Swedish Lucia Saffron Buns

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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

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Method:

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. 

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Something for those January Blues…

Happy New Year!

Its been a busy festive period here at Always So Hungry with travels down to Devon for Christmas via a short stint in Somerset then back up to London and onto Scotland for a New Years Eve wedding and finally back down to London for my start at Leiths.  Can I have a holiday now, please?

Having said that, I had a wonderful few weeks not least because I got to experience my first Hogmanay.  Those Scots sure know how to put on a decent do.

As a little hat tip, I’d like to present a twist on their classic shortbread.  This foolproof recipe has been adapted to add a little flavoursome zing.  I’m not entirely sure what they’d make of it north of the border, but I thought it worked out rather well.  Adjust the flavours to your liking.



Lemongrass and coconut shortbread
(adapted from Leiths Cookery Bible)

You will need:

110g unsalted butter, softened
55g caster sugar + a little extra
110 g plain flour
55 g ground rice/ rice flour
1 lemongrass stems, very finely chopped
1/2 tsp coconut essence (optional)
100 g dessicated coconut

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

2.  Combine the butter, sugar, lemongrass, essence (if using) and 50 g of the coconut in a large bowl. 

3.  Sift the flours into the bowl and work into a smooth paste.

4.  Use a 15cm flan ring onto a lined baking sheet to press half the shortbread paste into a neat circle.  Repeat with the other half of the paste.  Crimp the edges and mark into a 6-8 wedges.  Prick with a fork.  Chill until firm. 

5. Sprinkle the shortbread with a little extra caster sugar and coconut and bake for about 20 minutes until it is a pale biscuit colour.

6.  Run a palate knife underneath the shortbread to release.  Cool for 5 minutes before breaking into wedges.   Alternatively, you can use a glass or round biscuit cutter to make round shortbread.  Prick with a fork and crimp the edges, before rolling the sides in a little of the coconut and baking.