Nordic baking part 2
In the view of festivities, there is another Christmas delicacy: lussekatter, Sankta Lucia cats. These saffron buns are baked for the 13th of December in observance of Sankta Lucia in Sweden and the rest of the Scandinavian countries. Yes, they are delicious.
Head straight to the recipe.
In cold, dark winter nights of the north all you need to cheer up is a little bit of light. Sankta Lucia marks the beginning of their Christmas celebration, a tradition shaped through time. Nowadays, there is a procession, in memory of Sankta Lucia. Every year, a girl will be elected to impersonate her, walking through the streets in a white cloak, with a dark red belt, a crown of green and candles. She is followed by girls dressed in white holding candles, starboys stjärngossar and gingermen holding their lanterns. There is a mass, with the hymns really brightening up the spirits and also much needed visits to homes but also hospitals to spread the cheer. For the light is coming, no matter how dark a winter.
The day of celebration is not random either. The 13th of December coincides with the old winter solstice, before Europe changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. It is also a very dark winter day and a celebration of light is all you need to lift the spirits. How about the name of Lucia’s cat, lussekatter? The twirled saffron buns take their name and shape from an even older tradition.
Lucia, shares the latin root lux which means light. In Sweden though she is also associated with Lucifer, the devil. As a Northern Swedish legend goes, Lucia was Adam’s first wife, she consorted with the devil and an evil underworld race was born, that was up to any mischief especially the night before Christmas. Kids shouldmost definitely stay indoors on Christmas Eve otherwise Lucia could take them. In Folk I Fest author Jan Öjvind Swahn states that Lucia buns, known as lussekatter, are reminiscent of the devil because in old Swedish tradition they were called djävulskatter, or the devil’s cat and the s-shaped form is intended to represent a cat curled up.
A little bit of light and a little bit of darkness is all we need and this Swedish tale perfectly serves both. For the lovers of Greek cuisine, these wonderful buns have the texture of tsoureki and are simply divine.
- 900 g plain all purpose flour
- 200 g butter
- 0,5 l milk
- 50 gr dry active yeast
- 1 g saffron
- 1 tsp salt
- 200 gr sugar
- 1 egg
- raisins or currants for the garnish
- Melt the butter in a pot.
- Warm up the milk to 37°C and add it to the melted butter. Dissolve the yeast and add it to the rest of the liquid ingredients. Mix well until the yeast is completely dissolved.
- Mix the saffron with 1-2 tsp sugar and add to the liquid ingredients.
- Add the rest of the solid ingredients to the mixture, but save 1 cup of flour for kneading.
- Knead until you form a sticky dough (5 mines in the food processor or 10 mins. by hand). Add more flour to the dough in case it is too sticky, but let it be rather loose.
- Cover the dough with a cloth and let it double for 40 minutes.
- Knead again on a board covered with flour and then split it into 40 pieces. Form long stripes out of the smaller bits of dough and then roll up the ends of each stripe until an S-shaped piece bun is formed. Garnish with raisins or currants.
- Place the buns in a baking board covered with baking paper, cover with a cloth and let rise for 40 minutes.
- Heat up the oven to 200 degrees
- Bake the lussekatter at 180 C for 8-10 minutes.
A huge thanks to lovely Viki for sharing the story of Saint Lucia cats and of course her recipe with me. For more information on the celebration check the sources below.
From Athens with love,
Viki and Eugenia
PS: to make the saffron buns really yellow, you need to leave the saffron at least 20 minutes in warm milk, the more the better. We were in a bit of a rush as we were baking cinnamon rolls too. 😉
Lucia and lussekatter