I nostalgically remember the processional train we formed as children—all cloaked in white with silver sashes—as I led our guests forward. I wore a crown of green garlands with glowing candles and lighted the way through our dark living room. This special celebration of light, known as Santa Lucia Day, lights up Swedish homes and churches on December 13th every year.
Celebrated in Scandinavia to commemorate bringing light into a dark world with Christianity, the concept alone is beautiful and moving. Songs were shared as we baked delicious Lussekatter (saffron buns) and Pepperkakor (ginger snap cookies) and filled the kitchen with yummiest of smells and much warmth. These wonderful St. Lucia treats are best enjoyed with a steaming mug of coffee, chai tea, hot cocoa, or apple cider.
These recipes may be time-consuming, but they are well worth the effort. If you’re a fan of chai, you will love these two recipes, but it’s up to you, and you can always leave the spices out.
LUCIA LUSSEKATTAR (CHAI SAFFRON BUNS)
Makes 12-14 buns
½ cup milk
¼ cup strong steeped chai black tea (optional) or ¾ cup milk
½ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
One ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast (check the expiration date on the package!)
3½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sour cream
Pinch of salt (optional)
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
Egg Wash Glaze
1 egg, beaten
- Combine milk, sugar, and saffron and heat until steamy. Remove from heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool to 95º to 105º Fahrenheit.
- Scatter yeast over milk mixture. Let sit 5 to10 minutes until foamy.
- Mix together sugar, flour, salt, and cardamom.
- Blend together the rest of the ingredients, adding the saffron milk.
- Mix and then knead dough by hand. Dough will be slightly sticky.
- Let the dough rise, then form a ball, place in center of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Note: Dough can be made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight.
- Let the dough sit in a warm place until the dough has grown twice as large.
- When ready, knead lightly, form a ball of dough about 2″ wide and roll it into a 14″ strip. Curl both ends in opposite directions forming an “S” shape.
- Place on greased baking sheet, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise about 30 to 60 minutes until it doubles in size.
- Whisk egg and brush buns with egg wash glaze.
- Place raisins in the centers of the “S” curls.
- Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5 minutes, turn over and bake another 5 minutes. Remove when golden brown.
- Let cool a bit and enjoy while still warm and delicious!
SWEDISH CHAI PEPPARKAKOR (GINGERSNAP COOKIES)
3 and ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground star anise
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
- Whisk dry ingredients together in mixing bowl.
- Mix room-temperature butter with the sugars in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then add the egg, corn syrup, and maple syrup.
- Stir in dry mixture gradually, until well blended.
- Separate dough into 4 equal portions, wrap each tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter baking sheets, flour the surface and roll dough out about one-eighth inch thick.
- Cut with Christmas cookie cutters and place cookies about 1 inch apart on baking sheets.
- Bake about 5-10 minutes, remove from oven, place on wire racks and let cool before eating.
Plan a gathering among family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate Santa Lucia Day. Have a processional and try out these recipes!