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Lussekatter – Traditional Swedish Saffron Buns for St Lucia Day & Christmas

Lussekatter is THE most vital part of a Swedish Christmas! Made in time for Saint Lucia day they’re eaten all through the holidays, and usally made in the traditional “Lussekatt” shape shown here. This is my tried and tested, all-time best recipe for Swedish saffron buns – and it’s easy to make without quark and nuts. Complete with video & step by step photos and my best tips for making the best Swedish saffron buns!

swedish saffron buns with glögg
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If you ask any Swedish person what they bake for Christmas, I promise you the first (and often only) thing almost everyone will answer is “Lussekatter”. While important for Christmas, they are vital for St Lucia Day (December 13th) (yep, the same the day we dress up in white night gowns and put candles on our head), and I for one take any chance I get to have one all through December.

What are Lussekatter?

Lussekatter – or Swedish saffron buns, or saffron bread – is a sweet “bread” made from common ingredients such as yeast, flour, sugar, milk and butter. But with the twist that they’re seasoned with saffron. Saffron (or sometimes turmeric if you buy the cheap ones in the store…) is what gives them that beautiful yellow color, and an amazing taste that’s rivalled by no other kind of bun.

The shape you see here is the classic one – but if they’re homemade, they can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. As a kid, I remember looking in my mom’s old cookbook and trying to recreate every single shape pictured there…

These days, I generally tend to stick to the classic version instead.

top down view of lussekatter

Why this is the best recipe for Lussekatter

  • They’re the juiciest, fluffiest version I’ve ever made, or had – and I’ve tried a lot of different kinds!
  • So simple to make without extra ingredients such as quark or ground nuts
  • Extra buttery, which translates into extra taste
  • Perfectly golden thanks to a lower baking temperature than most recipes
  • A combination of the expert tips below ensures you get the best consistency and the best taste in the easiest way possible

How to make perfect Swedish Saffron Buns

To start, make sure you bring out your milk and butter and let them get to room temperature. And cut your butter in pieces while you’re at it.

Then ground the saffron and sugar with a mortar and pestle (if you have one, otherwise use a spoon or something), then pour in a glass or bowl and mix with some rum or other alcohol of your choice (or even water in a pinch). This ensures you get as much bang for the buck as possible from your saffron.

collage showing step 1 to 4 of making lussekatter

Now, start your dough by crumbling the yeast into a large bowl – this bowl should be large enough to hold all the ingredients and leave room for the dough to rise to double the size.

Follow the yeast with the milk. Mix well, letting the yeast dissolve in the milk, and then add in the butter.

collage showing step 5 to 8 of making Swedish saffron buns

Then mix again, this time trying to smash the butter a bit with your milk and yeast. Don’t worry if it doesn’t melt into the milk completely – or at all. This will be taken care off when you start mixing in the flour later.

After the milk, mix in the sugar.

collage showing step 9 to 12 of making lussekatter

Now add in the saffron mixed with sugar and alcohol (or water). Then add just a little bit of water to the glass or bowl you had the saffron mix in, swoosh it around a bit and then pour in this as well. This ensures you get as much of that saffron flavor as possible! Then mix well.

collage showing step 13 to 16 of making Swedish saffron buns

Now it’s time to start adding the flour! Add a bit at a time and mix it in well before adding more.

collage showing step 17 to 20 of making lussekatter

When it’s getting hard to mix with a spoon, get to work with your hands instead. Once all the flour has been added, knead the dough for at least 10 more minutes. This will ensure the best possible texture of your saffron buns. When done, it should release easily from the sides of the bowl, without adding extra flour.

Then cover, and set aside to rise for about 60 minutes. Meanwhile, soak your raisins in some water.

collage showing step 21 to 24 of making lussekatter

When your dough has risen to about double size – this takes around 60 minutes – bring out a baking sheet (or more than one if you have it, you will probably need about three), place a parchment paper on top, and lightly dust a clean surface with flour. Then take a piece of dough that seems enough for one Lussekatt (about 1/40 of the dough that is, if making one batch) and it’s time to start creating your shapes.

collage showing step 25 to 28 of making lussekatter - how to create the shape

Start by rolling out the piece of dough to about 20 cm long. Then grab each end and slowly turn them in towards each other, but on opposite sides of the dough, until you get the shape in picture 28 above.

collage showing step 29 to 32 of making lussekatter

Then place your Lussekatt on the parchment paper and do the process over for the rest of the dough. Once they are all finished, stick two raisins in each bun – just at the center of each “spin”. Then cover and set aside to rise again for about 30 minutes.

collage showing step 33 to 35 of making lussekatter

When it’s been almost 30 minutes, set your oven for 200 C/400 F.

After 30 minutes the buns should have risen about 50% more and it’s time to bake. Now whisk together your egg and then brush each of the buns with it.

Place the baking sheet with the buns in the middle of the oven and bake for 8 minutes – or until golden, depending on your oven this may take a minute more or less. Then remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack or a kitchen towel to cool down and cover with a kitchen towel to keep the moisture in. Repeat until you’ve baked all your saffron buns

And now you have the Swedish part of your Christmas all done!

