saint lucia buns

Each December, I find myself searching for the perfect holiday traditions. Not that there are any perfect ones, of course, but with two little ones in our family, I crave some routine and consistency each year. Dream scenarios would be opening presents every Christmas morning as a family in our home, snuggling up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate Christmas Eve to watch Rudolph (and then later White Christmas), searching through holiday magazines and cookbooks for the best cookie recipes and then making them together over Christmas break, and sweet yeasted bread every day. Cinnamon rolls, fruit-filled Danish, braided pumpkin-spice knots, just anything along those lines, all Christmas-time long.

st. lucia buns

King Arthur Flour asked me to bring a Christmas classic to their Holiday Table, and I immediately thought of St. Lucia Buns. St. Lucia Day is before Christmas Day, taking place on the longest night of the year (according to the ancient Julian calendar), December 13th. While these buns are not dripping in icing and swirled with cinnamon, they are sweet and delicious nonetheless. They could be made in the middle of December, and then again on the 25th, served for breakfast, or an afternoon coffee break after opening piles of presents and shaking every last piece of candy out of stockings by the fire. Whenever you decide to make them is just fine; just make sure to add them to your baking list.

Browse some of my other picks for Classic Christmas recipes and favorite tips for the season at King Arthur Flour’s Holiday Table.

st. lucia buns

st lucia buns

To begin: In a small saucepan set over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave), heat the milk and saffron to a simmer; then stir in the butter.

st. lucia buns

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Mix to combine, then knead the dough.

st. lucia buns

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it’s quite puffy.

st. lucia buns

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape the dough into 12 logs, then roll each log into a long rope.

st. lucia buns

st. lucia buns

Shape each rope into an “S” shape.

st. lucia buns

Let the buns rise again, until puffy. Brush with egg whites.

st. lucia buns

Then sprinkle with coarse white Swedish pearl sugar.

st. lucia buns

Bake the buns until they’re golden brown.

st. lucia buns

Remove the buns from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.


st. lucia buns

St. Lucia Buns
Recipe by King Arthur Flour

1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
1/2 cup butter
4 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white (reserved from dough) mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
coarse pearl sugar, optional
golden raisins, optional

In a small saucepan set over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave), heat the milk and saffron to a simmer; remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Set the mixture aside to allow the butter to melt and cool to lukewarm, 30 to 35 minutes. You can reduce the milk’s cooling time by about 10 minutes by refrigerating it.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar.

Separate one of the eggs, and set the white aside; you’ll use it later.

Pour the lukewarm milk and butter mixture over the dry ingredients.

Add the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Mix to combine, then knead for about 7 minutes by mixer, or 10 minutes by hand, till the dough is smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measuring cup, cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it’s quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. A scale makes this job easy; each piece will weigh about 92g, or 3 1/4 ounces.

Shape the pieces of dough into rough logs, and let them rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax.

Roll each log into a 15″ to 18″ rope. They’ll shrink once you stop rolling; that’s OK.

Shape each rope into an “S” shape. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the two side-by-side coils, if desired.

Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between them. Cover them, and let them rise for about 30 minutes, till they’re noticeably puffy, but definitely not doubled. While they’re rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Brush each bun with some of the egg white/water glaze. Sprinkle with coarse white Swedish pearl sugar, if desired.

Bake the buns until they’re golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you’ve used raisins, tent them with foil for the final 3 minutes, to prevent the raisins from burning.

Remove the buns from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

Yield: 12 large buns

This post was sponsored by King Arthur Flour. All my opinions, as always, are my own.

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46 Responses to st. lucia buns

  1. Those curlicues are wonderful.
    We usually have a Saint Lucy party–a candlelit cocktail party. A kickoff to Christmas!

  2. Laura Bigsby says:

    Beautiful buns with even more beautiful girl !

  3. I’ve been curious about Saint Lucia’s buns since I was little, but I’ve never tried them. I think I have to now with this beautiful recipe.

  4. betty says:

    Oh Sarah, it’s so beautiful, and these photos just melt my heart. I’ve never tried or made these Saint Lucia’s buns, but I think I have to now!

  5. i’ve always been afraid to try these but now i feel less afraid! will try this weekend!

  6. I’ve never heard of these buns before but they look incredible, I just want to tear into one and dunk it in a mug of hot chocolate!

  7. Caroline says:

    Sarah, I totally relate to wanting to create holiday traditions. My kids are much older, but we started baking my Mom’s Armenian braided bread every year and it’s just not Christmas without it now. These buns are absolutely gorgeous! I love their beautiful shape and those pearls of sugar so much! Lovely recipe! Happy Holidays!

