Lussekatt (Lucia cat)

1 stick butter (8 Tbsp.)
1 1/3 c. milk
pinch saffron
3 Tbsp. yeast
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs (1 in dough, 1 to brush)
4 c. flour
raisins for garnish

Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Add milk and saffron and heat until about body temperature. (Test it as you would a baby’s bottle, dripping a few drops on the inside of your wrist. If the milk mixture gets too warm, let it cool before mixing it with the yeast. Yeast too cool is just pokey, but yeast too hot will never do its trick.)

Mix milk mixture and yeast and let sit about five minutes. The yeast will dissolve and start to foam. Add the sugar, salt, one egg, and about half the flour. Knead the dough on a floured surface, adding flour to make a smooth dough. Let rise in a warm place about half an hour. Punch down, and then form into buns. One traditional shape is to make a rope of dough about six inches long (about 15 cm) and then form it into an S. Lay it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and tuck raisins into the curls of the S. Let rise again in a warm place, about half an hour. Brush the risen buns with beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees F about 15 min., until buns are golden brown.

On 13 December the Swedes celebrate the Italian Saint Lucia with a remarkable enthusiasm, surpassing any Italian festivities devoted to the same lady. One mandatory constituent in the celebrations is a saffron-flavored bun, in Swedish called a lussekatt, a “Lucia cat”. The shape of this bun might vary somewhat, but is always based on bread designs dating back to earlier Christmas celebrations in Sweden. If you want to go the really traditional route and have one of the young girls in the family serve them with coffee while wreathed in lit candles! A sweet, yeasty bun.

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