St. Lucia's Day is celebrated in Sweden on December 13 during the darkest days of winter. Martyred St. Lucia depicts the “bringer of light” at festivals throughout Europe – and Bishop Hill too! Here in Bishop Hill, during our two-night festival, visitors are served sweet treats and coffee by young girls dressed as the saint. The celebration opens our Christmas season. Our Lucias wear white gowns and crowns of greenery with candles symbolizing the promise of the sun's return to the cold dark world.
In Swedish homes on Lucia's day, the young girls of the family dress as St. Lucia and present their parents with breakfast in bed. The breakfast tray usually includes a pot of tea, some milk, and some St. Lucia Buns or Lussekatter (Lucia Cats). These saffron buns get their name from the whimsical shapes they take when made: figure-eight shaped cats, "S" shaped for saffron.
• 1 cup milk
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2 pkg. dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
• 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg white
• raisins or currants to decorate
Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour; this intensifies the saffron flavor.
Heat milk to a light boil, turn off heat when it reaches the scalding point, with small bubbles across the top. Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into a large bowl and allow to cool. Stir in yeast and let sit for another 10 minutes.
Add 3 1/2 cups flour to the liquid. Stir in two well-beaten eggs. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough – just enough so the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and allow dough to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch down the risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough and roll into snakes. Shape snakes into "S" shaped buns or other desired shapes. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel again, and allow buns to rise until doubled - about an hour.
Decorate them with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 375º oven about 15 minutes or just until brown. Makes about 20 St. Lucia Lussekatter.