Swedish Saffron Buns, also known as Lucia Buns or Lussekatter, are a traditional part of Swedish Christmas celebrations. These saffron buns are made with part wholegrain spelt flour, but otherwise follow a traditional recipe.
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Having lived in Sweden now for over a decade, I have mostly embraced the Swedish winters.
Although one never really gets used to 2pm sunsets, I do love how Swedes light up the darkness of winter with an onslaught of lights. At this time of year, pretty much every window has some sort of lamp, advent candle arch, or star shaped paper lantern glowing in it.
Businesses have torches burning outside their doors, and candles are lit everywhere. I’m burning through my own body weight in tea lights these days, and need to find a way to hang an advent star in our own window – we are technically Swedes, after all.
Along with the lights, these brightly coloured saffron buns, known colloquially as lussekatter, or “Lucia cats” named for the cat-like coils, are ubiquitous in the holiday season.
Although St. Lucia Day is on December 13th, saffron buns start appearing in shops as early as mid-October. Most Swedes I know think it’s blasphemous to eat lussekatter outside of the holidays, but once December 1st rolls around, it’s game on.
This recipe for Swedish saffron buns might look like a lot of work, but I assure you it’s easy to manage. With just a few simple steps, you, too, can enjoy this traditional holiday recipe.
What goes into lussekatter?
I have diverted from the traditional recipe just a bit, by incorporating part whole-grain spelt flour, as I tend to do. Here’s what you’ll need to make these Sweddish saffron buns at home:
- Saffron –> This is kind of the star of the show. See notes about saffron below.
- Flour –> I have used a blend of bread flour and whole-grain spelt flour.
- Butter –> Room temperature, please.
- Sugar –> Don’t skimp on this!
- Milk –> Gently warmed milk is where it’s at.
- Yeast –> Active dried, instant, or fresh yeast will all work.
- Eggs –> There’s an egg in the dough, and another for brushing the buns before baking.
- Raisins –> To press into each coil.
Although you *can* mix this dough by hand, if you have a stand mixer, I highly recommend you bring it into play. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer when making saffron buns (and other doughs) with the dough hook to make kneading a breeze.
How to make saffron buns
Let’s go through it step by step!
Step 1: (not pictured) Combine the saffron with one tablespoon of water and set aside.
Step 2: (above) Combine the warmed milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It may not get super foamy – this is perfectly fine.
Step 3: (above) Add the sugar, spelt flour, and half of the bread flour. Stir to combine.
Step 4: (above) Using the dough hook, knead the dough until just combined.
Step 5: (above) Add the room temperature butter, the egg, the saffron with liquid.
Step 6: (above) Use the dough hook to bring the mixture loosely together. The dough will look extremely wet / loose at this point. This is correct.
Step 7: (above) Add the remaining flour.
Step 8: (Below) Using the dough hook, allow the mixer to knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It should be smooth and pulling away from the sides of the bowl when it is ready.
Step 9: (below) Sprinkle the dough with a little flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about one hour.
Step 10: (not pictured) While the dough is rising, combine the raisins with warm water and set aside to plump up. This will prevent burnt raisins when you bake your lussekatter.
Step 11: (not pictured) Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 400F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease well with butter.
Step 12: (below) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and gently knead for about one minute. Form the ball into a smooth ball.
Step 13: (below) Divide the dough in half, and then half again, and half again until you have 24 relatively equal pieces of dough.
Step 14: (below) Roll each piece into a long rope (mine were about 16 inches).
Step 15: (below) Coil the ends of the rope towards the center from opposite sides to form your lussekatt.
Repeat steps 14 and 15 until you have coiled all of the saffron dough into lussekatter!
Step 16: (below) Place each coiled bun onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
Step 17: (below) Brush buns with beaten egg. I use a silcon basting brush for this.
Step 18: (below) Drain the raisins, and press a one into each end (two raisins per bun).
Step 19: Bake on the center rack for 8-10 minutes. Buns should be puffed and golden, brown on the bottom, and sound slightly hollow when tapped.
Allow the your lussekatter to cool slightly before you dig in!
Pro tips / recipe notes:
What kind of saffron is best?
The best saffron to use is whatever you have on hand! In Sweden they sell little packets of finely ground saffron during the holiday season, and that is what is most commonly used in this recipe.
If you have saffron threads rather than saffron powder, you will need to grind them up prior to using. You can do this by placing into a bowl with a sugar cube and crushing them together.
If you don’t like the flavour of saffron, you can of course leave it out. Apparently the inexpensive grocery store lussekatter are coloured with turmeric rather than saffron, so that is always an option.
Can lussekatter be made in advance?
Yes! You’ve got a few options:
1) Make the saffron buns up to the point of the final rise on the tray, and then cover and refrigerate overnight. Simply bring to room temperature before baking.
2) Make the saffron buns up to the point of the final rise on the tray, and then freeze the unbaked lussekatter. You can bake them from frozen, or bring to room temperature first.
3) Bake the saffron buns as directed, and once the buns have cooled off, pop into a freezer bag. This way you can pull them out on demand and just warm them up in the microwave.
Frozen Lucia buns will last for about three months in a tightly-sealed bag.
Other recipes you might enjoy:
Lussekatter - Swedish Saffron Buns
- 2 cups whole milk warmed to body temperature
- 2 Tablespoons active dried yeast or 50g fresh yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 cups wholegrain spelt flour
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 gram saffron about 1 tsp ground saffron
- 1/2 cup butter room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 48 raisins
- Combine the saffron with one tablespoon of water and set aside.
- Combine the milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
- Add the sugar, spelt flour, and half of the bread flour. Stir to combine.
- Using the dough hook, knead until the dough until just combined.
- Add the room temperature butter, the egg, the saffron with liquid, and the remaining flour.
- Using the dough hook, allow the mixer to knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It should be smooth and pulling away from the sides off the bowl when it is ready.
- Sprinkle the dough with a little flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, combine the raisins with water and set aside to plump up.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 400F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease well with butter.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and divide into 24 pieces.
- Roll each piece into a long rope (mine were about 16 inches), then coil the ends of the rope towards the center from opposite sides. Place each coiled bun onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise until almost doubled.
- Brush buns with beaten egg and press a raisin into each end (two raisins per bun).
- Bake on the center rack for 8-10 minutes. Buns should be puffed and golden, brown on the bottom, and sound slightly hollow when tapped.
- I used a blend of wholegrain spelt and high gluten bread flour in my Lucia buns. You can also use 100% all purpose flour.
- Do ahead: These buns can be made, and shaped, then kept refrigerated overnight or frozen for longer. Just be sure they come to room temperature for a final rise before baking. Baked buns will last about 3 days at room temperature in an air tight container, or about 3 months in the freezer.