...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Food journal number 48: Lussekatter (saffron buns) and company

The other night, Anjeline's classmates arranged a Thanksgiving party in her dorm corridor, which was a challenge in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. For one thing, the main dish of turkey became chicken schnitzels, because they weren't sure if the turkey could fit in the oven. For another thing, it was hard for them to find ingredients for stuffing, so we had to do without it. Thirdly, since only dried cranberries are available in Sweden, lingonberry jam had to replace the cranberry sauce. And for my part, my ambitions of baking my first ever pumpkin pie were harder to realize than I first thought. After going to a total of seven groceries, including Asian and other immigrant stores, I realized what a rare commodity pumpkin was in these parts. No pumpkin, no pumpkin pie.

Thankfully, advent season is also nearing, so I had an excuse to bake something traditionally Swedish as a replacement for the American pie. Actually, the only thing the two pastries have in common is their bright orange color. The Swedish buns though, instead of getting its color from pumpkin, takes its shade from saffron. Saffron is an exotic delicacy here which is often used in Christmas dishes (and of course, paella). They're actually dried stigmas of small flowers and are described to have a hay-like taste. How humankind thought of eating miniature stigmas is beyond me. On the other hand, humans throughout history likely tried eating a lot of other strange things, tiny and huge. Today, saffron is still hand-plucked from the single flowers, which is why they are priced at about 3,600 Euros per kilogram. A packet of half a gram costs 17-18 Swedish kronor.

The Swedish saffron buns are called Lussekatter – literally Lucia cats (sometimes also Lussebullar or Lucia buns – after St. Lucy whose feast day is in the 13th of December. Long before Swedes became Catholic, they already had pagan traditions at this time of the year nearing winter solstice. Now, long after Swedes have stopped being Catholic after the Reformation, the Lucia tradition had lived on secular-style, with saffron-bun eating, glögg drinking, and Lucia beauty contests.

I adopted the tradition in our home by eating saffron buns each Advent season. For the past two years, I also started making them myself – which I highly recommend because they're not only cheaper that way but are also more delicious. I also make my saffron buns with quark (a cheese product used in baking), which makes the buns easier to knead by hand, take on a better, fluffier consistency, and make them protein-rich. So you can indulge on bread :-)

In the above picture, I'm having the home-baked lussekatt with cloudberry glögg – a grappa-based alcoholic drink flavored with cloudberries and other spices that we got as a Christmas present last year (the bottle is pictured in the first image). However, if you'd like a non-alcoholic drink, I recently discovered another must-have with saffron buns: Nutella latte! I got the idea while browsing through some Christmas magazines and cookbooks, and got inspired by the fact that we had a couple of tablespoons left of Nutella to scrape off the bottle. Pour some strong coffee in a glass with a teaspoon of Nutella; froth some milk to add to your coffee, and mums bums, as they say in Swedish: instant yum! My only complaint is that I should have had more Nutella to flavor my coffee with. But alas, the Nutella bottle has been scraped clean after this picture was taken:

Here's the recipe I used for Lucia buns / saffron buns to go with that:

Lussekatter / saffron buns

50 g yeast
100 g butter
5 deciliters (2.1 cups) milk (I used 3% fat milk)
250 g quark (which is known in Sweden as kesella. I used Kesella light)
1-2 packets saffron, of 0.5 grams each (I used 2.5 packets as I had extra saffron)
1.5 dl (0.6 cups) sugar
2 krm (about half a teaspoon) salt (krm is short for the Swedish kryddmått)
13-14 deciliters (5.4 - 5.9 cups) flour
1 whisked egg

1. Crumb the yeast into a mixing bowl.
2. Melt the butter in a pot. Add the milk and warm it up to body temperature, 37 degrees C.
3. Pour a little of the liquid unto the yeast and mix until the yeast is fully dissolved. Then pour down the rest of the liquid and quark.
4. Take the packets of saffron and ground them in a mortar with a tablespoon of the sugar (I don't own a mortar and pestle so I used a cup and the backside of a spoon).
5. Add the saffron mix into the mixing bowl, together with the rest of the sugar, salt, and almost all of the flour (Save some for kneading later).
6. Knead the dough until the dough comes off the sides of the mixing bowl. The point is to get as much air into the dough as possible, so it's okay to stretch it, punch it and twist it while kneading. It's surprisingly easy with quark in the dough!
7. Let the dough rise under a kitchen towel for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, take the dough with floured hands, divide it into smaller pieces. Toll them so that they're as thick as fingers and cut into 15 cm long pieces. Form them into S-shapes and press down a raisin on each side. Arrange them in a wax paper-lined baking pan and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise for another 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250 degrees C.
8. When they've risen, brush the surface of the buns with a whisked egg. Bake them for 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Yields about 35 buns.