  8. I love those little hands <3 She is so adorable.
    And these buns.. Seriously mouthwatering and delicious. <3

  9. Christmas baking traditions are the best – in our family, it’s been cinnamon-date brioche scrolls on Christmas morning around the time of present-opening! I’ve never heard of St Lucia buns before but that swirl is gorgeous – so interesting with the potato flour and saffron too.

  10. Shauna says:

    This is a wonderful tradition. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Amina Nasar says:

    What does one substitute potato flour with if it’s not available. Cute buns!

  12. I have wanted to make these for so long and you’ve inspired me to get on it!! They’re just so pretty and I’m sure incredibly delicious too!

  13. alana says:

    so, i’ve never made st. lucia buns, but now that i’ve got this post, with all your shaping how-tos, i think it’s time. these look sooooo good, sarah!!

  14. Kathryn B says:

    For a dairy free version- would it still work with lard instead of butter?

  15. Maria says:

    Oh my word!! I have not heard anyone talk about St. Lucia’s day in years. That just made my heart so happy:) These buns look so lovely!!

    • Carol Hydeman says:

      It is still a significant day in my house. I usually make 10-15 loaves of cardamom bread each year. That is our St Lucia day tradition – and are gifts for friends, coworkers, and family.

  16. As an Italian, leavened sweets and breads definitely make Christmas – think panettone, pandoro and the like! I would love to try my hand at making these. I can’t get into the mood for cookies! 🙂

  17. Never heard of these before – but, now that I see their loveliness – I am going to try them. I kind of like the idea of trying them with the raisins – thank you for your inspiration!

  18. Linda says:

    I’ve been eating these for almost 70 years and making them for over 50 years. I learned to use cardamom rather than saffron though. They are a wonderful tradition

  19. Margaret Downs-Gamble says:

    Any suggestions for HIGH high altitude baking of these? I’m above 7000 feet and am struggling with yeast baking but would love to make these net week.

  20. Carol Hydeman says:

    Our St Lucia tradition is Swedish Cardamom braid. My children are adults but it still is a joy to bake cardamom bread to share with them and friends. We open Christmas gifts on Christmas morning, have coffee and cardamom bread while we enjoy a leisurely start to the day…except for the cook. Christmas Eve is a traditional Swedish smorgasbord with lots of food and at least seven types of cookies and rice pudding with lingonberries for dessert so Christmas Day dinner might be turkey with all the usual sides or ham or beef tenderloin or leftovers from smorgasbord. God Jul indeed.

  21. Risemary Nisbet says:

    I would like to make these delicious looking buns. However, I am intolerant to anything with potato. Can I use regular flour?

  22. Fernando says:

    Can I use rice flour or oat flour replacing potato flour? Thanks

  23. Alice Bilodeau says:

    I love keeping the Swedish tradition in our family making Soritz cookies and Mundel Mussler cookies. I will definitely be trying the St. Lucia buns this year. If anyone would like to share a good recipe for Swedish Cardamom bread, I would really appreciate it!

  24. Martha says:

    Are the saffron threads used for just color? If so, could I subsitute tumeric? Or do you have any other ideas for what to use if you don’t have access to saffron?

  25. Grae Willims says:


  26. Amy T. says:

    Hi Sarah-
    My family has made a brioche recipe, similar to these buns but much more time-consuming, for years. This holiday I’m going to try the St. Lucia recipe but add a heady vanilla glaze which we normally put on the brioche. Your new cookbook looks great. Congratulations!

  27. Grace F Riedel says:

    Anise would be a good flavorful substitute for saffron. You would boil it then remove from heat and cover for 10 min to infuse the flavor. Coconut oil may be a good substitute for butter.

  28. Grace F Riedel says:

    You have to strain and discard anise saving the flavored water.

  29. Barbara says:

    Is it possible to make them slightly smaller, dividing the dough into 16 pieces? Would I lessen the baking time?

  30. Anna A. says:

    I just made these- they’re currently in the oven! I’m curious to taste them. Being relatively new to baking breads and rolls, I found that my dough was really dry and cracked easily when it was done rising. Is that normal? It was super difficult to roll. Any tips for my next attempt?

  31. Elizabeth says:

    I would love to serve these fresh from the oven on Christmas morning but would need to do some of the work the night before. At what point would you recommend putting the dough into the fridge overnight? I thought perhaps after shaping them into logs. Thanks!

  32. Boxon says:

    Thanks for his great recipes and the buns look delicious! Very like with the aroma produced after coming out of the oven …

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