Celebrate brighter days ahead with these pleasant winter saffron buns

Celebrate brighter days ahead with these pleasant winter saffron buns

By Kim Sunee

Updated: December 2, 2021 Published: December 2, 2021

These light and airy buns appear in Scandinavian cuisines throughout December, but especially on the 13th to celebrate Santa Lucia, the patron saint of light. It is believed that they were served by Santa Lucia even early in the morning, and her wreath of candles lit up the dark December sky with the promise of sunny days.

Fragrant saffron, from the crocus flower, is the key ingredient here and brightens the enriched dough, while raisins offer a touch of sweetness. Although saffron is a more expensive ingredient, keep in mind that a little goes a long way. The deep-colored spice highlights other baked goods as well as spicy dishes such as a classic risotto Milanese and stews with seafood. Some recipes require grated cardamom or the addition of quarkost. Although not traditional, I have included a little more butter and yogurt – or sour cream – for a tender, rich dough. These buns have only a touch of sweetness; if you like more, top them with Swedish pearl sugar before baking.

Winter saffron balls

Gives 12 to 14 buns

For buns:

1 cup full or 2% milk

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed

12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 heaps tablespoon active dry yeast (check expiration date)

1/3 cup sour cream or yogurt

2 large eggs

4 1/2 to 5 cups (540 to 660 grams) universal flour

1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon fine salt

To top:

24 to 26 golden raisins soaked just to cover in rum, brandy or orange juice

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water

Optional: Swedish pearl sugar

Combine milk and saffron strands in a small saucepan set over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave); warm milk and saffron up until the milk boils lightly. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter; let melt and cool slightly (to 110-115 degrees). Check that the yeast has not expired and sprinkle yeast over the milk mixture; let sit five to 10 minutes or until frothy. Note: If the mixture is too hot, it can kill the yeast, so make sure it is lukewarm or at around 110-115 degrees.

2. Put the lukewarm yeast-butter-milk mixture in a bowl with a mixer – or put it in a large bowl if you are not using a mixer). Add sour cream and two eggs; mix just to combine. Weigh or measure flour (carefully scoop into measuring cup and smooth with a knife); place in a medium bowl and whisk in sugar and salt. If using a mixer, use the dough hook set to medium-low speed (or in a large mixing bowl), add 3 cups of flour, a little at a time, and mix until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. more flour 1/2 cup at a time just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The moisture level in your kitchen determines how much flour you need, so add a little at a time until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough in the mixer for five to six minutes or roll out the dough on a clean surface (have some flour ready if necessary, but try not to add more than necessary) and knead by hand for eight to 10 minutes. The dough should be soft, smooth and pliable. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl; cover with plastic wrap or a clean paper towel and let rise in a warm place until it is raised and almost doubled in size, about an hour.

Soak raisins in rum, brandy or orange juice. After an hour, gently empty the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 12 to 14 equal pieces (a kitchen scale is useful here). Form dough pieces into coarse stems that are approximately 4 to 5 inches long and let them rest for five minutes. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a baking sheet. Roll each tree trunk, stretching gently while working, into a 12-inch rope. Shape each rope into an “S” or Figure-8 shape, curling the ends in opposite directions toward the center. Drain raisins and insert a raisin into the center of each spool with two raisins per. bully. Place buns on prepared baking sheet. Try to distribute them evenly, but if some touch them, it’s OK. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes, or until raised. While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. After the second leavening, when ready to bake, brush each bun with egg icing. If desired, top buns with powdered sugar. Bake until golden, 11 to 15 minutes, and count with foil the last few minutes if raisins start to burn. Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes before serving at once. Best made and enjoyed the same day. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container on the kitchen table for a few days. If you start to dry out, heat in the microwave for a few seconds or toast in a frying pan. Enjoy plain or with butter, sour cream or jam.

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