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How to Make St. Lucia Buns

Why this recipe works Lussebullar, also known as St. Lucia buns, are a staple of St. Lucia Day, which ushers in the holiday season in Sweden. While this Swedish delicacy typically gets its rich yellow color from saffron, a spice revered in times past by royalty, many modern commercial bakeries now rely on artificial food dye. We wanted to re-create the classic saffron-flavored dough, with no funny ingredients. We found through testing that we needed just a small amount of saffron—¼ teaspoon—to give these sweet treats balanced flavor, but this left the color a little lacking. We knew we didn’t want to tint our buns with food coloring, so we turned to another yellow spice, turmeric, whose flavor went undetected. Steeping the saffron, along with the turmeric, in boiling water for 15 minutes helped release the full potential of its water-soluble flavor compounds. One-third cup each of sugar and currants (the customary mix-in) gave these buns just enough sweetness. While the dough can be shaped into a variety of traditional forms, we stuck with the most popular “S,” or “cat’s tail,” shape. Brushing the buns with egg wash and giving each an optional sprinkling of pearled sugar created a glossy and festive finish. For an accurate measurement of boiling water, bring a full kettle of water to a boil and then measure out the desired amount. If the dough becomes too soft to work with at any point, refrigerate it until it’s firm enough to easily handle.

  • makes 16 buns
  • rising time 2 to 3 hours
  • baking time 15 minutes
  • total time 3½ to 4½ hours, plus 1 hour cooling time
  • key equipment 2 rimmed baking sheets, rolling pin, pastry brush

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  • ¼ cup (2 ounces) boiling water
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3½ cups (17½ ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) whole milk, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • ⅓ cup (2⅓ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup currants
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water and pinch salt
  • ¼ cup pearled sugar (optional)

1). Combine boiling water, saffron, and turmeric in small bowl and let steep for 15 minutes.

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2). Whisk flour, yeast, and salt together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk milk, melted butter, granulated sugar, egg, and saffron mixture in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until sugar has dissolved. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.

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3). Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to low, slowly add currants, and mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes.

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4). Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Place dough seam side down in lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until increased in size by about half, 1½ to 2 hours.

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5). Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Press down on dough to deflate, then transfer to clean counter. Press and roll dough into 16 by 6-inch rectangle, with long side parallel to counter edge. Using pizza cutter or chef’s knife, cut rectangle vertically into 16 (6 by 1-inch) strips and cover loosely with greased plastic.

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6). Working with 1 dough strip at a time (keep remaining pieces covered), stretch and roll into 16-inch rope. (If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 to 10 minutes before trying to stretch it again.)

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7). Coil ends of rope in opposite directions to form tight S shape. Arrange buns on prepared sheets, spaced about 2½ inches apart. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until puffy, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

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8). Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush buns with egg mixture and sprinkle with pearled sugar, if using. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Transfer rolls to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour, before serving.

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problem The buns taste flat.

solution Steep the saffron for a full 15 minutes.

This recipe calls for just a modest amount of pricey saffron threads: ¼ teaspoon. When saffron is steeped in hot water, the water takes on a deep yellow hue very quickly. But to fully coax out the saffron flavor don’t rush this step. You need to steep the saffron, with the turmeric, for the full 15 minutes called for in the recipe. This will bring out a round saffron flavor in the buns that is just right.

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