St Lucia Celebration with Saffron Cake

Posted on December 13, 2010 by


In the midst of the pitch black of a winter morning, my mother would gently knock on my door. Propping it open, she would quietly walk away, leaving only the melodic sounds of Lucia sången. I would rub my eyes and sleepily crawl out of bed. Outside my door, a white robe was carefully hung, a thick red sash draped on top.

This ritual was so expected, that even in a sleepy state I knew what to do. Put on the robe, tie the red sash around my waist and procede downstairs. Here, my mother would grace me with our “fake” Lucia crown — a green plastic crown with battery operated candles. I wore live candles on my head one year, and I understand why my mother decided to skimp on this part of tradition.

Fully dressed in my traditional attire, my mother would give me a tray crammed full of pepparkakor and lussekatter (saffran buns) which I would take to my father.

Thousands of miles away a whole country devoted this day to celebrating light. In Stockholm there would be a national celebration, with striking blondes vying for the ultimate in recognition — being selected for the official procession through the streets of the capital city. There would be newspaper articles and television coverage. School celebrations. A day where the whole country ate the same baked goods, tinted yellow with saffron and dotted with currants.

But on the other side of the world, in our yellow house deep in the dark, and often dreary, wintry forest of the Pacific Northwest, in a place where very few people even knew what “Lucia” meant, my mother made an effort to keep the tradition alive. And so it stuck.

I am without white robe and red sash, and I certainly do not have a Lucia crown to don, but saffran buns are a must. And so I celebrate this year’s St. Lucia Day with saffran cake with almond paste, coffee and the Lucia song on Youtube (thank you internet), a perfect replacement for honoring the day where we overcome the winter dark.

My mother calls and when I answer she says nothing, but holds the phone up to their stereo that’s playing the song. It brings momentary tears to my eyes.

Saffransbröd – Saffron Bread adapted from Vår Kokbok

Almond paste

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Mix almonds and sugar in Cuisinart or blender until a chunky paste forms. Set aside.

Saffransbröd – Saffron Bread

  • 1/2 gram saffron
  • 75 grams butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 teaspoons yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups flour
  • Currants for decoration

For gluten-free version substitute flour with

  • 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all purpose baking flour
  • 1 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten free biscuit and baking mix
  • 1 teaspoon xantham gum

Crush saffron in a small bowl with a little bit of sugar. Add a couple tablespoons of the milk and set aside.

Melt butter in a small pot and add milk. Heat until warm (you should still be able to stick your finger in).

Measure out yeast in a small bowl and mix in a little of the butter and milk. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, salt, egg, saffron mixture and rest of milk and butter. Add in yeast mixture.

Let rise for 30 minutes.

Knead on floured surface.

Take a small amount of dough, a few tablespoons, and divide the rest into two evenly sized balls, Work first ball into a circle, about 10″ in diameter and spread with almond paste.

Make a second circle and cover the first, pinching the edges together. With the leftover dough, roll into a long roll and decorate cake as you see fit. Note: most traditional saffran bread incorporates a lot of curlicues.

Cover with cloth and let rise for 30 minutes.

Decorate with currants and glaze with a beaten egg.

Bake at 400 F for 15-20 min.