Soft Saffron Sweet Rolls with a Delicious Almond Filling

These saffron-hued sweet buns are a staple of the Swedish tradition of St. Lucia’s Day, a winter-solstice celebration. Since Italians always celebrate Saints, such as St. Lucia on December 13th, our family adapted the celebration of this Swedish recipe to bring the tradition into our Italian home!

Traditionally the buns have an “S” shape with two rains as “eyes”. We make them as rolled buns to get more delicious filling in every bit (similar to a cinnamon roll)!

0Z4A9835 683x1024, CucinaByElena

Simple Ingredients

Dough:

  • Warm milk (105° F)-
  • Saffron threads, lightly crushed- read all about saffron in the next sections of this post
  • Active dry yeast
  • Sugar
  • Butter, plus more for greasing
  • Large eggs, beaten
  • All-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling:

  • Almond paste
  • 1 recipe for Italian Pastry Cream – read more about Italian Pastry cream in the next section of this post

Optional: Pearl sugar for decorating

0Z4A9882 683x1024, CucinaByElena

Saffron is one of the flavors that makes these buns so special…

Saffron has a subtly earthy & grassy flavor & aroma, yet sweet, similar to floral & honey. No spice is more special than saffron

Why is Saffron Expensive?

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. The vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. Saffron has long been the world’s costliest spice by weight. Since such a small part of the flower is used, it takes 75,000 saffron flowers to make one pound of saffron spice. The small amount of saffron spice per plant, along with the fact that harvesting must be done manually, leads to saffron’s being majorly expensive.

Where can I buy Saffron?

You can buy them at most grocery stores and some speciality stores. Amazon has a good price for the quality with this link:

BUY SAFFRON HERE

Can I leave out the Saffron?

Yes! You can leave out the saffron. It is the distinct taste that makes these sweet St. Lucia rolls special, but if you don’t want to go through the trouble of buying it- you leave it out! They rolls will still be delicious with the sweet almond filling.

Here is a delicious pasta dish that uses Saffron: Creamy Saffron Sauce with Pasta

What is Italian Pastry Cream (crema pasticcera)?

Italian Pastry Cream is the filling we use for St. Lucia Sweet Rolls

Crema pasticcera, pastry cream, is one of the basic ingredients used in many Italian pastries and cakes. It’s the creamy, custardy filling in tarts, layer cakes, or pastries such as millefoglie; it’s also the cream filling you find in morning pastries such as cornetti (Italian-style croissants). Crema pasticcera is not difficult to make, though it does require care and attention so that it doesn’t curdle. 

When we make the filling for the St. Lucia sweet rolls we add almond paste to the Italian pastry cream to add an extra special flavor. Since we are adding almond paste to the pastry cream we leave out a little sugar in the original cream recipe.

The story behind St. Lucia Sweet Rolls…

WHO WAS SAINT LUCIA?


Lucia was an Italian Christian girl who was born to rich and noble parents. She was killed for her faith in 304 AD. She was known for secretly bringing food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs in Rome. When traveling through the dark tunnels, she would wear a wreath lit with candles on her head, so that she had both hands free to carry food. Fittingly, her name, “Lucy” means “light”.

St. Lucia has been celebrated in Italy since her martyrdom. But now-a-days, her feast day is widely celebrated across Scandinavia, Italy, Croatia and Hungary as well. When Christian missionaries came to Scandinavia, the story of a kind girl who brought light and warmth held much appeal to a people who dealt with long, dark, cold, winters. In Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia’s Feast Day became a festival of light, pointing to the arrival of the Light of Christ on Christmas Day. Her feast day is celebrated on December 13th. Traditionally, the oldest daughter of the house dresses up in long white dress with a red sash and wears a crown or wreath with candles on her head. She carries a tray of a warm drinks, cookies, and saffron buns to her family and friends who are celebrating in the house.

0Z4A9852 683x1024, CucinaByElena

I hope you can bring this tradition into your home this holiday season.

 Enjoy! (p.s. this is cute  video on the tradition of Swedish Lucia)

St. Lucia Sweet Saffron Rolls (almond custard filling) on a small plate

Step by Step photos for rolling out the St. Lucia sweet buns.

The process for making St. Lucia Buns is similar to making cinnamon rolls …

dough rising
dough ball ready to rolls out

Once the dough is double in size. Punch down with fist and shape into a ball on a floured surface.

rolled out dough

With a rolling pin roll into rectangle shape making sure the is at an even thickness.

St. Lucia sweet saffron rolls almond paste cream buns process step by step

Cover the dough with the prepared almond cream filling. There may be a few lumps of almond paste and that is okay. They will melt into the filling when they bake. It is the best part!

Note: the almond cream filling can be made up to two days ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an air tight container.

rolling the dough and filling

Roll dough into a log shape.

IMG 1853 1 1022x1024, CucinaByElena

Tip for cutting the Saffron Sweet Rolls:

Since these sweet rolls are filled with cream you don’t want smush them down as you cut them, or the filling will ooze out the sides. Here are two options for cutting the sweet rolls:

1 – Use a very sharp knife and score the tops. Scoring the tops gives a head start to making the final cut. Then, with the same sharp knife go back and cut (with a back and forth motion as to not press down on the dough) until you make a clean cut all the way to the bottom of the dough. You will have a nice clean slice! Clean the knife every time you cut a new roll.

