Traditional Swedish saffron buns

It’s the second week of my Christmas countdown. Did you have a go at last week’s Sinterklaas treat? How did you find it?

This week we’re leaving the Belgian traditions behind us and heading north to Sweden. St. Lucia is the beautiful celebration of light in the winter darkness. Kids dress up as Lucia in a white long dress and wear a wreath with candles on their head. Others choose to dress up as a gingerbread man, a small Santa or a star boy. This is will give a better idea of how it goes.

Saffron gives these St Lucia buns their golden colour

No Lucia celebration is complete without Lussebullar or Saffron buns. Saffron isn’t cheap but for this special occasion really worth the expense. Its colour is bold and bright and I find it smells divine. Last year I made this lovely golden loaf for Lucia but this year I wanted to keep things really traditional. The kids absolutely love them and for P. it’s pure nostalgia. These saffron buns also freeze really well so go ahead and make a big batch. They are perfect when coming in from the snow, perfect to munch on while watching a classic Christmas movie or have them for breakfast on boxing day (26th December). Either way, I think you should submerge yourself in a little, golden Swedish saffron tradition. Have I convinced you?

Swedish saffron buns

 

Traditional Swedish saffron buns (Lussebullar)

makes 15 buns

Ingredients:

7g dry yeast

80g butter

250ml milk

0,5g saffron (yes, it is a lot of threads)

1/2 tsp salt

85g sugar

400g flour

for glazing: 1 egg

for decorating: raisins

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Then add the milk and heat up to about 37 degrees C. Your finger should neither feel hot or cold when you put it in the mixture.

2. Put the yeast in a bowl and pour the sugar over it. Then add the salt on top of the sugar. Add the saffron threads and then the warm butter-milk mixture. Mix it on a low speed if using a stand or handheld mixer. You can also just use a whisk. Mix until the sugar, salt and yeast has dissolved and the saffron is giving off its yellow colour.

3. Add most of the flour, leaving several tbsp to one side. Let the machine knead the mixture (or use your hands) and check after 5 minutes. If the mixture is too wet, add a tbsp of flour. Continue to knead and check. I used nearly all the 400g of flour.

4. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky and comes away from the mixer bowl.

5. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and let it rise until double in size (approx. an hour).

6. Knead the dough again for several minutes then divide it into 15 equal bits.

7. Roll out the dough bits into sausages about 20cm long and the shape them into an “S” making sure the tops are really curled in, like a snail’s house.

8. Put the buns on a baking tray lined with baking paper and then cover with clingfilm and let double in size.

9. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk the egg and brush the buns with the egg wash. Put a raisin in the middle of each “snail-house” and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.

Enjoy!

Christmas time in Sweden-Lussebullar or Saffron buns

Golden rice pudding with brown sugar

two portions rice pudding one with spoon side by sideSee these pots of gold? There’s a story to them…

I am from Belgium. Land of the chocolate, waffles and beer. Land of Tintin and it’s the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn (fact). Also, land of the increasingly popular Biscoff Cookie and spread!  We may be a small country but we totally make up for it with our big food culture.

When I was 8 years old we moved half way around the world to Hong Kong. We stayed for a couple of years, then moved to Austria before moving back to Asia, where I started my teenage life in Singapore. By the time I was 16 we were back in Belgium (very unexpectedly) and I found it hard to adjust. I promised myself that at the first chance I would be out of there.

By the time I turned 25, I was living near Belfast in Northern Ireland. A great little place. You should visit it if you ever get the chance. The most friendly people in the world live there (that’s my opinion anyway but I think I’m right). And then, in 2013, a husband-to-be and two kids later, we packed up everything and decided to start a life in Berlin Germany.

Why am I telling you this? Because, when you move countries  and become part of varies different cultures, you tend to feel lost now and again. You ask yourself: Who am I? Where am I from? Where do I belong? It can be very unsettling. Myself and a friend seem to be going through a bit of phase at the moment. She’s wondering wether to pack up and move back north. Myself and hubby are wondering wether to buy our first german home.

One thing that helps me feel grounded again is to cook or bake something my mother used to when we were kids. Comfort food, really. The smells and the tastes remind me of my family. And the thing with families is that no matter where you live in this big old world, they are the constant factor in your life. They are your home.

two portions rice pudding with spoons and with pot of brown sugarThis rice pudding is a traditional, Belgian dish. It instantly transports me back to my childhood and the days spent abroad where my mother would adjust and adapt every recipe she had according to the ingredients available in the country we lived in at the time. Kudos to her. This was late 80’s and early 90’s, by the way (for those of you who are of the post 2000 generation, this means no internet and no affordable, international shipping. Just making sure we’re on the same page here).

two portions rice pudding with spoon viewed from the top with pot of brown sugar

Golden rice pudding

(makes 4 small or 2 large portions)

90g (1/2 cup) Arborio rice

600-700ml (2 1/2 – 3 cups) milk

1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of saffron (saffron can be expensive so don’t worry if you leave it out)

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp brown sugar (light or brown, whichever you prefer)

Method:

Put a saucepan on medium heat.

