Memories and healthy recipes for your dinner table.

Saint Lucia Day: Serving Up Saffron Buns in Bed

Artwork: The Queen of Lights by Pamela Delli Colli

Saint Lucy of Syracuse Day, also known as Saint Lucia, honors a young Christian woman during the time of the Diocletian Persecution in Italy. The Empire was still housed in Pagan beliefs. The government severely persecuting those who followed Christianity.

Many legends have been passed down through the generations of time. It is unclear, however, which of the details is fact or fiction. We do know, Lucy was martyred for her unwavering devotion to God and her refusal to marry due to a previous commitment to God. According to legends she was denounced for being a Christian, out of spite, by her betrothed.

Some legends tell of several miraculous deliverances from torture and execution. It is said that when the soldiers came to take her away, she was so filled with the Holy Spirit that they could not move her. The guards may have removed her eyes and yet she was still able to see. She was then sentenced to death but the fire was unable to consume her. Consequently she was stabbed to death.

Other accounts describe Lucy dressed in white bearing a tray laden with food for the Christians who where hiding from the Roman persecutors. A crown like garland of candles encircled her head, lighting her way through the dark underground tunnels. While other rumors place her on a ship with her white robes and halo delivering food to starving groups of people in Sicily and as far north as Sweden, Norway and Denmark; who were suffering from famine.  Many believe the latter is the result of Viking traders, who traveled the Mediterranean taking her legends home with them.

December 13th commemorates the feast of Saint Lucia’s martyrdom. It is also coincides with the first day of Christmas Celebration or Winter Solstice in Scandinavia. Young girls dress in white and done a halo of evergreen, flowers or candles. In some parts of the world boys and girls gather in a parade to honor Lucy’s love for the poor and testimony of faith by going door to door with a tray of saffron buns and coffee. While others, such as my sister-n-law Natalie, quietly pay homage to the Saint by choosing the oldest or youngest daughter to serve sweet breads and Cuccia (a sweet porridge made with wheat berries, chocolate, sugar and milk) and coffee to all the family members or just the parents in bed.

Natalie was searching for fun year round traditions. In her search she found the story of Saint Lucia. I believe the oldest wears the flower head piece and carries the tray of sweets to the children in their beds. This year we start our own Saint Lucia tradition. I like the idea of the traditional saffron buns and Cuccia. There is something warm and inviting about lit candles but Adelin will not be wearing them. Instead we plan on putting our Christmas lights up outside and battery operated candles in the windows.

Saint Lucia Buns or Saffron Buns:
Cardamon is another common Scandinavian ingredient sometimes added to saffron buns. These buns are meant to be formed in delightful shapes. A fantastic task fit for a kid. Let them get really creative making cats, dogs, the traditional figure eight or in Mason’s case a Clone trooper.

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick ) butter, melted
1 teaspoon saffron threads (a good pinch)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup currants
2 eggs, warmed
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1 large egg, beaten
Sugar sprinkles, optional

To make the dough: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar. Heat the milk and add the melted butter to it; cool until the mixture is lukewarm.

Grind the saffron with 1 teaspoon of the sugar, using a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon in a small dish. Add 1 tablespoon of the warm milk-and-butter mixture and allow the saffron to steep for 5 minutes.

Add the saffron mixture, milk-and-butter mixture, sugar, salt, currants and eggs to the yeast. Using an electric blender on medium speed, beat until blended. Add 2 cups flour and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the remaining flour and mix with a wooden spoon to make a medium-stiff dough. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead for 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and satiny. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to lightly oil the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

To make a braided wreath: Punch the dough down and divide into 3 parts. With the palms of your hands, roll and shape each part into a rope-like strand about 36 inches long. Braid the strands by aligning them vertically and alternately crossing each outer strand over the center strand. Shape the braid into a circle and place on a greased or parchment-covered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together where they meet to seal the strands and to conceal the beginning and end of the braid.

Transfer to the baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar sprinkles if using. Let rise for about 45 minutes or just until puffy.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the dough comes out clean and dry. Cool on a rack. Makes 16 servings.

Note: To make two smaller wreaths: Divide the dough into 2 parts and braid as above. Place each wreath on a baking sheet, allow to rise and bake for about 20 minutes.