2- Use fishing string or non flavored floss to make a clean cut in your dough. Measure out about 12-15 inches, slide the floss or fishing string under your dough so that it’s centered, wrap it around the top and pull tight in one quick motion. The floss/thread should cut cleanly and easily right through the dough.

using fishing string to cut the rolls

Score the tops before cutting. This is the fishing string method for cutting the rolls. There may be some filling that oozes out in the process of cutting with either the knife or string. That’s okay! Simply add it to the top of the roll after placing in pan.

IMG 1862 1 768x1024, CucinaByElena
IMG 1868 768x1024, CucinaByElena

Let rise until double in size after placing in pan. Adding the pear sugar is optional. This is one way to BUY PEARL SUGAR

St. Lucia Sweet Saffron Rolls (almond custard filling) in a pan

We love them so much we make them several times during the holiday season! Bake and Share with LOVE!

IMG 1906 768x1024, CucinaByElena

Every year my mamma and I make St. Lucia sweet rolls with my children. It is the most special tradition. We hope you enjoy this tradition as well.

From my Cucina (kitchen) to your table- Mangia! Mangia! (Eat!)

Made with Amore,

Elena

More Delicious SWEET Recipes for YOU

Creme Caramel Custard Flan Italian Recipe

Italian Olive Oil Cake Orange Honey (easy)

Traditional Italian Tiramisù Recipe

Best Brown Butter Apple Pie

Simple Italian Wedding Cookies (Anginetti)

Brioche Bun Recipe (Italian Style)

0Z4A9868 683x1024, CucinaByElena
Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
St. Lucia Sweet Saffron Rolls (almond custard filling) in a pan

St. Lucia Sweet Saffron Rolls (almond custard filling)

  • Author: Elena Davis
  • Prep Time: 20 min (plus rising time)
  • Cook Time: 25- 30 min
  • Total Time: 3 hrs 35 min
  • Yield: 15 servings 1x
  • Category: Sweet/ Dessert
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

The rolls are lightly sweet, buttery, and vibrant yellow from the saffron-infused dough. The almond filling is slightly addictive and pairs wonderfully with the saffron buns! Mangia Mangia! (eat) 


Ingredients

Units Scale

Dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk (105° F)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed into a powder
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling:

  • 1 stick (7 oz 198 grams) almond paste + 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1/2 recipe for Italian Pastry Cream

Optional: Pearl sugar for decorating


Instructions

  1.  Grease a 17″ L x 11″ W rectangle baking dish with butter or cooking spray. Set aside. 
  2. Prepare half a recipe for the  Italian Pastry Cream as directed. In a small bowl warm almond paste and 1 tablespoon of very hot water in the microwave for 20 seconds until soft. Stir until combined. Stir warm almond past mixture into prepared pastry cream while it is still warm- until well combined (it may be a little chunky). Set aside. Note: the almond cream mixture can be made up to two days ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an air tight container. 
  3. Make the dough: In a bowl of an electric mixer combine warm milk, yeast, sugar, saffron. Stir to dissolve into the yeast.
  4.  Add beaten eggs, salt and 3 cups of flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining 2 cups of flour. Increase speed to medium, kneading dough until smooth and slightly sticky, incorporate the soften butter small pieces at the time. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, buttered bowl. Turn dough over in bowl to coat with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1-2 hours depending on house temperature. After the dough has risen, punch down with your fist one time. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
  5.  Roll dough out into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle. Spread about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the Italian cream almond mixture in an even layer on the dough (you may have a little leftover- grab a spoon!). Starting with the long side, roll dough into a cylinder. You may have a little of the cream run out the sides- use it to spoon on top of the rolls just before baking. Place the cut rolls seam side down on a flat surface and cut crosswise into 1 inch slices (see notes for how to cut the dough). Place dough slices, flat side down, in the prepared baking pan. Crowd them so they touch. cover with plastic wrap, let the buns to rise until double in size, (or refrigerate overnight- optional).
  6. Preheat oven to 375°. If refrigerated remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the oven preheats. Optional: Sprinkle buns with sugar pearls before baking.  Bake rolls until slightly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Let buns cool slightly and serve warm. They can be warm up in the microwave ~ 20 sec. Best served warm. 

Notes

TIPS FOR CUTTING THE SWEET ROLLS:

Since these sweet rolls are filled with cream you don’t want smush them down as you cut them, or the filling will ooze out the sides. Here are two options for cutting the sweet rolls:
1 – Use a very sharp knife and score the tops. Scoring the tops gives a head start to making the final cut. Then, with the same sharp knife go back and cut (with a back and forth motion as to not press down on the dough) until you make a clean cut all the way to the bottom of the dough. You will have a nice clean slice! Clean the knife every time you cut a new roll.

2- Use fishing string or non flavored floss to make a clean cut in your dough. Measure out about 12-15 inches, slide the floss or fishing string under your dough so that it’s centered, wrap it around the top and pull tight in one quick motion. The floss/thread should cut cleanly and easily right through the dough.