December 13th or St. Lucia Day, also known as the Festival of Light, is a day of celebration in Sweden, in the spirit of Advent and Christmas. Young girls and boys dress up in white robes and candles in their hair or hands and walk in procession singing holiday carols and bringing coffee and saffron buns to elderly homes and hospitals. This is the Swedish Embassy’s chef’s take on a traditional saffron bun, and you will love it.
“Your journey to the world’s most delicious saffron buns starts the day before you actually put them in the oven by letting the saffron infuse the milk you will use in the sponge. Swedish cuisine has been very influenced by international trade for centuries, so that is why you will see spices from the Silk Road and Asia in our food, like saffron, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon.”
-FRIDA JOHANSSON, CHEF OF THE EMBASSY OF SWEDEN
🇸🇪 Sweden: Saffron Buns
- 1 Strainer
- 1 Pitcher
- 2 ⅛ cups milk
- ¼ cup fresh yeast or 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 hearty pinch of saffron
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 10 ½ tablespoons butter room temperature
- 2 ¾ tablespoons sugar
- 2 hearty pinches of salt
- 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ cups almond paste
- 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 9 tablespoons butter room temperature
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- A pinch of salt
- Sliced almonds
- Swedish pearl sugar available at Whole Foods, or regular sugar
- Start with ¼ cup of milk, warming it gently without reaching a simmer. Add the saffron and let it infuse the milk for about 15 minutes. Then add the rest of the milk and put it in the fridge overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
- The next day, warm up the milk to about 98°F (body temperature) and dissolve the yeast into it. Add the flour and mix. Once it comes together, knead the dough for 5 minutes. Let it rest, covered by a dish towel, for about 15–20 minutes. If you are mixing with a stand mixer, you will want to use the dough hook for this. If you are mixing by hand, consider this recipe to be your cardio for the day!
- Once the sponge has rested, add the ingredients listed under the dough section above: butter, sugar, salt, and more flour. Knead or mix until the dough is smooth, glossy and starts to release any hard edges. If you are kneading by hand, just keeping kneading until you can’t do it anymore!
- Let the dough rest under a dish towel again for about 20–30 minutes.
- While the dough rests, prepare the filling. Mix the almond paste with sugar and vanilla. Add the butter gradually until you have a smooth and fully combined filling. Don’t forget that the butter needs to be room temperature.
- Roll out the dough in a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface. It should be about 18 x 27 inches, and about half a centimeter thick. That’s about the size of a full-size sheet pan, for reference. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, all the way to the edges.
Knotting the Saffron Buns
- Looking at the rectangle of dough and filling in front of you, grasp the top edge of the dough and fold in half toward you, so that you now have a long, skinny rectangle in front of you. Try to fold it as smoothly and evenly as you can, with the edges from the top layer of dough matching the edges on the bottom.
- Cut the folded dough lengthwise into long skinny strands about 1½ inches wide. You can cut the strips with a knife, a pizza cutter, or scissors.
- Imagine you’re playing rock, paper, scissors. Make the “scissors” with your non-dominant hand, and then wrap a strand of dough around your 2 fingers twice. Then tie the dough into a loose knot by wrapping the dough around the middle of the loops you just created and tucking the middle into a loop. Overall, this action will remind you of wrapping up a pair of headphones.
- Repeat with the rest of your dough pieces, placing each knot onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Once you’ve finished making all of your knots, cover the buns with a dish towel and let them rise for about 1-2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Once your buns have risen, beat the egg with the water and salt to make an egg wash and brush each bun with it. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and pearl sugar over the buns. Bake 13-15 minutes, or until your saffron buns are golden brown. Alternately, bake without the topping, let cool, then brush with melted butter and dip in sugar.