Swedish Lucia Saffron Buns




Happy 2014!

I hope that you were able to spend some of it with loved ones, some of it relaxing, some of it cooking and some of it eating!

I rather overdid it, partly because as a Swede celebrating Christmas in the UK, I have twice the festive fun.  First there’s a traditional Swedish ‘jul’ on the 24th with a heaving smörgåsbord of ham, meatballs, spiced bread, red cabbage and Janssons temptation (a creamy potato gratin with sweet conserved sprats- odd but delicious). All washed down with plenty of beer and snaps, of course.

In Sweden this gluttony is traditionally followed by an hour of conking out in front of Donald Duck’s Christmas, broadcast every year at the same time to the delight of every Swedish child and every exhausted Swedish parent.  Presents are opened when it gets dark (so about 3pm, then) and then just to add some pagan flair, everyone dances around the Christmas tree.  And then if all that wasn’t enough I also got to have a proper English Christmas on the 25th with Toby’s family- a full turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies, the whole schebang.  So I’m still pretty much still full.  Roll on healthy eating this month!

In the meantime, here’s a recipe for a Swedish festive classic- Lucia buns.  Saffron was, of course, a very expensive spice (and it still doesn’t come particularly cheap) and therefore used to flavour sweet bread in the run up to this celebratory season.  But I think these buns are delicious all year round and, seeing as I have a freezer full of them, I may well be enjoying them well into Spring!

The pictures in this post are curtsy of the fantastically talented photographer, Faith Mason.  You can see more of her work here.  More to come from the photo shoot we did together recently, including paprika spiced chicken with apricots and a pheasant casserole!

Saffron Buns (also called Lucia Buns)
Makes about 30-35 buns

You will need:
200g unsalted butter
500ml full fat milk
3g saffron strands
1 sugar cube
50g fresh yeast
pinch of salt
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten + 1 egg, beaten
1 kg plain flour + extra for kneading
handful of raisins or sultanas



1.  Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add the milk and heat to body temperature (you can test this by sticking your finger into the pan- it should not feel hot or cold, just wet!).

2.  Bash the saffron in a pestle and mortar with the sugar cube.  The cube will act as an abrasive and break up the strands into a rough powder. Add this to the butter and milk. 

3.  Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and about 3 tbsp lukewarm water.  Mix to dissolve the yeast.  Pour the saffron, milk and butter mixture into the bowl and whisk together before adding the 2 beaten eggs. 

4.  Add enough of the flour, about 900g-1kg to form a dough, mixing with a substantial wooden spoon initially, then using your hands to bring the dough together.  Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until you have an elastic dough.  Clean out your bowl and return the dough to it, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warmish place for 1- 1.5 hours, until doubled in size. 

5.  Heat the oven to 220C.  Line to baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease with a flavourless oil.  Tip the dough out onto your floured work surface.  Knead briefly to knock out some air, then divide the dough into 2 parts.  Divide each of these into 4 and then into 4 again- so you end up with 32 pieces of dough, although you may find that you want to divide some bigger pieces into two buns, depending on how accurate you are with your dough-dividing!

6.  Roll each piece into a long, thin sausage.  Place the sausage in front of you, vertically.  Roll the top end down to the right.  Roll the bottom end upwards to the left.  You should end up with an ‘S’ shape.  Stick a raisin into the middle of each end and place on your baking sheet.  Continue with the remaining dough.   Leave each baking sheet to prove for about 30 minutes before brushing lightly with the remaining beaten egg. 

7.  Bake in the hot oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden and baked through.  Leave to cool under a tea towel- this will stop them from drying out.  Enjoy with a mug of mulled wine or freeze for later. 


Something to nibble under the mistletoe

Pepparkakor are to Swedish Christmas what mince pies are to English Christmas.  One without the other would be a bit of a sin, really.  

 Although you can find them in shops all year round, these spicy gingerbread biscuits with their taste of cloves, cinnamon and ginger are undeniably Christmassy and ubiquitous come the first of advent.

Apart from being delicious accompanied by a mug of glögg (Swedish, much stronger mulled wine) or a cup of Earl Grey, they are also rather wonderful as canape bases for your Christmas party.  You might think me mad, but topped with some blue cheese, they are an absolutely dreamy combo of salty and sweet and a perfect pairing with a glass of fizz.  In my family, they were also always part of Christmas eve breakfast.

