Tuesday 13 December 2016

Swedish Saffron Buns - a Must Have on St Lucia

Today is St Lucia, celebrated in Sweden with singing by Lucia and her followers, but I won’t go into all that too much, as it’s quite a complicated thing to explain properly, with its different origins, evolution and present day traditions – if you want to see how it’s done nowadays, search for ‘Luciatåg’ on YouTube, and you’ll get everything from performances by toddlers and school children to professional televised shows accompanied by popular Swedish singers, or you can read the (mostly accurate) Wikipedia article.

This post will be all about the must-have thing to eat on St Lucia in Sweden – saffron buns, called saffransbullar, lussekatter or lussebullar in Swedish. 

They serve them in school lunch rooms, sell them in cafés, bakeries, supermarkets and petrol stations, but the best ones are home baked. I must confess that the last few years we haven’t had them on that day in our family since it’s our eldest child’s birthday so we eat birthday cake instead, but we do bake and eat them on the first weekend in December, or on the first weekend in Advent, whichever comes first. We also have them for breakfast on Christmas Eve, as that was tradition in my dad’s family when he grew up, was continued in his own family, and is now done in his grown children’s families. Usually they are baked as separate buns, but for our Christmas Eve breakfast, all the buns are put next to each other to make one huge break bread, sometimes in the shape of a tree. EDIT 24th December: This is how it turned out this year: 


Making these is a good family activity, even toddlers can take part with a bit of help. Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds of recipes for Swedish saffron buns, there is something for every taste, but this is a classic one that I use. For convenience I often use dry yeast (it stores much longer), but fresh yeast works just as well. If you use fresh yeast, change the work order accordingly, dissolving it in some of the buttermilk rather than mixing it with the flour.

Butter: 175 grams
Milk: 500 millilitres
Yeast: 50 grams (or the same equivalence in dry yeast)
Sugar: 175 - 200 millilitres
Ground saffron, ground: 1 gram
Plain wheat flour: about 1500 millilitres
(Egg: 1)

Start by melting the butter in a saucepan. While it’s melting, grind the saffron in a mortar to release the flavour. You don’t want a weak saffron flavour, so feel free to add a bit more saffron than the recipe calls for.

When the butter is melted, add the milk and saffron, and heat to finger temperature.

Pour most of the flour into a bowl or dough mixer. I’m one of those weird people who rather like to mix bread dough and whip cream by hand. Add the sugar, salt and dry yeast, and mix well. 

Add the egg and mix it in. (Optional, but it will give a more flexible dough.)

Pour the finger warm saffron buttermilk over the flour mix, and stir thoroughly. Add more flour if needed. 

When the dough is of a good bread dough texture, letting go of the bowl, sprinkle it with flour, put a tea towel over it and let it proof to double size. (Note: if in doubt, better leave the dough a tiny bit too wet than to dry. It's easier to add flour later if needed, than to remove any.)

Put the dough on a floured surface and knead thoroughly, until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Make the buns. Take a piece of dough, roll it out, and then coil the ends to make a somewhat exaggerated curly S-shape. Traditionally many different shapes were made, but this one is most common today.

Put the buns on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment, push a raisin into the middle of each coil (optional – I don’t like raisins in bread, so we leave some of them plain), cover with a tea towel and let them proof again, for about 30 minutes.

The buns have proofed enough when they spring back when gently poked. Give the buns an egg wash and put them in the middle of the oven, at 225-250 degrees Celsius. Depending on your oven, it will take about 5-10 minutes - they should be golden brown on top when finished.

Eat them as they are. Yum!

A common thing to have with saffron buns is julmust, a non-alcoholic, carbonated drink flavoured with malt and hops. Non-Swedes usually dislike it at first try, but for Swedes it is such a typical thing to drink in December, and many people have opinions on which brand is the tastiest. If you feel like giving it a go, I believe many IKEA stores have it, but I can’t vouch for how good it is – we have another favourite in my family ;) If julmust is not an option, milk, tea or coffee are other common drinks to have them with.

