Goddess of Cake

Lucia’s Saffron Buns
December 22, 2009, 23:05
Filed under: Baking, winter seasonal food | Tags: , , , ,

Picture by Juha Pentikäinen

The 13th of December is the day of Saint Lucia, the only saint that is commonly recognised in Finland and Sweden. Our countries are very Lutheran, which is sparse, strict, no nonsense – path of reformist Christianity. So we don’t know anything of  dramatic saints with their terrifying life – stories, and our churches are quiet places with simple furnishings. But then, why did we take Lucia, an unknown Sicilian saint, to be so dear to us and be part of the Advent celebrations leading Christmas?

Lucia’s Day is widely celebrated in Sweden and in the Swedish speaking part of Finland. Usually a young maiden from the local community is chosen to represent her, looks are not important, but she should have a beautiful voice to sing with. Then she appears on streets and marketplaces, in schools, in old people’s homes, clad in white, wearing a crown of candles and singing the Lucia Song. Often she will bring some “glögi”, a Finnish Christmas drink and some gingerbread to people. Hardly anyone remembers her actual story (I recall she refused to marry because she wanted to lead a Christian life in chastity, and suffered a martyr death because of that) , she is simply the bringer of light in the darkest time of the year. Somehow I think she subconsciously reminds us of the ancient, powerful Nordic goddesses, when she stands there, brave, shining and solitary, crowned with living fire.

What is my personal relationship to Lucia then? When I was five years old and in the Kindergarten, I was not chosen to be Lucia, but instead got to be Virgin Mary in the Christmas play. But who would be comforted by a meek Mary that silently bends her head and accepts her faith, when there was a chance to be Lucia, who fights for her beliefs and leads the glorious procession? I was so bitter! As an adult I actually got to be the Lucia of my school, when I studied weaving in a swedish – speaking small town. I guess it is also slowly dawning to me that somebody who looks strong and solitary from the outside, might feel lonely and isolated inside.

These kind of saffron buns are in Sweden connected with Lucia, but in my childhood home they were simply baked before each Christmas, to be served with other Christmas delicacies. I must admit that I had to consult the internet in order to remember all the different forms they were baked in, but you can use your imagination! All kind of twirls and spirals is the idea. You should reserve about one and half hours to bake this.

Saffron Christmas Buns

About 25 pieces

2,5 water

25 g yeast

2 g saffron

1/2 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

1,25 dl sugar

7 – 8 dl wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

100 g vegetable margarine, vegan butter or oil

The water should  be about 36 °C warm so that it doesn’t feel cold or hot when you try with your finger. Dilute the yeast to the water, and add the saffron and sugar and mix. Add some of the flour and then the salt. Continue adding flour until the dough has a nice dense consistency, feels heavy to the hand and doesn’t stick to the edges of the bowl. Then add the margarine or oil. The dough should stay quite soft, so don’t knead too much!

Let the dough rise covered in a nice warm spot, until it’s doubled up in size. It takes half an hour or so. Then cut it up to small pieces, and roll it into several bars that are about the thickness of your finger. Then make all kinds of fun twirly shapes, and decorate  with raisins.

Put your buns on an oven plate and let them rise for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Then bake them in the oven in 225ºC for 10 – 15 minutes, until they are nicely golden brown. Melt some margarine or use a bit of oil to spread on the buns to make them look pretty. And yes, the raisins tend to always pop out, so try to press them firmly into the bun.

Usually these kind of buns are made with eggs and butter, and for the vegan version to succeed, it is important to not use too much flour in the dough, and to be patient enough to allow it to rise properly.

Here is what Tricia wrote about Lucia and Saffron Buns, and a non – vegan recipe for it.