Saffron Buns

There’s no other pastry, baked good or sweet treat that feels as quintessentially Swedish Christmas as the traditional saffron bun – at least in our opinion. They’re not only really pretty, with their golden yellow color and characteristic shape, but they’re delicious too. As in, you can eat at least a few in one sitting. Growing up here means every beginning of December, you bake a round of these at home. That’s just a fact. There will most likely be Christmas music playing in the background. There will most likely be dough eating to the point of bellies hurting. And it’ll be glorious. I LOVED the saffron bun baking day when I was little. I still do. SO much.

Saffron is a common Christmas spice here, and we tend to make at least one or two other holiday recipes with it every year. A favorite is saffron biscotti with whole almonds – a bag will be gone in no time – and another gem is saffron soft caramels (saffranskola in Swedish), which will get stuck in your teeth just the perfect amount. You know, it’ll be a little annoying but you’ll go for another one anyway. This year, we might be shooting for something new though. There’s been talk about a saffron-white chocolate concoction, for example, so we’ll see what happens with that. After all, switching things up every now and then can’t hurt. This year, we decided to change up the placement of our Christmas tree, for example – I mean, you hear. Big things happening.

Tomorrow, December 13th, is St Lucia Day here in Sweden. More for this day than for Christmas itself, these saffron buns will be eaten by the millions. This is our go-to recipe – we like the overnight rise since it allows for the flavors to develop a lot more, and while we do like kneading around here, using a handmixer or something of the like will guarantee moist, non-dry buns. If we ditch hand-kneading when making these, you can too. And as for the braid-style bun, it’s not complicated at all. Just follow the instructional pictures and you’ll be good! Happy Lucia Day, everyone – or Glad Lucia, as we say in Swedish 🙂

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Makes 32 regular buns or 4 braided buns (NOTE: this recipe calls for an overnight rise)

200 g salted butter
5 dl milk of your choice
50 g fresh yeast 
1 g ground saffron
1 tsp salt
2 dl sugar
960 g (approx. 16 dl) wheat flour
1 egg, for brushing
1/2-1 dl raisins (lesser amount for regular buns, more for braids) 
Optional: pearl sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the milk and bring the mixture to 37ºC. Turn off and remove from the heat.
  2. In a large bowl, crumble the yeast. Add in the butter-milk mixture, a little at a time, and let the yeast dissolve as you stir. Make sure no yeast lumps remain.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar. Add to the yeast-milk bowl.
  4. Add in the remaining ingredients using a large mixing spoon, but make sure to work in the flour bit by bit instead of adding it all at once.
  5. Once the dough – which will be quite sticky – has come together in the bowl, either beat it using a handmixer (with the dough hooks attached) or knead by hand. If going with the former, beat for 7-8 min. If choosing the latter, knead for about 10 min (you might have to add in a little bit more flour here, which is why we prefer the handmixer for this recipe, since it’ll make sure the buns come out moist and not one bit dry).
  6. When the dough looks elastic and a little glossy, cover the bowl with a plastic top or plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to rise over night (at least 8 hrs but feel free to go even longer). Covering the bowl with a tea towel works too, but make sure you don’t have anything with a strong odor in your fridge, since it can be transferred.
  7. The next day, tip the dough out onto a clean work surface dusted with flour (to prevent sticking). Knead the dough for about 1 min. For the braided buns, see instructions below*. For S-shaped buns: cut the dough into 8 equally big pieces, and then cut each piece into 4 smaller ones. Roll out each piece into a long roll (to about the diameter of your thumb) and twist the two ends opposite ways in order to create the classic S-shape. Place the buns on a parchment covered baking sheet, but make sure to space them out. It’s much better to do a few rounds of oven baking instead of cramming them together. You can just place the remaining buns on another piece of parchment paper, which can be slid onto the baking sheet when it’s time.
  8. Cover the buns with a clean tea towel, and let rise in a preferably warm, draft-free place for 45 min.
  9. Place the raisins in a small bowl and add in water enough to cover. Set aside.
  10. When a few minutes of the rising time remain, turn on the oven to 250ºC. Drain the raisins and lightly beat the egg. Remove the tea towel, and press two (2) raisins into each bun, where the ends once were. Brush with the egg and possibly sprinkle with pearl sugar, and bake for 6 min (the buns should remain yellow and not brown all that much). Remove from the oven sheet and allow to cool on a rack. Repeat until all buns have been baked. Store in airtight bags, and freeze what’s not consumed within the first day or two. Defrosts quickly.

*Divide the dough into 4 equally big pieces. Then, divide each piece into 5 smaller ones. Roll them out to about 30 cm long, and place them (a set of 5) next to each other. Press together the top parts of all 5, and then start by braiding one “round” of regular braiding of the 3 to the right. Then braid one “round” of the 3 to the left. Repeat all the way until the end, and press together the ends to close. Let rise as per above instructions. When it comes to the raisins, press them in wherever you see fit. See pictures at the bottom of the page for instructions. We rolled out to about 40 cm to make the pictures a little clearer, if you feel like yours look thick.

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