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St. Lucia Buns

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Golden-hued saffron and pearl sugar-studded St. Lucia Buns, or Lussekatter, are baked and eaten all over Scandinavia on December 13th in celebration of St. Lucia’s Day.

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St. Lucia was a Christian martyr and patron saint of Light who was executed by the Romans in the fourth century for her faith. In Scandinavia, the celebration of St. Lucia Day on December 13th marks the beginning of the Christmas season and is meant to bring hope, love and light during the darkest time of the year. Families often observe St. Lucia’s Day in their homes by having a daughter dress in white and serve coffee, St. Lucia Buns and ginger biscuits to other members of the family. There are processions with an elected St. Lucia in a white dress and red sash followed by girls and boys dressed in white. Traditional foods are given to visitors and delivered to elders throughout the day, as Lucia was known for her kindness and generosity, especially feeding those in need. Scandinavian girls will also wear crowns of wreaths with candles in their processions. The candles honor how Lucia supposedly illuminated her journeys through dark Roman catacombs to deliver food to Christians in hiding.

St. Lucia Buns are curled into “S” shapes, which are supposed to resemble a curled up cat with two raisins representing the eyes. There are many stories around the origins of the shape and connection with St. Lucia, but some think the buns were originally called “devil’s cats” or djävulskatter and thought to ward off the devil. Whatever the reason, the buns with their beautiful golden saffron color definitely bring light to any celebration!

The Process:

The St. Lucia Bun dough is wonderful to work with. It has a luxurious texture and a unique ingredient of instant potato flakes. Swedes use potatoes in everything, and the original recipe for these buns used a bit of leftover cooked potato, which adds a moist texture to the dough. I find that adding the instant potato flakes makes the dough a bit easier to work with and roll out. The distinctive ingredient in the buns, however, is the saffron. The reddish orange threads of saffron (which are the stigmata of the Crocus flower) impart the lovely golden hue. Saffron has traditionally been reserved for holiday baking because of its price, but luckily just a pinch of threads go a long way!

The saffron threads are infused into warm milk, giving it an intense golden color. The milk, butter and eggs are mixed with the dry ingredients including the yeast. I like to mix the dough in a stand mixer using my dough hook, but it may certainly be done by hand and kneaded until smooth. The dough is covered and set aside to rise for about an hour or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball and cover with a damp towel to prevent drying.

Roll each ball into a long rope about 12-inches in length.

Curl the ends in opposite directions to form the coiled “S” shape.

Place the buns on parchment-lined baking sheets and add a raisin (I like golden ones) to each end.

Brush the bun with a bit of whisked egg white and sprinkle with Swedish pearl sugar. If you don’t have pearl sugar or prefer not to use that is fine, too!

Bake the buns for about 15 minutes depending on your oven until they are golden brown.

St. Lucia Buns are best served the day they are baked, but also freeze well! A batch in our house usually is gone in a day! We make a double recipe in order to share with friends and family. Glad Lucia!!

St. Lucia buns on Swedish platter

St. Lucia Buns

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Golden-hued saffron and pearl sugar-studded St. Lucia Buns, or Lussekatter, are baked and eaten all over Scandinavia on December 13th in celebration of St. Lucia's Day.


  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • ½ cup instant potato flakes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Golden raisins, for garnish
  • Swedish pearl sugar, for garnish


  • In a small saucepan, heat the milk and saffron just to a simmer and remove from heat. Add the butter and let sit until butter is melted.
  • Meanwhile, in a stand mixer bowl, combine the flour, yeast, potato flakes, salt and sugar. Add milk mixture.
  • Separate one of the eggs and set the white aside. Add the remaining yolk, whole eggs and vanilla to the mixer bowl.
  • Mix with a dough hook until a smooth dough forms. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased large bowl. Cover with plastic and allow to double in bulk, about 1 hour.
  • Punch the dough down and divide into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and let rest for 10 minutes under a damp tea towel.
  • Roll each ball into a rope about 12 inches long. Shape into an “S” by coiling up the ends in opposite directions. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the coils. Place bun on a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
  • Cover and let rise for about 20 minutes until slightly puffed.
  • Preheat oven to 375°. Whisk the remaining egg white slightly and carefully brush each bun with some of the white. Sprinkle tops of buns with a little pearl sugar, if desired. Bake buns for 15 minutes until golden brown.


Tips for Success:

  • St. Lucia Bun dough can be mixed the night before you want to bake the buns.  Allow the dough to slowly rise under refrigeration, bring to room temperature to finish doubling in bulk and then proceed with the recipe.
  • Buns may also be shaped and allowed to rise overnight on sheet pans.  Just be sure to cover with plastic so that they do not develop a “skin”.
  • The buns are best eaten on the day they are baked but will freeze well!  Place in ziplock bags or airtight plastic containers for freezing.
Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Fika
Cuisine: Swedish
Keyword: St. Lucia Buns

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