Saint Lucia’s Day, the traditional feast day of St. Lucy, is observed on December 13th.
St. Lucy (also known as Saint Lucia) was one of the early Christian martyrs, killed because of her religious beliefs around 304 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian
Born into a wealthy family in Sicily, tradition says that Lucy, after dedicating her life to Christ, refused to marry a pagan man whom she was promised. Instead she devoted her life to Christian service and gave all her money and possessions to the poor. The man who she refused to marry was unhappy and reported her to the authorities. She was brought to court and eventually executed.
In a particularly cruel act before her execution, Lucy’s eyes were gouged out. However, the story goes that even without her eyes, she could still see. Commemorating this story through art, paintings of St. Lucia, such as the 1620 painting by Palma il Giovane pictured above, often depict Lucy holding her gouged out eyes on a plate!
Her feast day on December 13th falls during some of the shortest and darkest days of the year. Her feast is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, we can still see with eyes of faith. And, of course, the name Lucy means light. Following St. Lucy means learning to see with eyes of faith in a dark world.
St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated as a festival of lights. Sweden, in particular, observes St. Lucia Day as one of their most cherished Advent celebrations. In addition to community parades and processions, families observe the special day by having the eldest daughter portray Lucia. With a crown of lighted candles on her head she serves freshly baked breads, pastries and hot drinks to her family. Lussekatter, a Swedish saffron bun, is a traditional bread used on St. Lucia’s Day and one of our recipes for this week. Notice that raisins are placed in the spirals of the saffron buns, representing St. Lucy’s infamous eyes!
Pictured Above: Santa Lucia by Palma il Giovane (1620)
St. Lucy Buns
Prep Time: 30 minutes | Baking Time: 18 – 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 45minutes | Makes 12 Buns
1 cup (227 grams) milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 1/2 cups (539 grams) All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (43 grams) dried potato flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk and 1/4 saffron threads (crushed) over medium heat until simmering. Once simmering, remove from the heat and stir in the 8 tablespoons butter until melted and mixed. Cover and let the mixture cool in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), whisk together the 1 tablespoon instant yeast, 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup dried potato flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.
3. Once the milk/saffron/butter mixture has cooled in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, pour the mixture over the dry ingredients.
4. Separate 1 egg, and set the white aside. (This egg white will be used as a glaze at the end of the recipe.) Add 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk (from the separated egg above), and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix to combine, then knead for about 10 minutes by hand (or 6 – 7 minutes if using a stand mixer.) The dough should be smooth when finished kneading.
5. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 hour.
6. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into rough logs, cover and let them rest for 10 minutes.
7. Roll each piece into a 16″ to 18″ rope.
8. Shape each rope into a tightly rolled “S” shape.
9. Add a golden raisin into the center of each of the spirals of the “S”. Tuck the raisins in the spiral so they don’t fall out when transferring the tray to the oven.
10. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a little space between each bun. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes.
11. Position the racks in your oven to the lower third and upper third position. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
12. Whisk the egg white (which was set aside in step 4) with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Brush each bun with the glaze.
13. Bake until golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Halfway through rotate the pans and switch racks to ensure even baking. After 15 minutes the raisins may begin to burn. To prevent burning, small pieces of foil can be placed over the raisins for the final few minutes of baking.
14. Remove the buns from the oven and place them on a cooling rack.
St. Lucia’s Eyes
This recipe is a version of a taralli, a traditional Italian snack food in the shape of tiny cracker-like rings (or eyes, in this case.) Tarallis can be either sweet or savory. While this recipe calls for a sugar glaze, feel free to experiment with alternate toppings such as sea salt.
While the ingredients and instructions may appear to be short and simple, the process of rolling and shaping the small individual taralli rings can take a while.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound confectioners sugar
3/4 cup water
1. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) combine the 1/4 cup olive oil and the 1 cup dry white wine and mix the two.
2. Add the 3 cups all-purpose flour and mix for 10 – 15 minutes until the flour and the liquids are completely combined and the dough is firm. If mixing by hand you may want to start by mixing with a wooden spoon and then work with your hands once a dough starts to form. Because of the ingredients, the dough will have a unique feel to the touch.
3. Place the dough on the countertop and then tear off a small piece and roll by hand into a long, thin rope about 1/4” thick.
4. Cut the rope into 1″ long pieces and form a tiny ring by connecting the two ends and pressing them together until they stick. (I found it helpful to place the 1”, or slightly longer, piece around my pinky, press the two sides together, and the take it off, like a ring.)
5. Place the rings on a baking sheet. Continue the process until all the dough is used.
6. Preheat the over to 375F and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Take out of the oven and allow the rings to cool on the pan after baking.
For icing glaze:
1. Make your icing by combining the 1 pound confectioners sugar with 3/4 cup water over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it just starts to boil. Remove from the heat and continue stirring until it thickens slightly.
2. Place the icing in a metal bowl and then add the baked rings. Using a wooden spoon, evenly coat the rings and then transfer them to a drying rack to let dry for several hours, until the icing is completely dry, hardens, and turns an off-white color.