This is my recipe, which makes for quite crisp biscuits with a slight citrus tang from the lemon essence and dried bitter orange peel (pomeransskal).  I realise these two ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but you could easily substitute for a teaspoon each of grated lemon and orange peel.  Or try ordering them online.  Cloves can be quite difficult to find ground in the UK and US, but are essential in this recipe.  You can always try grinding whole cloves yourself in a pestle and mortar if you can’t source the ground stuff. 

This recipe is best when the dough has been left to mature for a few days in the fridge.  It also freezes very well.  A word of caution for when you do come to bake them, though: Don’t step away from the kitchen.  These beauties burn in a millisecond.  Watch them like a hawk.

Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingerbread Biscuits)

You will need:
250g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
150ml golden syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract (or 1 tsp lemon peel, grated)
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp bitter orange peel (or 1 tsp orange peel, grated)
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
500 g plain flour


1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl before adding the syrup and lemon extract (or lemon and orange peel, if using).

2.  Combine all the dry ingredients (spices, flour and bicarb) in a smaller bowl and beat into to the butter mixture.

3.  Knead quickly to form a sticky dough.  Separate into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but preferably a few days.  You can also freeze the dough until you need it. 

4.  Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for about an hour before using.

5.  Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.  Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment. 

6.  On a floured work surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as you dare.   Use cookie-cutters to stencil out they shapes you would like. If the dough becomes to sticky and difficult to use, return to the fridge for a little while. 

7.  Carefully place onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn. 

A Bit of Brightness

There is a glut of clementines about at the moment.  Every shop I go into, every fruit and veg stall I pass, there they are in gargantuan, abundant piles.  Often accompanied by an enormous 2-4-1 sign.  This strikes me as surprising, given that I read a while ago that sales of oranges have actually gone down in recent years.  Apparently we are too lazy to peel them- we simply can’t be bothered.  Perhaps this is because these days we only really know how to use our fingers to text.  And, obviously, this ability will soon be replaced with only knowing how to use our thumbs for touch screens.  Other fingers will become superfluous.

But, all is not lost because clearly clementines are bucking the trend!  The supermarkets would have you believe that they are immensely popular, even this time of year, post Christmas.  The problem becomes what to do with them when you don’t have a stocking to put them in anymore.

I’ve been looking at ways to use up ours and decided to whizz up this Clementine Cake, created by Rangemaster’s home economist Alison Trinder, brought to my attention by the ACHICA website.  ‘This wonderfully moist and tangy cake is very easy to make and perfect for fan ovens,’ is how it was described.  ‘Gentle, consistent heat ensures that the cake will cook evenly and retain essential moisture for an irresistible afternoon treat.’  All very well put, Alison.  And I would agree, it is a joyful cake, with almost Caribbean zest and zeal (just look at the colour!  Only really very slightly enhanced in post-production, I can assure you.  Sort of.)    Having said that, the cake was a bit too much of a faff for me.  I enjoyed eating it, as did my boyfriend, flatmate and colleagues (it makes for a mighty big cake).  However, I wouldn’t say that all the different component-y, bit-y stages (separating the eggs, whisking the whites, grating the rest, making the syrup from x many clementines, using the pulp from y, etc, etc.) was necessarily worth it.  Just my opinion.  But give it a go. Tell me what you think.

Clementine, Yogurt and Polenta Cake

12 seedless clementines, satsumas or tangerines
450g/16oz caster sugar
200g/7oz butter, softened plus a little for greasing
the grated zest of 1 lemon
3 medium sized eggs, separated
300g/10oz ground almonds
100g/4oz polenta or semolina
150ml pot of natural yogurt


1. Melt 250g of the sugar in a small pan with 330ml of boiling water, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice five of the fruits horizontally, discarding the ends. Add the slices to the pan with the sugar and water. Cover and simmer until the skin of the fruit is tender – this will take about 20 minutes.

3. Grease and base line a 25cm/10″ loose bottomed tin. Remove the fruit slices from the pan when tender, and arrange as neatly as possible over the base of the cake tin.

