Lussekatter 2

Fond Memories

It was finally December 13. In the first light of dawn, she quietly dressed in a long white angel-like robe and tied a red sash around her waist.  She prepared a small tray of coffee and golden saffron buns, called lussekatter, or “Lucy cats”.  She then ever so carefully placed a lingonberry wreath with lighted candles on her head. Her big day had finally arrived.  Lisbeth entered her parents room, gently awaking them with song and breakfast in bed.  St. Lucia Day and the Christmas season had finally begun.

On the first Sunday of Advent, my dad would pull out an oversized book of short stories about Christmas celebrations around the world.  Each night he would read one to me and my sister. The story of  Lisbeth and St. Lucia Day in Sweden was one of my favorites. (I think it was the crown of light and the long white robe. . .)

Although St. Lucia was a Sicilian she is honored in Sweden.  One legend surrounding Lucia is that during a time when Christianity was forbidden in Sicily, she remained strong in her faith. She was known to bring bread to the homeless and hungry, many of whom lived in caves.  To keep her hands free to distribute the bread, she wore a crown of candles to light her way.

Before her father died, he had arranged her marriage to a non Christian family.  When she refused to marry and give up her faith, her betrothed turned her in to the Roman officials.  Long story short, she was tried and sentenced to death on December 13, 304 AD.  She was immovable when the officials tried to drag her away.  They tried to poke her eyes out, but she was still able to see. (St. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.) They attempted to burn her, but she remained untouched.  She was finally killed by a soldier’s sword.

So, how did St. Lucia Day become a Swedish celebration?  Another legend. . .  During the middle ages, there was a  famine in Värmland, Sweden. On Dec. 13,  people saw a white ship on the local lake with a white robed woman crowned with light at the bow.  When the starving people boarded the ship they found it brimming with food and clothing.  After they brought these life saving provisions to land, the ship disappeared.

A gift from St. Lucia?  Who knows.  But this is how the celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden.  It happens to coincide with the winter solstice, so it is more than appropriate that the saint of light is honored at a time when people look forward to the return of the sun from Sweden’s dark winters.

Today, the tradition is celebrated in Swedish homes, schools, and businesses with lussekatter and coffee.  Communities have Lucia processions in which Lucia is attended by white robed boys and girls.  The boys, known as star boys (stjärngosse), wear conical hats and carry stars. The girls, called tärnor, carry candles.  They walk through the early morning streets bringing light and singing Lucia songs.

So celebrated is this tradition that when Oli was chef on a cruise ship, his female co-workers were early morning Lucias, waking staff and passengers with lusssekatter and song.  I read that even the Nobel Prize winners are awakened and served coffee and lussekatter on Lucia day.

Whatever its history, Lucia Day is a lovely tradition.  And thank you Oli for reminding me of a lovely tradition I shared with my dad.  Those stories he read were a special part of  the Christmas season for us.  Dad would time the book so that he finished it on Christmas Eve when he would read “A Visit from St. Nicholas”  by Clement Clarke Moore.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house. . .

* * *

We are taking a little Christmas break, so our next post is scheduled for December 28.

Our Christmas wish is that your home be filled with the warmth of family and friends.  Whatever is good, whatever brings you joy. . . may it be yours now and throughout the new year.

Happy Holidays!

Gina and Oli

*  *  *


Makes 32 Lussekatter

2 teaspoons saffron threads (when ground, you will have 1/2 teaspoon)
2 cups milk
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 package yeast
1 egg
7 cups all purpose flour
dark raisins
parchment paper for lining baking sheets

Egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the oven to 475 F

1.  Use a mortar and pestle to crush saffron threads.  Add 2 tablespoons of the milk and set aside for an hour or two.

2. Heat one cup of the remaining milk in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stir in butter, sugar, salt and cardamom. When butter has melted pour in remaining milk as well as the saffron mixture.

3.  When the mixture reaches 100-102F (lukewarm) add yeast and whisk in egg.

4. Place flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Set mixer to medium speed and gradually pour in milk mixture until a smooth, firm dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Add a little more milk or flour if you need to. The dough can be a little sticky but should leave the sides of the bowl.

5.   Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap until dough doubles in size.
dough toodough 3

6.  Dump dough onto a clean, dry surface and cut mound into equal quarters then cut each quarter into 8 equal pieces.

7.  Use your hands to roll each peace to a 13-inch long rope.

8. Twist each end towards the middle to form a backwards “S”.
dough 4dough 5

9.   Place buns on parchment lined baking sheet and gently press a raisin into the middle of each swirl.  Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap until buns double in size.

10. Make the egg wash in a small bowl by lightly beating egg yolk and milk with a fork or small whisk until well combined.

11.  Brush each bun with egg wash.
bunsbuns two

12. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden.

Pour some coffee and enjoy the start of the Christmas season.

buns hree


lussekatter 4

About Allthatcooking

We are an Icelander living in Sweden and New England Yankee living in Virginia who share not only a great friendship but also a passion for world food. Our particular interest lies in the types of dishes that bring people together at celebrations and during holidays. When we take an occasional break from working on our global cookbook, we post on what is now a side project - our blog . Visit us at
This entry was posted in Baking, Breakfast, Swedish Classic, Sweets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Lussekatter

  1. amintiridinbucatarie says:

    I have to bake this!!
    what a great idea you just gave me 😛
    regards, Oana

  2. I have learned something new today! This is definitely a must-bake, esp. for a homemade bread fan like me.

  3. Pat Matthis says:

    Fantastic photo. Was I mistaken or did I see snow flakes pass through the photo? These look delicious and great writing guys. Since Im Sicilian I appreciated the St. Lucia story! This looks easy enough for me to experiment with yeast. Thanks!

  4. I stumbled this for you. I love St. Lucia Day.

  5. rafnerlendsson says:

    We thank you for all the wonderful stories and the recipes and wish you a merry christmas and a happy return.
    Dagrun and Steinar

  6. Shobha Rawal says:

    very colorful & lovely lussekatter……………surely try this.
    looks very inviting,

  7. Atika says:

    These buns look gorgeous. Love the shape and bright colour 🙂

  8. Pingback: Saffransbullar Swedish Saffron Christmas Bread | All That Cooking

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