St. Lucia was a Roman girl who refused to renounce her devotion to God and marry some guy she didn't love, so she was sentenced to be burned and her eyes poked out and whatnot - but because she was a good Christian the fire wouldn't burn her. That's why the poor oldest girl in the family who brings mom and dad special saffron buns (called lussekatter, or cat's eyes) and coffee in bed on the morning of December 13th is supposed to wear a wreath decorated with flaming candles - while balancing a tray with hot coffee and wearing a long white dress. Maybe the custom was intended as a form of population control....
Mimi, above, is wearing a battery operated wreath, (which I could not find for sale online anywhere!), and the coffee cup is empty. Also because she is a bit clumsy at times, it's a plastic cup, as is the plate. But Daddy is being a good Daddy and bringing the real deal for Mommy on a separate tray. That's the most important part of the tradition. Plus, they've all let Mommy sleep in a bit.
I can fantasize.
Anyway, the buns are good. (I think especially good if you substitute some chunks of high quality dark chocolate for the raisins, but you can be all healthy and dried fruit-ish if you prefer.) This recipe is not from my Norwegian mom, but from a friend and neighbor who's a really attractive Hispanic/African-American/Polish mix and an outstanding cook. (Here's a link to a very similar recipe using metric units: saffron buns.)
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup butter
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 pkg dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs (1 for the dough, 1 for the “wash” before baking)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp saffron (or just cheat and add a little yellow food coloring)
2 ¾ cups flour
1 T cooking oil (I use canola)
Extra 1 T water
2-3 dozen raisins or chocolate chunks
Heat the milk in the microwave or a small saucepan to about 115 degrees. Add the butter (cut in small pieces) and stir until it dissolves.
Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and set aside for 5 minutes. (Note: I add a little of the sugar to the water and yeast, so the yeast has some food while it proofs.)
Add the milk and butter mixture to the water and yeast. Then stir in the sugar, one egg, salt, and saffron. Gradually add the flour, stirring until it forms a smooth ball (you will probably have some flour left at this point). Sprinkle flour on a board and put the ball of dough on it to rest, covered with the bowl, for 15 minutes.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes, gradually working in the remaining flour (and more if needed) until it’s very smooth and elastic. Wash the bowl and oil it well with the canola oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and turn it over several times until it’s coated well all over.
Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and place it in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Punch down the dough and turn it out on a lightly floured board. Divide it into 12 parts. Roll each piece into a long rope, then coil the ends in opposite directions so it makes sort of a tight “S” shape. Place the rolls 2” apart on greased cookie sheets (I spray mine with Pam). Cover the rolls with a towel and place in a warm place again. Let them rise for 30-45 minutes until doubled in bulk.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the remaining egg and T of water with a fork and brush over the tops of each bun. Decorate the buns with raisins or chocolate chunks.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack and then serve to Mommy in bed on December 13th, along with some really good coffee, a little OJ or grapefruit juice. Oh, and bring a copy of the paper. And then go away for an hour or so.
One final note: my drawing of Mimi's wreath is wrong - I should only have put 7 candles on it. Also, I'm big into recycling these days, which is why I did this sketch on the back of a piece of paper with the corrections for my husband's law text (which you can order here if you need an extra (expensive) booster seat for young visitors during the holidays, or if you're really, really hoping to get some light reading on Federal Civil Procedure for Christmas). So those weird little squiggly things that show through aren't really intentional - you don't need to hunt for white fabric with a faint strange pattern if you want to make a St. Lucia dress.