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St Lucia buns

Mon, 26 October, 2020

Lucia buns, lussekatter or lussebullar in Swedish, are saffron-yellow twists with two raisins and rather gruesome origins.

st lucia buns

Glad Lucia! Happy Lucia Day!

13 December is the feast of St Lucia. In Sweden, it’s the day when they turn a nominated girl in every family into a human candlestick and bake buns that resemble gouged eyeballs. Those Swedes! Aren’t they confusing Advent with Halloween?

Who was St Lucia?

Saint Lucia, like most saints, met pretty horrific end. An early Christian from Syracuse, she pledged virginity which wasn’t well received by her suitor – I wonder why? He tried to drag her to a brothel to teach her a lesson, but Holy Spirit held her in the spot and made her immovable – or was she just so heavy?

Then they tried to burn her but no joy, flames didn’t touch her. Somewhere along the line she also had her eyes gouged, or even did it herself to repel the suitor, legends disagree on that. Finally she died, stabbed in the neck, and promptly became a martyr saint.

swedish saffron christmas buns

A pitch for a new show

Whilst on the subject, I am amazed no film or television network has yet developed a series on saints and martyrs, since they usually met with cinematically gruesome end. Stoning and beheadings were truly among the most humane! Modern torture porn is not a patch on those stories.

Lucia celebrations in Sweden

Back to Lucia: Swedes celebrate the day with a procession of young girls dressed in white who wear crowns festooned with candles – honestly, have they not heard of health and safety? Plus, they bake and eat Lussekatter or Lussebullar, saffron buns twisted into an ‘S’ shape with two raisins stuck into the centres of the coils.

They are supposed to be the resemblance of two eyes held on a plate, though more squeamish call them ‘katter’, ‘cats’ – for the likeness to twisted cats’ tails. No fooling me – I can certainly see eyeballs rather than cats.

lusskatter or lucia buns

Lucia saffron buns

However grisly their origins, Lucia buns are delightful. Soft and tender, possibly through the addition of skyr, Icelandic style yoghurt, although that might be just clever Icelandic marketing. They are so gorgeously yellow with saffron you might think they were better fit for Easter than Christmas. And not difficult to make at all.

lussbullar, swedish christmas buns

How to make Lucia saffron buns?

The dough is best mixed with a standing mixer as it is and should be sticky and soft. It proves in bulk, and then gets knocked back and divided into small pieces. Rolling ropes and twisting them into snake shapes might be a good fun for little helpers, as well as sticking eyes – raisins – into the centre of each S.

Make sure you tell them it’s supposed to be gouged eyes – kids love the macabre. Lussebullar can be baked straight after the final proof but they are happy to spend the night in the fridge too and be baked on the next morning.

saffron buns for swedish lucia day

Recipe and twist

My main source for the recipe was ScandiKitchen. Like they, I wholly embrace the idea of Lucia, saffron and the gouged eyes with one exception: surely TWO raisins per bun are a misunderstanding? It’s like a single grain of salt on your egg, or one kernel of sweetcorn in tuna-mayo!

So I added sultanas to my dough, not too many so they didn’t peek through in finished buns – but they made a real difference. I’m sure Lucia would forgive me.

St Lucia buns

Servings: makes 15 bunsTime: 4 hours


  • 25g (1 oz.) fresh or 3g (1 tsp.) instant yeast
  • 200ml (scant cup) warm milk
  • ¼ tsp saffron powder (ground from ½ g saffron strands in a pestle and mortar)
  • 75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 100 g (1/3 cup) plain skyr or Greek yoghurt, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs (1 for brushing)
  • 400 g (3 cups plus 1 tbsp.) white strong flour
  • 85g (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 45g (1/3 cup) sultanas (optional)
  • a handful of jumbo raisins



1. Stir the yeast, fresh or instant, into the warm milk and leave for a few minutes (15 if fresh yeast). Stir in the saffron, sugar, salt, skyr and 1 egg.

starter dough for lucia buns

2. Place the flour in a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the liquid ingredients and start mixing with the dough hook.

3. When the dough is just combined, start adding the butter by a small piece. Keep mixing or kneading for at least 10 minutes until the dough is smooth, silky and clears the sides of the bowl or stops sticking to your hands.

4. Add the sultanas if using and knead them in gently by hand. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it doubles in volume.

how to make saffron dough

5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Divide it into 15 pieces (about 60g each). Roll out each piece into a long rope, dusting the surface with more flour if necessary. Shape it into an ‘S’ and press a jumbo raisin into the centre of each coil. Place them on baking trays spaced well apart.

shaped lucia buns

6. Cover the trays with foil or slip them into a clean bin liner and tie the ends. Leave them to prove for 40 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 200C fan if available/400F/gas 6. Beat the remaining egg with a teaspoon of water.

8. Brush the risen buns with the egg wash. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured on top.

lucia buns

9. Cool on the wire rack. Freeze the surplus or keep them in a bread bin and toast when they get a bit dry.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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