Here’s a quickie for the last of 2015!
I’m in Taiwan awaiting a red-eye flight home, watching the Chinese version of David Attenborough with my mum and grandma. Landing in Taipei on the 25th, the only mention of Christmas was from our cheerful Dutch cabin crew upon announcing local temperatures and baggage claim numbers; literally overnight, everything’s gone from mulled wine and ice skating to the same ol’ Taiwan. Of course, come February, Chinese New Year festivities will have transformed the streets into something I’ve never known in all my summertime childhood visits.
With each year eroding the relative stability and predictability of childhood, I gladly soak up holiday vibes wherever they may crop up. Among this year’s opportunistic festivities was baking saffron buns with my dearest Swede Louise, whom I happily visited two summers ago. In her exceedingly adult lifestyle, dough rises higher and there are multiple rolls of wrapping paper and ribbon to choose from. (Just when I think I’m all grown up, I realise that I still recycle my screen-printing scraps and the twine from fancy jam jars when wrapping gifts.)
The tradition of baking St. Lucia buns seems to overlap Scandinavia and England—in Cornwall, they are rather adorably called ‘tea treat buns’ or ‘revel buns’. Their namesake Saint Lucy is said to have brought food to the Christians hiding in catacombs via candle-lit wreath. Nowadays many commercial buns will use food colouring in place of luxurious saffron, but count the precious strands (along with the indulgent amounts of dairy and white flour, for instance!) as annual treats to be enjoyed wholly.
St. Lucia Saffron Buns (Lussebullar)
(yields 32 buns)
- 200g butter or ghee
- 500ml (~2 cups) milk
- 1g saffron + 1 T sugar
- 50g fresh yeast
- 200g (~1 cup) sugar
- 3 T warm water
- 2 medium eggs
- 1 pinch salt
- ~2 kg bread flour
- 150g (~1 cup) raisins, optional
- 1 egg, beaten for brushing
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then add the milk and sugar until warm to the touch. Smash the strands of saffron with a mortar/pestle, using some sugar to help grind it up. Tip into the warm milk mixture.
In a very large bowl, crumble the fresh fresh yeast and combine with warm water and sugar. Once the yeast begins releasing bubbles, mix in salt, eggs, and the warm milk mixture. Add the flour in cup by cup, stirring gradually to form a lump of rich yellow dough. Knead by hand until very smooth and elastic, adding more flour as needed to reach the right consistency. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a moist tea towel, and leave in a warm moist place to rest for one or two hours. It should be about doubled in size at the end of the rising time.
Preheat the oven to 260ºC/500ºF. Scatter some flour on a clean work surface and divide the dough into half, then quarter each half. Quarter each remaining piece again so that you have 32 dough balls of equal size. To form the traditional bun shape, roll into a long rope and spiral each end inwards in opposite directions to make an ‘S’-shape. Let these shapes rise again on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes, then brush generously with some beaten egg. Bake each batch in the oven for about 8 minutes. Make sure to cover each finished batch with a towel while cooling to ensure that they stay moist.