St. Lucia Day is celebrated throughout Scandinavia and in Italy where St. Lucia was born and died a martyr under the Roman Emporer Diocletian, circa 300 A.D. The story goes that while she was carrying food supplies into the catacombs to hiding Christians, she needed her hands free so she fashioned a wreath of candles in her hair to light her way.
That story, combined with Medieval superstions about the winter solstice being a night of evil lurking in the dark giving way to the light and goodness of morning, transcended into a celebration of St. Lucia, the girl with the lighted wreath in her hair leading the people out into the literal and philosophical light, freedom, and goodness, by having the oldest daughter of the family dress in a long white dress with a red sash and a wreath of candles in her hair serve saffron buns and coffee to her family on the morning of the holiday.
The story has always appealed to me. As the oldest daughter, I like the idea of serving my family and if part of that is cooking, then I'll be there with bells on. Or candles on. Or a mag flashlight or anything that won't burn me alive in the process of the fun.
To mark the day two years ago I made individual swirled saffron buns. They were lovely tasting but I wasn't crazy about the way the raisins looked. No big. This year, though, I went for a different presentation method and loved the results!
I took this to the neighborhood Christmas party where I sliced it and served it with cinnamon honey butter and have gotten several compliments on it. Served not for breakfast, but in the evening, it was still a hit. What I love most about it is in the midst of all the candy and super sweets of the season, this stands out by being understated. It's perfect for breakfast or as a side since it's sweet but not desserty with lots of flavor and a soft but sturdy crumb.
St. Lucia Saffron Bread (Saffransbrod--Sweden)
from Scandinavian Cooking by Beatrice Ojakangas
1 envelope active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp saffron threads or 1/16 tsp powdered saffron
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins
2 eggs, slighly beaten
3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp milk
1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)
1/4 cup pearl sugar (or dusting sugar or crushed sugar cubes)
In a smsall bowl, stir yeast into warm water, let stand 5 minutes to soften. In a small saucepan, combine milk and saffron. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until milk turns a deep yellow. Pour through a strainer into a large bowl. Stir in butter, sugar, salt, and raisins. Cool slightly, stir in yeast mixture and eggs. Beating to keep mixutre smooth, stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a slightly floured board. Coverr with a dry cloth; let stand 5-15 minutes. Wash and grease bowl; set aside. Grease a large baking sheet; set aside. Adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. knead dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 2 hours. Punch down dough; turn out onto a lightly oiled surface. Shape by dividing into 4 pieces, rolling out each piece by hand into a long rope. Set one rope aside. With the other three, form a bread. Curve this around into a circle on the baking sheet, pinch ends together. Over the pinched together closing, use 4th rope to form a bow and place there. Let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush tops of raised dough with Egg Glaze (simply combine the three ingredients). Sprinke with sliced almonds and dust with sugar. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not overbake. Cool on a rack.
Cinnamon Honey Butter: Mix together 4 tbsp softened butter, 1 tsp honey, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.