Winter Solstice Food: Swedish Saffron Buns and an Italian Saint

With last night's temperatures reaching down into the 30s and a repeat expected tonight, you might think you're experiencing a bit of Scandinavian winter weather. Ok, not quite. Try frigid temperatures AND total darkness for most of the day for several months. In fact, according to the ancient Julian calendar, we've reached winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and Santa Lucia - or Saint Lucy- traditions are taking place all over Scandinavia to celebrate that at this point daylight begins to increase again.

Lucia lived in Sicily around 300 A.D. and legend has it she wore candles on her head to light the way as she walked the village helping the needy. It's unclear how this tradition made its way to Sweden - a smitten sailor maybe? Whatever the case, the Swedes know her as the beautiful young woman, dressed in white and wearing a crown of burning candles, who came out of Vanem, Sweden's biggest lake, to feed the hungry during a famine.

These days this festival of lights is carried out in many Scandinavian homes. The eldest daughter wears a candle head dress and, accompanied by her siblings, brings saffron buns to her parents.

So as you bundle up today, warm the kitchen with some saffron buns and be thankful that the sun is shining and you don't have to wear candles on your head .

Swedish saffron buns

1/2 tsp dried saffron threads
1 cup half and half
2 envelopes dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
4 cups sifted flour, or as needed
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water
1 egg white, beaten
Raisins or currants for decoration
lump sugar, crushed
slivered blanched almonds for decoration

Crush dry saffron to a fine powder and steep in 2 tbsp lukewarm half and half for 10 minutes. Sprinkle yeast into 1/4 cup lukewarm water, add 1 tbsp sugar, cover lightly and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until foamy.
Scald remaining half and half and add 1/3 cup sugar, salt and butter and stir until butter melts. Cool to lukewarm. Add to yeast mixture along with saffron milk and 1 beaten egg. Mix well.

Gradually stir in flour until mixture is smooth and not sticky, but still soft and pliable. Knead for 10 minutes, or until shiny and elastic.

Place in a lightly floured bowl, dust top of dough with flour, cover loosely and set to rise for about 2 hours.

Punch down dough and knead for 3 minutes and let rise for 30 minutes more. Pinch of small bits of dough and roll into sausage shape about 7 inches long. Place these strips together in pairs, pinching the centers to join them and coiling four ends out. Brush with egg yolk, glaze and bake in a 375F oven for 35 minutes, until golden. Take the buns out and while still warm, use a little egg white and stick a raisin or currant in the center of each coil, drizzle with sugar and slivered almonds.

Recipe adapted from

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Christina Staalstrom