Right, enough with the biscuits! I think it’s time to broaden the festive fare, and move over the buns, and what buns they are! I’ve decided to make a “twist” on traditional Swedish lussebullar, the famous saffron buns served around St Lucia on 13 December, but I’ve made them in a spiral rather than the usual scroll shape. If you want to know more about this, I recommend this article on Foodie Underground by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (who also did the fabulous illustrations) for some history on the buns and the Scandinavian traditions around the celebration of St Lucia.
This is actually an adaptation of my cinnamon bun recipe, but without the usual spices. Instead, the dough contains saffron, so it turns the most glorious shade of golden yellow when you’re making it. Really, it is almost worth doing just to see that bright, glowing colour. It will make you happy, honestly! Not only is it a treat for the eyes, but the aroma of the saffron is also quite intoxicating (if you happen to like saffron, of course).
You could just make these without any filling (usually there is none in authentic lussebullar), but I got a tip from a reader, suggesting using grated almond paste and sultanas per a family recipe. In all honesty, I was sold on this idea the moment I read about it, but could not resist a peek into my copy of The Flavour Thesaurus to check whether saffron and almonds are a “thing”.
Well, it turns out they are, the book confirming that almonds and saffron are a good combination. Apparently, it’s the bitter notes in saffron that marry well with the sweet-bitter flavours in almonds. I also happened to have half a bar of almond paste from making Bethmännchen a few days ago, so a perfect way to make sure it didn’t go to waste. In a nod to the original recipe, I skipped the sultanas in favour of currants, and I think they worked well – their smaller size suited these buns, and the contrast of the yellow and black looks really quite jolly.
Of course, the important thing here is the taste test, and I am happy to report that my fake Scandinavia festive saffron buns are utterly, ridiculously delicious!
The saffron and almonds are fragrant, and they were amazing while fresh and still warm (or cheat – 10 seconds in the microwave if you’re a little late to the party). They also don’t need much by way of decoration – nothing more than a quick glaze when they come out of the oven to give them a lovely shine, but otherwise, they look stunning as they are. Bright and sunny, such a contrast to the grey chill outside. These would be a perfect addition to a festive brunch!
In all honesty, I have to say that this is a bit of cheat’s version of proper lussebullar. They are normally shaped into intricate scrolls or other shapes, and my roll-and-slice approach just skips all that. However, if you’re busy around Christmas and want something a little different, I really cannot recommend these highly enough.
To make Saffron Buns (makes 12):
For the dough:
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g white caster sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 0.5g saffron threads (a teaspoon)
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 325g strong white flour
For the filling:
• 100g currants
• 120g almond paste
For the glaze:
• 50g white sugar
• 50ml water
1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring the boil, remove from the heat, crush the saffron strands, add to the milk and leave the lot until lukewarm.
2a. If using a bread machine: put one of the eggs, the saffron milk and the rest of the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!
2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk mixture and one egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.
3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Sprinkle over the currants, and grate the almond paste directly onto the dough. Roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.
3. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Beat the remaining egg, and use to brush on the buns. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, turning half way if necessary. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.
5. In the meantime, make the sugar glaze. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook for 1 minutes.
6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot sugar glaze.
Worth making? Just one word – sensational!