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St. Lucia Day saffron buns (+video)

St. Lucia Day is celebrated Dec. 13 in Sweden and across Scandinavian communities in the United States. These saffron buns play a big part in the annual family holiday tradition.

By Kitchen Report / December 13, 2013

Saffron buns play a big part in family holiday traditions across Sweden on St. Lucia Day.

Kitchen Report


In Sweden, Dec. 13 marks St. Lucia Day, a day traditionally when the oldest daughter of the family wears a white robe, a red sash, and a wreath of lit candles on her head as she delivers coffee and saffron buns to the rest of the family still huddled in bed against the cold and dark morning.

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St. Lucia is one of the very few saints honored by Lutheran Scandinavians (Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Danes) and in some parts of Italy. I’m not exactly clear who St. Lucia was, except that she did some self-sacrificing behavior for the good of others. The legends and stories differ depending on the region of the world.

What seems to be more important is the timing – a celebration of light and comfort on one of the darkest days of the year. Before the Christians came along and redefined all the pagan holidays to support their worldview, Winter Solstice holidays were focused on using light to shield against perceived forces of evil (i.e. really long nights, bitter cold, and long lines at the mall). St. Lucia comes out of that tradition as well.

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I’ve never been to Sweden but I’ve heard how very dark it is this time of year. It’s on my bucket list to see the spring flowers burst out in full force in Sweden during midsummer celebrations when the days are longer than the nights. Somewhere I have some distant cousins of my grandfather’s who live there, and I carry a Swedish last name. So I’ve had a yearning the past couple of years to figure out how to make saffron buns for St. Lucia Day.

But dough is fickle. It takes time and patience and doesn’t give a flip if you are a working person who doesn’t have the time to wait around for it to rise already. When I was hunting for saffron at my corner store I happened to strike up a conversation with a store manager who is half Swedish and makes saffron buns every year with her family. She said they have a special wooden bowl they use to let the dough rise, and even set it in the laundry room to help the process.

Saffron buns require two rising periods, first after you mix the dough, and a second time after you shape the buns. So if you have a job outside the home, I recommend you start this late the night before. Put the dough to bed when you turn in and then get up at 4:30 a.m. to finish the task. I don’t know what else to tell you. Maybe just take the day off. I tried this schedule this year and the results were a little more successful than my first attempt last year, which had me willing the dough to rise in time so I could put the buns in the oven and make it to work before the afternoon holiday party. They turned out to be kind of a flop, but people ate them anyway because they had never seen St. Lucia saffron buns before.

This year, with a better recipe my college friend Jen gave me, the buns were a little more successful. I may even tweak the recipe again for next year after finding this King Arthur Flour recipe that recommends melting the butter first, adding the saffron, and then letting it sit for a half and hour to draw out the saffron flavor even more.

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