St. Lucia Buns (Sweet Saffron and Almond Filling) - delicious soft saffron-hued sweet buns are a staple of the Swedish tradition of St. Lucia's Day (Dec.13th), a winter-solstice celebration.
More delicious sweet bread recipes: Sweet Focaccia with Raspberries and Balsamic Glaze, Brioche Bread Recipe (Italian Style), and Sweet Braided Easter Bread.
St. Lucia Rolls (Sweet Saffron and Almond Filling)
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 raisins as "eyes." We make them as sweet rolled buns to get more delicious filling in every bit (similar to a cinnamon roll)!
- Warm milk (105° F)
- Saffron threads, lightly crushed- read all about saffron in the next sections of this post
- Active dry yeast
- Butter, plus more for greasing
- Large eggs, beaten
- All-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 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
How to Make St. Lucia Buns (Sweet Saffron and Almond Filling) Step-by-Step Instructions
The process of making St. Lucia Buns is similar to making cinnamon rolls ...
Make the sweet dough and let it rise in an oiled bowl.
Once the dough is double in size: punch down with a fist and shape it into a ball on a floured surface.
With a rolling pin roll into rectangle shape making sure the is at an even thickness.
Cover the dough with the prepared almond cream filling. There may be a few lumps of almond paste, which 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.
Roll the dough into a log shape.
Cutting the St. Lucia Rolls (Sweet Saffron and Almond Filling)
Since these sweet rolls are filled with cream, you don't want to 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 make the final cut.
Then, with the same sharp knife, go back and cut (with a back-and-forth motion 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 nonflavored 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.
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.
Let rise until double in size after placing in pan. Adding the pear sugar is optional. This is one way to BUY PEARL SUGAR
Best Saffron for St. Lucia Buns (Sweet Saffron and Almond Filling)
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 specialty stores. Amazon has a good price for the quality with this link:
Can I leave out the Saffron?
Yes! You can leave out the saffron. It is the distinct taste that makes this sweet St. Lucia rolls special, but if you don't want to go through the trouble of buying it- you leave it out!
The 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 the 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.
Story of St. Lucia Buns...
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 nowadays, 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 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 a long white dress with a red sash and wears a crown or wreath with candles on her head.
She carries a tray of warm drinks, cookies, and saffron buns to her family and friends who are celebrating in the house.
Enjoy! (p.s. this is a cute video on the tradition of Swedish Lucia)
We love them so much we make them several times during the holiday season! Bake and Share with LOVE!
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,
More Delicious SWEET Recipes for YOU
Enjoy these delicious St. Lucia Sweet Saffron Rolls! If you make them!
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- 1 ½ cups warm milk (105° F)
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed into a powder
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, plus more for greasing
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 stick (7 oz 198 grams) almond paste + 1 tablespoon hot water
- ½ recipe for Italian Pastry Cream
Optional: Pearl sugar for decorating
- Grease a 17" L x 11" W rectangle baking dish with butter or cooking spray. Set aside.
- 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.
- Make the dough: In a bowl of an electric mixer combine warm milk, yeast, sugar, saffron. Stir to dissolve into the yeast.
- 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.
- Roll dough out into a 12" x 18" rectangle. Spread about 1 to 1 ½ 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).
- 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.
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.
- Prep Time: 20 min (plus rising time)
- Cook Time: 25- 30 min
- Category: Sweet/ Dessert
- Method: Italian
- Cuisine: Italian