Expert tips for making Lussekatter

  1. Ground your saffron with sugar using a mortar and pestle or just a spoon – this is especially important if you are using saffron threads and not already ground saffron.
  2. Let your saffron hang out in some rum, vodka, cachaca, brännvin (or other alcohol without too much taste of its own) mixed with sugar for 30 minutes before adding it to the dough – this enhances the saffron flavor and you can use less instead. If you don’t have any alcohol or don’t want to use it, then use water instead.
  3. Use fresh yeast – dry will work, but I always find the fresh kind to rise better and quicker.
  4. Use room temperature butter and milk for the best consistency (instead of melting the butter and heating the milk as many recipes will tell you). Melted butter will absorb a lot of flour which will make your finished buns much dryer.
  5. Weigh your flour as the density of a cup or deciliter of flour can vary greatly. If you don’t have a scale, follow the cups or deciliter measurement instead but be mindful of how the dough feels. When done it should be a bit sticky, but easily release from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Don’t add too much flour as this will make your buns dry. Instead, knead the dough well.
  7. Knead your dough for at least 10 minutes – this together with the room temperature butter makes all the difference for consistency.
  8. Soak your raisins in water to avoid them taking up moisture from the saffron buns.
  9. Cool on a rack – to avoid a soggy bottom.
  10. If you’re freezing part of your batch – let them cool down almost fully on the rack and then immediately pack them in bags and stick in the freezer. This ensures you lock as much moisture as possible inside.
  11. If you don’t like saffron, can’t find it or it’s just one of those years when it’s too expensive – you can use ground turmeric to get that yellow color instead. Or use part saffron, part turmeric.
  12. If you don’t like raisins – just skip them.
a Swedish saffron bun being picked up from a plate full

Frequently asked questions

I don’t have alcohol or don’t want to use it. How can I still maximize the saffron flavor?

If you can’t or don’t want to add alcohol you can use water instead. It will not be as good for extracting the flavor as some kind of alcohol, but it will be better than nothing.

Can you freeze saffron buns?

You can absolutely freeze saffron buns – that’s what we all do in Sweden. We make a batch in the beginning of December, freeze them, and snack on them all the way through the Holidays.

Just let them cool down almost fully on the rack and then immediately pack them in bags and stick in the freezer. This ensures you lock as much moisture as possible inside.

Don’t I need quark or ground almonds to make juicy saffron buns?

No, you actually don’t! While the ground almonds is an old trick (that doesn’t really make a difference), rumor has it that the quark myth started because the company wanted to sell more of this product…

In reality, the two most important things for really soft and juicy saffron buns are using room temperature butter and kneading the dough for at least ten minutes.

Don’t I need to heat my butter and milk to activate the yeast?

No! The yeast will work fine with room temperature butter and milk as well. It might take a little longer to rise, but the slower rise will actually make both the consistency and taste so much better – and you also don’t run the risk of heating your milk & butter too much and “killing” the yeast.

Can I use unsalted butter?

Yes, you can absolutely use unsalted butter. If you do, just add 0.5 tsp of salt for one batch of the recipe, at the same time as you add the sugar.

Great tools to have for making Swedish Saffron Buns

The links in the collage below are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy something through one of them, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

How to serve Swedish Saffron Buns

Saffron buns are often served as other “fikabröd” in Sweden – with a cup of coffee. However, since it is December after all – you will often find it served with a cup of glögg (hot spiced wine) or a glass of Julmust (a very sweet, very delicious Swedish Christmas soda). I for one think it goes wonderfully with a spicy Christmas Sangria as well…

a Swedish saffron bun on a plate in front of a cup of glögg
top down view of lussekatter

Lussekatter – Traditional Swedish Saffron Buns for St Lucia Day & Christmas

5 from 6 votes
Print Rate
Course: Dessert, Fika, Sweets
Cuisine: christmas, European, Northern European, Swedish
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Rising Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
Servings: 40 pieces
Calories: 153kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 g saffron 1 g = about 0.5 Tbsp
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rum or vodka, cachaca, brännvin or water
  • 50 g fresh yeast
  • 5 dl milk room temperature
  • 200 g salted butter room temperature, cut in pieces
  • 2 dl sugar
  • 900 g flour 900 g = about 14 dl/6 cups
  • 80 raisins soaked in water
  • 1 egg

