If you ever happen to be in Sweden on December 13, there is absolutely no way that you will get around this delicious yellow pastry. The Swedish holiday just before Christmas goes by the name of St. Lucy’s Day which honors holy Lucia from Italy. And Lussekatter play a central role during these celebrations. They are already eaten at home for breakfast and are given out by girls, dressed up as Lucy, during the religious processions. But even though they traditionally receive the most attention on this important holiday, you can find Lussekatter throughout the entire Christmas season. After all, it would be a real shame if this deliciousness was limited to just one day, right?
The yellow swirls come with many different names such as Saffranskuse, Saffransbullar, Lussebulle or Julkuse. Also the variations from the most common shape – the reversed “S” – influence the name. Placing two Lussekatter next to each other, for instance, results in a christmas wagon called “julvagn”. Whereas two crossing buns make up a “julkors”. No matter what the name or shape, what they all have in common is their most typical ingredient: saffron. Of course, it is also due to the exclusive spice that the Lussekatter get their distinct yellow color.
Since the pastries are typical for the cold season, it is not far to seek that Swedes love pairing the “Lucy’s cats” with hot coffee or Glögg, a traditional Swedish winter drink. But the Swedish aren’t the only ones who love the delicious saffron buns. Outside of Sweden, they are also available in Finland, predominantly in Swedish-speaking areas, as well as in Norway.
Yellow-Tinted Lussekatter Against All Evil
Supposedly, it all started in the 17th century in Germany. While Lussekatter had been part of the tradition around Saint Lucy’s Day since then already, they used to be something completely different. Instead of the popular pastry, it was rather small evil figures that carried the unusual name. According to an old legend, the devil had appeared in the form of a cat, dealing out blows to little children while Jesus – depicted by a young girl – gave out bread to the good.
But what does Lussekatter even mean? Until today, it is not entirely clear if “lusse” which literaly translates to “lice” has a straight connection to Lucy or even Lucifer. In any case, both the names of the saint as well as that of the devil stem from the Latin word for “light”. And light has always played a central role on Saint Lucy’s Day. Before the Gregorian calendar reform, December 13 represented winter solstice as the shortest day of the year. Around the world, fire and illumination have always been common means to keep away evil on this event. Allegedly, that is also the reason why saffron and its yellow color came into play – a symbol of light to fight the devil.
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You probably don’t need Lussekatter to keep evil away. But it also won’t do any harm to have some at home, right!? Especially during Christmas season, the traditional Swedish saffron buns are a delicious and comforting sweet snack. And gladly they are easy to make on top. Simply check out our authentic recipe below
200 ml milk
50 g butter
80 g icing sugar
1 tiny jar (0.1 g) saffron
20 g yeast
400 g flour
30 g (or 60 pieces) sultanas
Mix milk, butter, icing sugar and saffron in a pot. Bring to the boil and let it cool down again until lukewarm
Crumle the yeast into the mixture and stir it well until smooth. Add flour and a pinch of salt and knead everything with a mixing machine for about 10 minutes to create a smooth dough
Cover the dough and let it rest until it has doubled in size
Knead the dough one more time with the hands. Form a roll and divide it into 30 even pieces
Out of every piece of dough, form another roll of about 15-20 cm. Roll in both ends spirally in opposite directions in order to form a reversed "S" shape. Place the raw Lussekatter on a tray with baking paper and let it prove for another 30 minutes
Whisk the egg and spread it over the dough whirls. Place a sultana in each spiral, thus 2 per pastry
Pre-heat the oven at 220°C. Bake the Lussekatter for 8-10 minutes until the turn golden brown. Let them cool down slightly on a cooling rack and serve while still warm
Nothing here yet – do you know of anything similar from other countries? Let us know!