You won't want to miss these fragrant saffron-flavoured buns "(lussekatter"), shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes, this December. Traditional cakes baked all across Scandinavia, you eat them for Saint Lucy's day, with glögg or coffee.
On St. Lucia’s day, every 13 December, you will see thousands of young girls emerge from the darkness of a Swedish winter’s day and gently silence the crowds with a procession of light.
Dressed as Lucia’s maidens, in flowing white gowns, each girl holds a candle and wears a wreath of glowing candles in her hair. St. Lucia symbolizes the promise of the sun's return to bring Sweden from its wintry darkness.
St. Lucia's Day, celebrated throughout Scandinavia, represents one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden: Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters.
The many Lucia songs all have the same theme:
The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
The Lucia tradition can be traced back both to St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304, and to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. It is said that she consorted with the Devil and that her children were invisible infernals. Thus the name may be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and its origins are difficult to determine. The present custom appears to be a blend of traditions.
In the old almanac, Lucia Night was the longest of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak. By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were urged to eat seven or nine hearty breakfasts. This kind of feasting presaged the Christmas fast, which began on Lucia Day.
The key figure in any celebration, St. Lucia, dresses in a white gown and wears a crown of candles on her head.
For celebrations at home, a young girl in the family will dress as St. Lucia and present her parents with breakfast in bed. That breakfast tray usually includes a pot of tea, milk, and bright-gold St. Lucia Buns.
Here is the recipe.
- 3 g (1/8 oz) saffron threads
- 50 g (2 oz) yeast
- 200 g (7 oz) sugar
- 300 ml (1½ cup) milk
- 1 egg
- 150–200 g (5–7 oz) butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 750 g (26 oz) flour
- 100 g (3½ oz) raisins
- 1 egg
- 2 tbs water
To make ‘Lucia cats’ (lussekatter), grind the saffron along with a cube of sugar, using a mortar and pestle. (For those who think ahead: drip a little cognac on top, and let stand a few days).
Crumble the yeast in a bowl and stir in a few tablespoons of milk. Melt the butter and pour on the milk.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except the raisins, and knead the dough in a dough mixer for 10 minutes. Carefully mix in most of the raisins, cover the dough and let it rise for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Divide the dough into 25 pieces and roll the buns in an oblong shape, about 10 cm (4 in) long. Cover them and let rest for 10 minutes, then roll them twice as long and twist the ends of each bun in opposite directions to form a sort of figure 8. Put one raisin in the middle of each half figure 8.
Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise under a towel for about 90 minutes, or until the buns have doubled in size. Bake in the oven (220°C/425°F) for 5 minutes. Beat together the egg and water, brush the mixture on the buns. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.
Source: Swedish Cultural Traditions