Glad Sankta Lucia!
That means “Happy Santa Lucia day!” in Swedish. Today is a huge holiday in Sweden, and I wish I was there to celebrate it. This year is my first year being home for it in awhile, but my mom doesn’t get home until this afternoon from Sweden and I have to work all day. So while I can’t celebrate today in a traditional way, I decided to celebrate the holiday by baking the traditional saffron rolls and bringing them in to work.
[[ Brief interruption: I apologize in advance for how scattered my thoughts may be. It has been a looong week and a half at work, but I absolutely need to tell you about these because honestly? What kind of Swede would I be if I didn’t? ]]
Growing up with a Swedish mom meant that we celebrated all the Swedish holidays and understood our culture. Granted, Santa Lucia is a MUCH bigger deal in Sweden, with hundreds of concerts around the country, a Lucia being chosen in each town, and all sorts of ceremonies and celebrations. Need some visuals? Check out some of these videos from youtube here and here and here.
In the United States, you can still find some sort of celebration. Growing up, I used to dress up as Lucia and go around to the different classrooms in my elementary school with my Kirsten American Girl Doll (who was also dressed up) and sing and talk about Lucia. There’s all sorts of Lucia concerts too – there’s one Saturday night at the Swedish Church in NYC (SO bummed to be missing that), the SWEA Christmas Bazaar has two concerts with children (one for SWEA children and one for the Swedish school), and that was so fun to see this year. It brought back memories of when I was a kid, dressing up as one of the Lucia’s attendants with the tinsel sash and tinsel crown. I never got to be Lucia, which I was sad about, for either group. I don’t think they were ready to see a brunette Lucia when I was little.
Anyway, at the heart of Lucia is tradition. There are quite a few of explanations for why we celebrate this holiday, like celebrating the light in the darkness and that the days will be getting longer, taking Sweden out of the 18 hours of darkness a day. Or that it goes back to Italy where St Lucia gave her dowry to the poor to feed them and was tried as a witch.
The reasons for it isn’t quite as important as the tradition behind it. We do. We celebrate it and we love it. When I think of Lucia, I think of a girl dressed in a white gown with a red sash and a wreath on her head with a crown of candles. I think of singing songs and the concerts. But most importantly, I think of the saffron rolls.
Generally, the oldest daughter in the house is supposed to dress up and bring these saffron rolls and coffee to her family. Since I have no one at home except for my dog right now, I am bringing these (figuratively) to you.
They’re called “Lussekatter” which means Lucy’s cats, since the rolls look like a pair of cat eyes. They’re delicious, fragrant form the saffron, and they have just a touch of sweetness. They’re perfect, honestly. And chances are, unless you’re Swedish, you probably haven’t had something like this. And that needs to change.
So celebrate today with these delicious saffron rolls. You won’t regret it.
Saffron Rolls “Lussekatter”
makes about 25-30 rolls
12 tablespoons (6 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups milk
50 g fresh yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground saffron
6 cups all-purpose flour
Raisins, to garnish
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the milk and heat the mixture to 98 degrees F or until at body temperature (stick a finger in and if you can’t feel the temperature of the mixture, it’s ready)
Pour a small amount of the liquid into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the fresh yeast into the bowl, stirring until dissolved. Add the rest of the liquid, salt, sugar, and saffron to the bowl and stir. Add and knead in the flour until it forms a smooth dough that cleans the bowl. Sprinkle with flour, cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
Knead the dough for a few minutes. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth.
Form the dough into rolls. Roll the dough into a skinny rope and then twist the ends in to form an “S” shape. Place raisins on either end. Cover with a dish towel and let them rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly beat the end and use a pastry brush to brush egg wash onto rolls. Bake for 5-10 minutes. Cool covered.
Notes: I use fresh yeast, since that’s what Swedes bake with. I found it at King’s supermarkets, but I’ve made these with various active dry yeasts. It just changes the directions a little, and you have to convert the yeast amounts.
[source: barely adapted from Served from the Swedish Kitchen]