Saffron buns are perfect for freezing. I took a big Tupperware to the Thanksgiving party with a bottle of low-alcohol glögg. The rest of the buns are in our freezer, ready any time we need a quick snack or are expecting guests. To defrost, just pop them in the microwave for half a minute (two buns).


OpenID mmmbeigne said...

Very funny coincidences - I also went pumpkin hunting without any luck. And also got to try those saffron buns this weekend - didn't know they could be healthy with quark - they just taste delicious!

Nutella latte!! I have to try that, though my boyfriend will lecture me for doing it I'm sure. Not exactly super healthy :)

The fermented herring was... good to try... But if I see being served somewhere I don't think I'd want to try it again :)

You went to Oslo! Nice to hear about it! I'm extremely behind on my blog as I visited Norrkoping (day trip), Gothenburg (2 weekends ago), and a small German town (this past weekend).

In Norrkoping I visited the Stadsmuseum, Museum of Work and walked around the industrial area. Did you have any recommendations for other things to see/do in Norrkoping? For some reason when I took the train to Norrkoping my OstgotaTrafiken card didn't deduct my fare! So I figure I can go see it again without any extra cost.

10:09 AM

Anonymous Lara said...

hej joy!

i hope you dont mind but i have tagged you in a post. its about 5 things that you are grateful for. you may or may not post, no pressure. this is kinda new, being tagged :-)

pls see the post for instructions. thanks!!!


7:45 PM

Anonymous Lara said...

about the tag, please feel free to make it your own :)

9:40 AM

OpenID mmmbeigne said...

Thanks for the tips on Norrkoping! I thought Norrkoping was beautiful! I really loved how they renovated the old factories into a new place that is still alive!

Yes, I wouldn`t mind a link from your page, although I`ll be going back to Canada in a short while. I think I`ll be back to Sweden again though I still need to come up with another plan (studying perhaps).

I would love to meet up in Norrkoping! This weekend we're going to Stockholm, and the week after I'll be in Spain, but we should meet after I return (Dec 14) if you're free! My email is bullet_proof77 AT hotmail.com

10:23 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Lara: I'll save it for my post about the building where I work :-)

Joyce: I'll mail you in a bit!

10:04 PM

Anonymous sapphire said...

Okay, I must be an idiot but i forgot to knead the dough. like entirely forgot.

i also ended up using fulkorn mjol (whole wheat flour) so that probably added to my screwed up buns. poor guys, will try again tomorrow.

10:52 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

@ Sapphire: Yikes! The sad thing about failing with Lussebullar is that the experiments turn out really expensive :-( (With saffron at 36 for half a gram, right?).

I don't think you need to knead so much with this recipe with quark, though, but just enough to make the dough smooth and come off the sides of the bowl. The without-quark recipe is another story; you'd need to knead a lot. Are you sure the water you added to the yeast wasn't too warm? That could be the problem if the dough didn't rise.

I don't think fullkorn is a problem if you mix it a bit with regular white flour.

11:46 AM

Anonymous sapphire said...

thanks ahoy! i think it was the water that killed it.

i used a thermomenter today and the temp was near 49C for the melted butter/milk mixture. yesterday, i had it about the same (hot to touch) but it was too hot for the yeast.

i let the mixture come down to 42C and then added a little quark to cool it down to 37C before mixing in.

did 5-6 minutes of kneading, more mixing it together (by hand) to make sure it was blended well.

it's now in the first hour of rising and looking a LOT better.

keep you posted!

1:56 PM

Anonymous sapphire said...

i didn't kill it this time! they came out wonderful.

phew, there is hope for my bread baking skills.

9:21 PM


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