St. Lucia Saffron Buns

Swedish Christmastime favorite, saffron infused S shaped sweet rolls, for St. Lucia Day.

St. Lucia Buns
Elise Bauer

December 13, St. Lucia Day, also known as the Festival of Light, is a day of celebration in Sweden, in the spirit of Advent and Christmas. Young girls are dressed in white robes with a red sash, with one girl selected as "Lucia" who wears a crown of lit candles (or battery powered ones), the others carrying a single candle. Processions with singing and revelry abound.

At home, the eldest girl dresses up in robe, sash, and candle crown, and delivers coffee and lussekatter, or S shaped saffron buns to her parents for breakfast.

This was all explained to me the other day by a young Swedish woman named Lisa Persson in college here in Sacramento, a long way from home. She spoke of these saffron buns with such nostalgia, I just had to make some.

St. Lucia Buns
Elise Bauer

The rolls are lightly sweet, buttery, and vibrant yellow from the saffron-infused dough. The raisins in the "eyes" of the rolls give them just a little extra sweetness when you bite into them.

Through my research I've seen many complaints that lussekatter can be dry or dense. The rolls I present to you here are neither; I limit the amount of sugar and fat in the recipe, the overuse of which can contribute to making yeasted breads dense.

Of course the rolls are best freshly baked. I would recommend making the dough the night before, refrigerating it over night, and then baking the rolls in the morning. Otherwise, the rolls do reheat very well with just a few seconds in the microwave. Enjoy! (p.s. this is a delightful video on the tradition of Swedish Lucia)

St. Lucia Saffron Buns

Prep Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 42 mins
Servings 12 to 14 servings

This recipe makes 12 to 14 good sized buns. You can easily double the recipe. Note the cardamom is optional. I've made these buns with and without a little cardamom and I prefer them with. I'm guessing it's more traditional without.


  • 3/4 cup milk (175ml)

  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

  • 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup (50g) white granulated sugar

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (check the expiration date on the package to make sure it's still good!)

  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups (490g to 570g) all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • The seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground, optional

  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 56g) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1/4 cup sour cream (or quark if available)

  • 2 large eggs

  • Raisins


  • 1 egg, beaten


  1. Heat milk, saffron, sugar:

    In a small pot, heat the milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon of sugar together until the milk is steamy. Remove from heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let cool until about 115°F, or warm to the touch, but not hot.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  2. Bloom the yeast:

    Sprinkle the yeast over the warm saffron-infused milk, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy.

  3. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, cardamom:

    In the bowl of a stand-up mixer* whisk together 3 1/2 cups (490g) of the flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, salt and ground cardamom (if using).

    *You can make this recipe without a mixer, for me it's just a bit easier with one.

    Elise Bauer
  4. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast milk saffron mixture, the eggs, the butter, and the sour cream:

    Mix the ingredients until well incorporated.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  5. Knead the dough:

    Switch to the dough hook of your mixer (if using, otherwise knead by hand). On low speed start to knead the dough. Slowly add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition. Do this until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it.

    Elise Bauer
  6. Let dough rise:

    Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. (Note at this point you can make ahead and refrigerate overnight if you wish.)

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer

    Let sit in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size. (One way to tell that the dough is ready is that you poke your finger in it and it takes quite a bit of time for the indentation left by your finger to go away.)

  7. Form dough into S shapes:

    When the dough has doubled in size, gently press it down and knead it a couple of times. Break off a piece and form it into a ball about 2 inches wide (60 to 70 grams if you are weighing). Roll the ball out into a snake, about 14 inches long.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer

    Then Curl the ends in opposite directions, forming an "S" with spirals at each end. Place on a lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.

  8. Let sit for second rise:

    Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough shapes double in size, 30 minutes to an hour.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  9. Brush with egg wash, place raisins on buns:

    Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Using a pastry brush, brush some beaten egg over the tops and sides of the uncooked buns. Place raisins in the centers of the "S" spirals.

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
  10. Bake:

    Place in the oven and bake at 400°F (205°C) for about 10 to 11 minutes (turning halfway through cooking to ensure even browning), until the buns are golden brown.

    Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before eating.


Swedish Lucia for Dummies - a tongue in cheek video about Swedish traditions of St. Lucia Day

Swedish Tea Ring or Coffee Bread - here on Simply Recipes

Lussekatter or St. Lucia Rolls - an in-depth explanation of the history surrounding St. Lucia on My Diverse Kitchen

Light in the Dark of Winter - from Foodie Underground

Whole Wheat St. Lucia Saffron Buns - from Texanerin

St. Lucia Buns
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
232 Calories
6g Fat
38g Carbs
6g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 14
Amount per serving
Calories 232
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 7%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 52mg 17%
Sodium 69mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 38g 14%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 34mg 3%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 111mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.