Friday, December 15, 2017

Saint Lucia Buns

If I were a TRUE food blogger, things would look a little bit different around here. Firstly, I would actually be posting about food (minor detail) and, secondly, I would be providing you seasonal recipes PRIOR to pertinent holidays to help you welcome said special day with greater preparedness. But since this has morphed into what my husband tells me is most definitely a “mom blog,” I suppose it is more fitting that I am posting this recipe AFTER the holiday has already passed, because us moms, well, don’t we always feel about three steps behind? But it’s all a matter of perspective! Consider yourselves 363 days ahead of schedule for NEXT year (you’re welcome) and don’t forget to check back about ten days into December 2018 to make sure you have all the essential ingredients for a traditional Saint Lucia Bun.

If American Girls were any part of your childhood, the mention of Saint Lucia might ring a bell in a distant memory. Blast to the past along with me and recall, Kirsten, the blond-haired American Girl doll who immigrated to from Sweden. I loved all the books about Kirsten but it’s “Kirsten’s Surprise” that we are going to focus on today. It’s in the pages of this book that Kirsten, as the oldest daughter in her household, rises in the wee hours of the morning on Saint Lucia Day. Wearing white and adorned with a wreath of candles on her head, she awakens each of her family members by delivering Saint Lucia buns and coffee to each of their beds. Thanks to Kirsten, every little girl who has ever lived has dreamed of dressing as Saint Lucia and delivering buns ever since.

I consider myself one of the lucky kids. My parents didn’t often splurge on trending toys, but for whatever reason, they did eventually break down and buy my sister and I each an American Girl doll after years of pleading.  I’m sure this is where I first learned about Saint Lucia.

Saint Lucia Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Lucia, falls on December 13th and commemorates a 3rd-century martyr who, according to legend, supplied food to Christians who had taken refuge in the catacombs. She is believed to have worn a white dress and a wreath of candles on her head to light her way, freeing her arms to carry as much food as they could hold. Calendar reform has since shifted things slightly, but the holiday once fell upon Winter Solstice, the shortest and therefore darkest day of the year. The holiday was often referred to as the “Festival of Light,” representing Christ’s coming to earth as our light. On Saint Lucia Day, girls would honor tradition by dressing in white light Saint Lucia and processing together carrying plates of Saint Lucia Buns and cookies, portraying this “bringing of the light of Christ” to a dark world.

Alright. Enough with the history lesson. Back to my sister and me. She sister was gifted the Kirsten doll (I had a special affinity toward Samantha, the better one, obviously) but I read the books about both all the same.  Over time, my sister and I collected quite the set up for our dolls – clothing (much of it hand-sewn by my mom!), a table and chairs, and a homemade four-poster bed, courtesy of my dad’s woodworking skills. At some point, we also acquired the American Girl Cookbook. It was filled with recipes and pictures of all the dishes mentioned in the books, each with some sort of historical backstory. I guess you could say I was always destined to be a foodie since a cookbook like this excited me to no end, even at the ripe young age of nine years old.

The recipe for Saint Lucia Buns was in that cookbook I received over two decades ago. I never made them but seeing that recipe must have planted a seed in my subconscious. Fast forward to last year when my eight-year-old got her hands on the Kirsten book series. Suddenly that seed sprouted to fruition and I found myself in the kitchen making Saint Lucia Buns so my eldest could emulate Kirsten and dress up as Saint Lucia on Saint Lucia Day, fulfilling the dream she and every girl who had gone before her shared. Donning a white dress, wearing a “wreath” and delivering homemade buns by candlelight in the wee hours of the morn was a hit for my daughter, as well as for every other member of the family (who are we to argue with warm carbs??) And so, despite our lack of Swedish heritage, a new tradition was born.

The making of the buns is straight forward, particularly if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook that does most of the messy work for you. The recipe comes together much faster if you actually have yeast on your person and you don’t have to take a 90-minute break wandering, sans kids, through the aisles of Target in search of some. Such additional steps typically result in excessive “accidental expenditures” on essentials like adorable Christmas mugs and journals because “they make great stocking stuffers.” But I digress.

The original recipe had you measuring the ingredients by weight (how European!) but since most home cooks do not own a kitchen scale, I did some math and some guessing and came up with a version that is American-kitchen-friendly.  

Lastly, since I’m a “mom blogger,” not a REAL food blogger, I will warn you that some of my descriptions might come across as, let’s say, less than scientific. I intend for this recipe to be something you can make WITH your kids which is why I consider phrases like “We’re looking for snakes here, not slugs” to be a perfectly acceptable descriptor for helping them visualize how thin they should be rolling their ropes of dough before shaping them. I made the dough all the way through the first rise before the kids came home from school and then they joined me for the remainder of the steps.

Even if you don’t plan to dress as Saint Lucia, these rolls make a delicious sweet bun to accompany your coffee. Feel free to serve them as a special dinner roll on Christmas or any other fancy occasion. They freeze well and are well served warm. Happy Saint Lucia Day…363 days in advance!

Saint Lucia Buns
(adapted from the New York Times)

12 Tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ cups lukewarm milk (I warm mine in microwave for ~1 minute)
2 packages dry active yeast (or 4 ½ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon saffron
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
7 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
Black raisins, for garnish

In a glass measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, combine melted butter and warm milk. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in a small amount of the butter and milk mixture. Once dissolved, add remainder of the butter and milk mixture. Grind saffron in a mortar and pestle if you have one, or by crumbling with your fingertips over the butter, milk and yeast mixture. Add to butter/milk/yeast mixture along with sugar and salt and whisk well.

Add flour, a few cups at a time, beating with the dough hook of your mixer until a soft dough forms. Continue to beat dough with the mixer for about 5 minutes, adding a small amount of flour at a time, as necessary, to keep dough from sticking. Alternatively, if no mixer is available, add flour using a wooden spoon and then knead by hand for about 10 minutes once a soft dough forms. Return dough to bowl.

Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour. (I usually turn on my oven and leave the door open to allow some of the heat to escape. After a few minutes, I turn the oven off. Voila! The oven top has become a cozy spot where the dough can rise).

Now it’s time to gather the offspring and let them get in on the fun. Taking mandarin orange-sized lumps of dough, roll each into a long rope (here is where you tell them “we’re looking for snakes here, not slugs”), about the circumference of your finger. Form the rope into the shape of an “S” and then continue to curl each end toward the center until they form two pinwheels (see picture). When they rise a second time, the buns uncurl some which is why it’s important to roll out thinner ropes. Place shaped buns onto a greased cookie sheet, cover with a towel and let rise in your cozy place for another 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brush each bun with beaten egg and poke a raisin into the center of each pinwheel. Bake buns for 12-15 minutes until golden. Eat warm.

Makes about 2 dozen buns

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posted by kelsie