Instructions

  • If you have a mortar, start by pounding your saffron together with the sugar. Then pour in a small bowl or glass and add the alcohol. Mix and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
  • Bring out a large bowl and crumble your yeast into it. Add the milk and mix, then add in the room temperature butter in pieces and mix again, trying to mash up the butter pieces a bit as you go. Then mix in the sugar and pour in the saffron, sugar and alcohol mixture. Add a little water to the bowl or glass that held this mix, swoosh it around and pour in to make sure you get as much of the saffron flavor as possible. Mix.
  • Now start adding the flour. Add a bit at a time until it is all mixed in. When it's getting hard using a spoon to mix, start using your hands instead.
  • When all the flour is added, start kneading the dough. Knead for at least 10 minutes, or longer if you can. When done it should come away easily from the sides of the bowl, without added flour. Once done, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 60 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, check to see if the dough has risen sufficiently. It should be about double in size. If not, let it rest a bit longer.
  • When the dough has risen, place a piece of parchment paper on top of an oven tray. Spread a little flour on a clean surface and take a piece of your dough that's the right size for one Lussekatt. Roll it out into a snake that's about 20 cm/7-8'' long and roll the edges in to create the classic Lussekatt shape or make them into any shape you like. Then place on the parchment paper, taking care to space them out so that they have room to rise about 50% more. Continue until you run out of dough, then bring out your raisins and place two raisins in each Lussekatt, cover with a ktichen towel and set aside for 30 minutes.
  • Set your oven for 200 C/400 F.
  • When the Lussekatter have been rising for another 30 minutes, mix together your egg and remove the kitchen towel. Brush the Lussekatter with the egg and then place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 8 minutes until golden, then remove and place on a cooling rack or kitchen towel to cool. Either way, cover with a kitchen towel. Repeat until you've baked all your Lussekatter.

Notes

Cooking time will vary with your oven.

Expert tips for making Lussekatter

  1. Ground your saffron with sugar using a mortar and pestle or just a spoon – this is especially important if you are using saffron threads and not already ground saffron.
  2. Let your saffron hang out in some rum, vodka, cachaca, brännvin (or other alcohol without too much taste of its own) mixed with sugar for 30 minutes before adding it to the dough – this enhances the saffron flavor and you can use less instead. If you don’t have any alcohol or don’t want to use it, then use water instead.
  3. Use fresh yeast – dry will work, but I always find the fresh kind to rise better and quicker.
  4. Use room temperature butter and milk for the best consistency (instead of melting the butter and heating the milk as many recipes will tell you). Melted butter will absorb a lot of flour which will make your finished buns much dryer.
  5. Weigh your flour as the density of a cup or deciliter of flour can vary greatly. If you don’t have a scale, follow the cups or deciliter measurement instead but be mindful of how the dough feels. When done it should be a bit sticky, but easily release from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Don’t add too much flour as this will make your buns dry. Instead, knead the dough well.
  7. Knead your dough for at least 10 minutes – this together with the room temperature butter makes all the difference for consistency.
  8. Soak your raisins in water to avoid them taking up moisture from the saffron buns.
  9. Cool on a rack – to avoid a soggy bottom.
  10. If you’re freezing part of your batch – let them cool down almost fully on the rack and then immediately pack them in bags and stick in the freezer. This ensures you lock as much moisture as possible inside.
  11. If you don’t like saffron, can’t find it or it’s just one of those years when it’s too expensive – you can use ground turmeric to get that yellow color instead. Or use part saffron, part turmeric.
  12. If you don’t like raisins – just skip them.

Frequently asked questions

I don’t have alcohol or don’t want to use it. How can I still maximize the saffron flavor?

If can’t or don’t want to add alcohol you can use water instead. It will not be as good for extracting the flavor as some kind of alcohol, but it will be better than nothing.

Can you freeze saffron buns?

You can absolutely freeze saffron buns – that’s what we all do in Sweden. We make a batch in the beginning of December, freeze them, and snack on them all the way through December.
Just let them cool down almost fully on the rack and then immediately pack them in bags and stick in the freezer. This ensures you lock as much moisture as possible inside.

Don’t I need quark or ground almonds to make juicy saffron buns?

No, you actually don’t! While the ground almonds is an old trick (that doesn’t really make a difference), rumor has it that the quark myth started because the company wanted to sell more of this product…
In reality, the two most important things for really soft and juicy saffron buns are using room temperature butter and kneading the dough for at least ten minutes.

Don’t I need to heat my butter and milk to activate the yeast?

No! The yeast will work fine with room temperature butter and milk as well. It might take a little longer to rise, but the slower rise will actually make both the consistency and taste so much better – and you also don’t run the risk of heating your milk & butter too much and “killing” the yeast.

Can I use unsalted butter?

Yes, you can absolutely use unsalted butter. If you do, just add 0.5 tsp of salt for one batch of the recipe as well, at the same time as you add the sugar.
Nutrition Facts
Lussekatter – Traditional Swedish Saffron Buns for St Lucia Day & Christmas
Amount Per Serving
Calories 153 Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Fat 5g8%
Saturated Fat 3g19%
Cholesterol 16mg5%
Sodium 73mg3%
Potassium 59mg2%
Carbohydrates 24g8%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 151IU3%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 20mg2%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional information is approximate and automatically calculated, and should only be viewed as an indication.

Did you make this?Tag @alwaysusebutter and use the hashtag #alwaysusebutter!

Now tell me – will you tune in to your inner Swede and make som Lussekatter this holiday season? And for you Swedes… do you follow these tips, or do you have any other to share for making perfect Lussekatter? Either way – let me know in the comments below! And if you want, you can leave me a rating at the same time and let me know how I’m doing.

Now let’s enjoy this wonderful month of December and all the Holiday stuff! I for one am off to have a Lussekatt…

Love,

Emmeline



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