4. Grate the zest from the seven remaining fruits and put to one side.

5. Squeeze the juice from four and stir into the syrup. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until thick. Allow to cool.

6. Mix the remaining 200g sugar with the softened butter, lemon zest and the set aside zest. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time.

7. Peel the three remaining fruits, removing as much pith as possible, and whiz in a food processor until pulpy.  Add the fruit pulp to the cake mixture with the almonds, polenta and yogurt. Then whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold in to the mixture.

8. Carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place into a pre-heated oven 160ºC Fan oven, 170ºC Conventional oven, Gas 4.

9. Bake until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour, when the cake will be golden brown and risen. Cool the cake in the tin.

To serve: Invert the cake on to a serving plate, spoon over some of the syrup to glaze the fruit slices. Serve with cream, ice-cream or crème fraiche and the remaining syrup.


Having never made mince pies before, I thought it was high time I gave it a go.  Particularly because my Christmas baking has been pretty much non-existent this year.  Normally I would at least do a batch of pepparkakor or some saffrony Lucia buns.  But because I got a new job a few weeks before Christmas, my head was full and my energy levels were too depleted to do anything but lie comatose on the sofa watching terrible santa films starring Will Ferrell or Vince Vaughn. 
(As a side note, can I just take the opportunity to rave enthusiastically about my favourite Christmas present- a slanket.  I will never be cold again.  Also, turns out it if you turn it around it doubles up as a monk-like robe.  Useful.)
I thought the one thing I did bake should be a proper challenge.  That and I also promised I would bring them for a pudding at my friend Matilda’s pastry-themed dinner party. 
Because I’m not English, I thought this would automatically put me at a mince pie disadvantage.  As if making them is somehow a genetic trait, passed down from generation to generation or maybe cultivated through more years of tea-drinking and playing croquet than I have managed to amass. 
Turns out this is not the case.  Mince pies are EASY, man.  In fact, too easy.  I had to add an extra challenge by making my own mincemeat.   I understand that most people buy it in jars, something which I am now quite confused by.  Because it turns out making mincemeat from scratch is also really easy.   You are going to have to do better, England, I want to be pushed!
So this is Nigella’s mincemeat recipe and makes about 1.5- 2kg of the stuff, so quite a lot.  Divide to make smaller amounts. It is also suet-free, which is the way I think I prefer it, now that I am an expert. You’ll need your largest saucepan if you are making the full amount.

You will need:
250g soft, dark sugar
250ml medium-dry cider
1 kg cooking apples, peeled, halved, quartered.
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
250g currants
250g raisins
75g glace cherries, preferably natural coloured, chopped.
75g blanched almonds, finely chopped.
1 lemon (juice and zest of)
90ml rum or brandy.
Heat the sugar and cider over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. 
Roughly chop the apples and add them to the pan, letting them cook away.    
Add all the other ingredients apart from the booze and leave to simmer and bubble for about 30 minutes, until everything looks soft and pulpy.  You may need to mash things together to help the mixture along a bit.
Take the pan off the heat and leave for a bit before stirring in the rum or brandy. 
Spoon into sterilized jars until ready for putting into your pies, I went with star-topped ones.  

Julbord in Stockholm

The Julbord in its full glory

Back in the day, not so long ago, pretty much all Swedes were simple country folk who slaughtered their pig at Christmas. And so, even now, most Swedish Christmas food is pretty pork-centric. The piece de resistance on the Christmas table (yes, a smörgåsbord, if the term must be used but ‘julbord’ is actually more appropriate here) is a big ham.

Fishy delights

This is accompanied by a spice-packed rye bread, hard bread, sausages, meatballs, ribs, potatoes, red cabbage, terrines, Janssons Temptation (a potato and anchovy gratin), roe with sour cream and red onions, herring in many different forms (mostly pickled in things like mustard, sour cream, fresh herbs, and less conventional concoctions with oriental flavours like soy), a herring salad, prawns, salmon and a sort of filled almond-pastry case called an ‘almond mussel’ with cream and berries for pudding. I think that’s all I can remember. This is all washed down with copious amounts of beer and snaps or a sort of shandy called ‘mumma.’ And glögg, Swedish mulled wine to start with. Pretty intense, basically!

To Finish