December 13th, many many years ago….
She helped pull the long white dress down over my head, and tied a beautiful red bow at my waist out of the bright red gross grain ribbon.
There were candles in my hair. Well, not REAL ones, but battery operated ones, lit all around a green holly wreath attached to my head with bobby pins.
She carefully placed the tray in my hands, laden with “S” buns and mugs of hot cocoa. We walked through the dark house until we got to the first bedroom door in the hallway. Then Mom left me to knock and enter by myself.
I was, after all, the oldest, so this was my special job.
Giggling younger sisters in their bunk beds sat up as I greeted them with the traditional words: “Santa Lucia invites you to breakfast!” I went through all the bedrooms of the house, rousing my family and bringing them the special warm sweet bread that only – only – was made in our home one time a year. On the Feast of Santa Lucia, or St. Lucy.
Tradition has it that Lucy (her name means “light”) ministered to Christians hiding in the catacombs to avoid persecution in the early 4th century. So that she could have her “hands free” to carry food down the dark passageways she wore candles in her hair to light the way. Whether this is legend or truth, I’m not entirely sure. But she is venerated on December 13th by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. She has been adopted by the Swedes as the patron saint of Sweden, and in this, the country of my heritage, her feast day is a national festival.
Tradition holds that Lucy died a martyr’s death, and she is one of the seven women invoked by name in the canon of the Roman Catholic Mass.
Since we don’t yet have a daughter to distribute the S buns, we let my American Girl doll, Kirsten, be the one to dress up and display our S buns. Isn’t she a cutey?
The traditional “Santa Lucia Buns” made for December 13th are flavored with Cardamom spice. It’s that special “something” that makes the house smell like Santa Lucia day every year. These soft “S buns” as we call them, are easy to make. Check out my sous chefs in the kitchen yesterday!
My family’s recipe is below.
Santa Lucia “S” Buns:
1 cup warmed milk
1/3 cup butter (5 1/3 TB) room temp
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups bread or all purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp active dry yeast
You can use a stand mixer to kneed the dough, letting it rise and kneading again before forming the buns. But the easiest way is to use the sweet bread cycle of a bread maker, and take it out and form into the “S” shape before it rises again and bakes. Punch dough down on a board. Pinch off 1 1/2 inch balls of dough, roll out to about 10 inch long strands. Form into a S by snugly coiling ends in opposite directions. Set 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Let rise about 45 mins. Brush tops with beaten egg and push raising into each coil of the S bun. Bake at 350 for 10-13 minutes until golden brown. (Do not wait until they turn crusty brown – the bottoms will burn!)
For my Gluten Free, Paleo, Primal, Wheat Belly Diet, etc etc friends:
For the first time this year I attempted to make a gluten free version of the S buns. I think they turned out – edible! If you’re full blooded Sweedish you
may will have a problem with these, because they aren’t 100% authentic in taste, but for the rest of y’all who want to avoid wheat – this gets pretty darn close to the real deal!
Follow the recipe above, except substitute 5 cups of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (or any other GF all purpose flour you prefer) for the 4 cups of regular flour, and add 1 tsp of xanthum gum to help it rise. I baked mine for exactly 10 minutes and they were perfect. I think if I’d let it go any longer than that the buns would’ve been too dry.
Happy Santa Lucia Day!
My bear cubs and I are having fun feasting on S buns today. I leave you with some YouTube videos of the most beautiful song for Santa Lucia Day. (Click image to play), and with some pictures of my boys with their Lucia buns.