of flour.
  8. Continue to knead, slowly adding additional flour, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a nice soft dough. The idea is to add as little flour as possible until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it. The exact amount to be added varies, but you will normally need to add three or four tablespoons of flour. Once you have added enough flour, continue to knead for another two to three minutes.
  9. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Clean out the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.
  10. Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back a couple of times. Divide into 16 pieces, between 65 and 70g each, if weighing.*
  11. Using your fingers roll out each piece so that it is about 12” long and curl into tight S shapes. Place each piece on a lined or greased baking sheet, cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.
  12. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  13. Brush the saffron buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the center of each of the two coils. Bake for eight to 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  14. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

*One way to do this is to roll the dough into a thick rectangle about 12” x 8”. Divide the rectangle into two and then keep dividing until you have 16 pieces. Using your fingers then roll out each piece of dough until it is as thick as your finger and about 12″ long.

Method 2: Using melted butterPerfectly baked golden yellow saffron buns adorn a Christmas tablescape.

Duxbury recommends this method for those who don’t have a stand-mixer, saying, “By melting the butter, it makes it much easier to bring the dough together. If desired, you could knead in a little more softened butter during step eight.”

Ingredients

  • ½ tsp saffron threads, 1 packet
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tbsp. vodka
  • 36 raisins
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3½ c. strong white bread flour
  • 4½ tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1½ tsp “fast action” dried yeast, 1 packet
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

Method

  1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.
  3. Heat the milk until warm, between 95°F to 105°F.
  4. Melt the butter separately, allow to cool slightly and then stir into the milk mixture.
  5. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and baking powder. Mix with a spoon.
  6. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.
  7. Stir in the saffron, salt, vodka and the milk mixture. Bring together to form a dough.
  8. Knead the dough on a floured surface for five to 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.
  9. Tip the dough out on to a floured surface and punch once or twice to knock it back. Divide into about 16 equally sized pieces, about 65 g. each, if weighing.
  10. Using your fingers, roll out each piece so that it is about 12” long, as thick as your finger and curl into tight S shapes. Place each one on a lined or greased baking sheet. Cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.
  11. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  12. Brush the saffron buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the center of each of the two coils. Bake for eight to 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  13. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

Method 3: Using Quark

Duxbury’s final version uses Kvarg, or Quark, a low-fat cheese: “It reduces the fat content of the buns whilst keeping them light and airy.”

Golden yellow saffron buns await baking.

Ingredients

  • ½ tsp saffron threads, 1 packet
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tbsp. vodka
  • 36 raisins
  • ¾ c. milk
  • 4+ c. strong white bread flour
  • ¼ c. caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1½ tsp “fast action” dried yeast, 1 packet
  • ¼ c. unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • ¼ c. Quark cheese (or sour cream)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Directions

  1. Place the saffron threads in a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle until evenly mixed. Pour over the vodka and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Place the raisins in a bowl, pour some hot water over them and then leave them until required.
  3. Heat the milk until warm, between 95°F to 105°F.
  4. Sift four cups of flour into a bowl. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Add the yeast and mix with a spoon.
  6. Make a well in the center and add the saffron, vodka, salt, milk, butter, Quark and most of the beaten egg, reserving some to use for glazing the buns (or use another small egg for glazing). Mix the ingredients together with a large spoon until well incorporated.
  7. Knead the dough slowly adding additional flour a tablespoon at a time as necessary. The idea is to add as little flour as possible until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it. Once you have added enough flour continue to knead for a few more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  8. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Clean out the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap or a cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.
  9. Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back a couple of times. Divide into 16 pieces, between 65 and 70 g. each, if weighing.
  10. Using your fingers roll out each piece so that it is about 12” long and curl into tight S shapes. Place each piece on a lined or greased baking sheet, cover loosely and leave for about 30 minutes until doubled in size again.
  11. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  12. Brush the saffron buns with the beaten egg add a raisin into the center of each of the two coils. Bake for eight to 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  13. Serve warm with coffee, hot chocolate or glögg. Enjoy!

John Duxbury enjoys cooking Swedish food and went to the trouble of learning Swedish so he could read Swedish cookbooks. The love affair with Swedish food started as a result of numerous visits to Sweden when he was working with Swedish students. When he retired from teaching he decided to set up http://www.swedishfood.com so other people with an interest in Swedish cooking could benefit from his work.

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