Add the rice, 600ml (2 1/2cups) of milk, saffron, seeds of the vanilla pod (or the extract) and sugar. Stir to mix it all together.

Heat the mixture until it’s just about to boil, then turn the heat low and let it simmer.

Stir the mixture every 3-5 minutes so it doesn’t stick. This is like making a risotto.

After about 30-40 minutes the rice will have absorbed the milk and be soft. If while cooking you notice the mixture getting dry and the rice isn’t soft yet, add the remaining milk.

Spoon the rice pudding in glasses or bowls and top with some brown sugar.

Let the rice pudding cool for about 5-10 minutes. You’ll notice the sugar dissolving a bit and running down into the pudding. That’s exactly how you want it.

two portions rice pudding with pot of brown sugar Close UpIn Belgium, the story goes that when you die and go to heaven, you will be eating rice pudding with a golden spoon every single day. This refers to the fact that in the 16th century,  this dish was a big treat and served at big celebrations like weddings for example.

blurred spoon in foreground and focus on one portion of rice pudding

Close-up spoon with rice pudding

Saffranslängd

Happy Advent!

Today is the 1st of December and today two things happen.  The first one its that we are now officially on the countdown to Christmas. In just over 4 weeks from now, we will be celebrating with my family in Belgium. In the 7 years P. and I have been together, this is the first time we will be enjoying the festive season in my hometown of Bruges. I’m beyond excitement.

The second thing happening today is that P.’s parents are flying in for a 5 day visit. P. is from Sweden but during winter time, his mother and father live in sunny Spain. I hope the cold we are experiencing in Berlin right now will not be too bad for them.

So, put advent, Sweden and Spain together and you get saffranslängd. Let me explain. In Sweden, during advent, they celebrate St. Lucia. And during these celebrations, they eat saffron buns called Lussekatter. Saffron isn’t cheap, it’s like gold, you pay quite a bit of money for a tiny bit of the little red strands. But since Swedes use it in so many more things than saffron buns, it’s reasonably priced. Here in Germany, not so much the case. So we are very lucky that my in-laws are bringing some from Spain today (where they also use it in quite a lot of dishes).

Let’s make a Swedish saffron bread called saffranslängd!

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This is a bit of a project as it takes time but it is totally worth it! And most of that time is the dough resting so you can do something else while you wait. Have a coffee, read a magazine or make Lego structures with your kids.

IMG_2242The key ingredients for this recipe are saffron and fresh yeast. If you can’t get fresh yeast in the supermarket, ask a baker (street corner or even the bakery in the supermarket).  Yeast is great to work with, it makes everything come alive and it has such a lovely unique smell.

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Raisins are for filling the bread. Just to add another bit of sweetness.

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Use a bit of sugar to help crush the saffron with a pestle and mortar.

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Once everything is combined, you need to let it rest. Let it do its thing. Your dough needs to grown a lot, to twice its size.

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Now, shape it into a simple loaf or do what I did. I opted for a roll-cut-pull approach. I’ll explain how I did this in the recipe.

Recipe:

(makes 2 loaves)

40g fresh yeast

1 kg flour

500ml milk

150g butter – melted

120g sugar

1g saffron strands

1 egg

200g raisins

optional: pearl sugar for decoration

Method:

1: Combine the milk and the melted butter together and heat to 37 degrees C. It should feel lukewarm when you put your finger in the mixture, not hot or the yeast will die and your dough will not rise.

2: Meanwhile, put the saffron and a teaspoon of sugar in a pestle and mortar and crush the strands.

3: Divide the mixture into two. In one part, crumble in the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add this to the other part of the milk-butter mixture and add the sugar and saffron. Stir until dissolved.

4: Add the flour and kneed for about 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in a stand mixer with a dough hook. The dough should form a clean, smooth ball that doesn’t stick.

NOTE: if you are making a simple loaf, add the raisins now with the flour.

5: Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the bowl in a warm place that is free of draft and let it rise to twice its volume (approx. 30-45 minutes).

NOTE: if you are making a single loaf, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

6: Cut into 2 equal parts.

NOTE: if you are making a simple loaf, skip to step 11.

7: Roll out the dough into a rectangle about half a centimetre thick. Then sprinkle over half of the raisins. Roll the dough tight like you would roll a carpet, starting the roll with the long side. Do the same with the second part of dough.

8: Take a sharp knife and cut into the dough every 2,5 cm, starting from the bottom. Cut about 3/4 of the way down, you don’t want to cut all the way through.

9: Take the first “cut” and squeeze the middle of it between your thumb and forefinger. Pull it towards you. Take the next “cut” and pull it to the left. Take the third “cut” and pull it to the right. The fourth “cut” your are again squeezing and pulling towards you, then left and right and repeat until you reach the end. Do the same with your other bread.

10: Put both loaves on a baking sheet and cover with a clean tea towel for about 30 minutes, until they have doubled in volume. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

11: Whisk the egg lightly and brush both loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle on the pearl sugar.

12: Bake in the bottom of the oven for 35 minutes. Keep an eye on your loaves. If they start to brown too quickly, lay some tin foil over them for the rest of the baking time.

Happy Advent!

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