An easy version of St Lucia saffron buns with instructions for making a miniature version. Great accompaniment to festive afternoon teas or to celebrate St Lucia Day. You can use the same recipe but divide into fewer portions to make larger buns.
What are St Lucia Saffron Buns?
St Lucia Buns, also known as saffron buns, saffron bread or Lussekatter (Lucia cats) are traditionally eaten in Sweden to celebrate St Lucia Day on the 13th of December. The buns are infused with saffron, giving them a yellow colour and often shaped in a tight S with a couple of currants for decoration.
Saffron buns are also part of other cuisines, including a spiced version known in Cornwall as the revel bun.
One of my best friends is Swedish and introduced me to the saffron bun many years ago. Ever since, it has been one of my favourite treats to pick up in December, when they become available at Swedish bakeries. Eventually, I started making my own.
Ingredients for Saffron Buns Recipe
For these buns you'll need:
- Milk - for this recipe I would recommend using whole (full-fat) milk for best results.
- Saffron strands - the star of the show! Saffron is an expensive ingredient, which is why these buns tend to be made for celebration.
- Sugar - caster sugar or superfine granulated will work in this recipe.
- Dry active yeast - one sachet of yeast (2¼ teaspoon or 7g).
- Butter - unsalted and at room temperature.
- Flour - in the UK, I use a mix of plain flour and strong white bread flour. In the US, you can either use all purpose flour for the plain flour and still use strong flour, or you could even substitute the full quantity of flour with all-purpose dependent on what you have available.
- Eggs - 2 for the bread dough and then an extra one for the egg wash before baking.
- Quark - traditionally, the bread dough for St Lucia buns calls for quark which is a type of soured cream/cheese. You can substitute with a variety of other ingredients. In my buns, I have sometimes used cream cheese. You could also leave out the quark/cheese entirely and the recipe will still work just fine!
- Currants - dried currants or raisins.
Using Saffron in Bread
So saffron as a flavour can be a bit divisive - some people love it, some people find it overwhelming. With these buns, you have the option to make the flavour more or less strong in two ways:
- The steeping process, or
- Straining out the saffron strands
The first step in the recipe, is to place the saffron strands into a saucepan along with 1 teaspoon of sugar and the whole milk. Place this over a medium heat and allow the saffron to infuse by bringing this to a simmer. Once the mixture has simmered for about 2 minutes, remove from the heat.
At this stage, you need to allow the milk to cool a bit before adding the yeast. The longer you leave the saffron in the milk at this stage, the more the flavour will infuse into the milk.
If you would prefer a lighter saffron flavour, you can immediately strain the strands out of the milk. Alternatively, leave these in until the milk has cool a bit, straining just before adding the dry yeast. Or, you can leave them in and not strain them out at all - leaving them in the finished bread for the strongest possible saffron flavouring.
I love saffron, so I usually leave them in.
Process for Making Saffron Bun Dough
St Lucia buns are a heavily enriched bread dough, including milk, eggs and butter.
Once you've steeped your saffron milk mixture and allowed this to cool to about 113°F (45C), sprinkle the yeast over and give it a light stir. Leave this for about 10 minutes to become foamy.
Meanwhile, place your dry ingredients - flours, salt and remaining sugar - in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Give this a quick stir.
Then, add your milk and yeast mixture, immediately followed by the eggs, butter and quark (if using). Begin kneading on a medium low setting until a dough forms and continue for about 10-15 minutes until this is pulling itself away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and cover. Place this in a warm spot for 2 hours until doubled in size. When ready, knock back, turn out onto a clean work surface and shape.
Tips for Shaping St Lucia Buns
There are various shapes for St Lucia buns, but my favourite (and probably the easiest) is the classic S.
First begin by dividing your dough using a sharp knife or dough cutter. Press straight down into the dough to cut, don't drag the blade across.
For mini saffron buns, cut into 24 equal parts. Alternatively, make larger full size buns, by dividing into 12.
Working one at a time, roll the pieces into long strands, roughly 10" long. Then, taking each end, turn these in on themselves in opposite directions to form the S. Roll in tightly to meet near the centre as shown in the picture.
Once shaped, place on baking sheets and allow to proof for a second time for 30 minutes. Then brush with an egg wash and place a currant in the centre of each swirl. Bake in a preheated oven until risen and turning golden. Timings will vary dependent on the size of the buns. For the miniature version, this takes about 12 minutes.
FAQs for St Lucia Saffron Buns
These buns are best eaten fresh on the day they're made, once they've cooled. They do not keep fresh for long and tend to stale if left out overnight. If you are making in advance it is best to store airtight or to freeze.
Yes, most definitely! In fact, I would recommend freezing them if you do not intend to eat them immediately as this will keep them preserved best. Once cool, place in ziploc bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Allow to defrost for about an hour at room temperature before consuming.
If you like this recipe, try these other fun breads:
Easy St Lucia Saffron Buns
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon saffron strands
- ¼ cup sugar caster sugar or superfine granulated sugar
- 2¼ teaspoon dry active yeast
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2½ cups all purpose or plain flour
- ¾ cup strong bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs +1 for egg wash
- 2 tablespoon quark or cream cheese optional
- 48 dried currants
- Place the milk, saffron strands and 1 teaspoon of the sugar into a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer (about 5 minutes) and then remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes, until about 113°F (45C) before sprinkling the yeast over. Give this a stir and allow to sit for about 10 minutes until foamy.
- Meanwhile in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, place the flours, remaining sugar and salt. Stir lightly.
- Once the milk and yeast is ready, pour this into the flour, immediately followed by the eggs, butter and quark or cream cheese if using.
- Turn the mixer to a medium low setting and knead for about 15 minutes until the dough has formed and is pulling itself away from the sides of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl and cover in cling film (plastic wrap). Leave in a warm place for about 2 hour until doubled in size.
- Once proofed, knock the dough back and turn out onto a clean work surface.
- Using a dough cutter divide into 24 pieces. Roll each of these out into a long piece (about 12 inches) and twist the ends in to form an S shape. See photos in blog post for demonstration.
- Place the shaped mini buns onto lined baking sheets, well spaced and cover in clean tea towels. Allow to proof for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat an oven to 350°F (175C/155C Fan).
- Following the second proof, brush each bun with beaten egg and press a dried currant in the centre of the swirls on both ends of the bun (see images).
- Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.