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  • Writer's picturejosie

For All People: The Hamlins' Santa Lucia Buns

Our theme this Advent is "For All People"—from the angels' message in Luke 2:10. The birth of Jesus is celebrated in cultures and traditions around the world...and in our own homes and families! Follow each week's worship, welcome, and wonder on our Virtual Advent page.

paintings by Carl Larsson (Katie Hamlin's grandma's favorite painter!)

From Katie Hamlin:

Our family would like to share Santa Lucia and her feast day, December 13. On Santa Lucia Day in Sweden (where my family is from), the oldest daughter dresses as Santa Lucia and brings saffron rolls and coffee to the rest of the family. We usually make our buns the night before and invite our neighbors over to join us before work/school. We also have a book about her life—Lucia, Saint of Light— that I usually read.

Here’s a lovely video of the hymn about her with young women dressed as Santa Lucia. (Listen to an English version of the hymn here.)

I learned a little about St. Lucia from reading the Kirsten books in the American Girl series growing up. That year, I made cinnamon rolls (the pre-made, from-the-refrigerated-section kind) for my family and attempted to surprise them one morning. I think they knew.

So, I'm really happy to hear more about this young woman saint who's especially beloved in Scandinavia, and to attempt a tried-and-true, real-deal saffron bun recipe. Katie told me she's tinkered with her grandmother's recipe for years in order to develop her favorite version. Enjoy!

Santa Lucia Buns


  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 7 T butter (100 grams)

  • 2 grams saffron—This is double the normal amount, but it’s worth it . . .

  • 2 cups whole (or more) milk

  • 1/2 pound quark— If you can’t find quark, you can substitute good ricotta or mascarpone (the latter will make sweeter buns).

  • 50 grams (about 2 ounces) cake yeast—2 packages active dry yeast

  • 3/4 cup “vit baksirap” or Karo syrup

  • 7-8 cups flour (840-960 g)

  • Almond paste (optional)

  • Raisins (optional)

  • Additional butter (optional)

  • Egg wash


  • Start by adding the saffron to the milk and gently heating. Let the mixture steep and cool to about 95 degrees.

  • Add the milk/saffron mixture to the yeast in the mixing bowl and mix to dissolve the yeast.

  • When the yeast has dissolved, add the quark and the baksirap/karo before adding the flour. Mix until elastic (about 10 minutes).

  • Add the salt and the room temperature butter, bit by bit.

  • Add any extra flour needed to make the dough manageable and mix for another 10-15 minutes on low speed. When done, it will be very elastic and slightly sticky.

  • Let rise for 45 minutes, then pour out onto a floured working surface.

  • This batch makes about 35 buns, so divide into 35 pieces and start making your shapes.

Katie says: You roll the dough into a snake and then roll the ends up in different directions to make an S shape [see image below]. I soak raisins in boiling water while I'm rolling the dough and then push one into each end of the S. Soaking the raisins helps them not burn during baking. The goal is something that looks like a lock of curly hair to remind us of a fair-haired Santa Lucia (never mind that she was a dark haired Sicilian in actuality).

  • Or simply roll out the dough, spread room temperature butter on it, grate almond paste over and sprinkle with raisins.

I usually leave off the almond paste because the saffron flavor is so lovely by itself.

  • Place all of the buns on buttered or parchment-covered pans and let rise for 30 minutes.

  • Before baking, brush with an egg wash and bake in a very hot (425 degree) oven for 5-10 minutes.

Yum! Thank you, Katie and Hamlin family! And Swedes! What a beautiful tradition.


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