If your're Swedish - do you have any family traditions with regards to lussebullar? If you're not Swedish, have you tried saffron buns? How did you like them?

Friday 9 December 2016

Waltz of the Snowflakes

When perusing Pinterest sometime last autumn I came across some adorable paper ballerinas with snowflake tutus. Grown up though I am, I really liked them, but thought maybe they wouldn’t work in our home; they seemed more suited to little girls, and I’m the only female in the family. After several weeks, I reconsidered, thinking “well, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever have any daughters, and even if I do, they might not like ballet”. So, I decided to make a few snowflake ballerinas anyway, and have them as decoration for the “girls’ night in” I was planning with some friends.

In the summer I had made snowflakes from mini Hama beads that I had left from a project I did years ago. I made every one unique, though some of them are rather similar.

Then a few weeks ago I got caught up in making snowflakes with paper quilling; there are lots of tutorials on YouTube and on Pinterest if you’re interested to try it. All in all, I had enough suitable items to make a proper Walts of the Snowflakes decoration.

I used this template for the ballerinas, but edited out the skirt, which I then cut out of thin cardstock. I chose to make all three of them hold the same pose, to echo the feel of a corps de ballet, but made the tutus different, just as no two snowflakes are alike. The tutus were made from classical folded and cut paper snowflakes. I made the ballerinas rather smaller - 13,5 centimetres (5 5/8") from head to toe, smaller than my hand - than the inspiration pictures, as I think smaller quite often is prettier. I cut the snowflake tutus up the back, and glued them together again, using strips of paper, once they were in place on the ballerinas. The join is almost invisible. 

I hung the dancing snowflakes from the lamp fitting over our kitchen table, together with the quilled paper snowflakes and mini Hama bead snowflakes. On the threads that I hung the snowflakes from I also strung white glass beads, and put some threads with glass beads between them here and there to fill out any spaces. It became a very pretty, wintery decoration, the pictures really doesn't do it justice. The ballerinas make pirouettes when the heat from a candle under them makes the air move. I am quite delighted with them, and my boys also like them. It is not exactly a Christmas-y decoration, so it’s probable it will stay up well into the next year.

Have you made something similar? Please share a link!

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Button Tree Ornaments

These little ornaments are a bit whimsical, but cute. They also make a nice craft for children. Remember those bags of non-matching buttons I mentioned in my last post? A while back I decided to get some use out of the green ones. I apologise for the poor quality of the WIP images, the lighting was pretty bad.

The supplies I used were green buttons of varying sizes, wooden beads for the trunks, yellow glass beads for the toppers (star shaped buttons are nice too, but I was working from stash), and I stringed the ornaments on green linen thread that I’d twisted to make thin cords.

I put the wooden bead on first, making sure it was in the centre of the cord. Then the largest button went on, after that one of the smallest ones, and then a large one again, as the trick to making this look like a spruce/Christmas tree and not a cone is alternating the buttons of a decreasing size with really small ones.

For buttons with two holes the cord naturally will run through each of them, and on four hole buttons, the cord will go through two holes diagonally across from each other. When all the buttons are stringed, add the bead on top, tie off the cord (make sure the knot is big enough to prevent the glass bead from slipping off), and your ornament is done!

This is a great project for left-over buttons, and if the buttons don't match from one tree to another it's actually not a bad thing, as no two trees look exactly the same in real life. If one would someday want the buttons for something else, they are easily redeemable.

Have you made a neat holiday craft using buttons? Please share!

Saturday 3 December 2016

Crocheted Star Ornaments

When browsing Pinterest I came across these crocheted little stars made by Persia Lou, and as each star only require two rounds, I though they’d be quick and fun to make. The pattern called for wool yarn, but though I love wool, I've had wool ornaments eaten by bugs when in storage, and as I'm in enough worry over my stash of wool fabrics and yarn, not to mention my historical clothes, I decided against that. The cotton yarn that I had of a suitable colour was too thin, so I tried making them from hemp twine that I had at hand. It worked very well, except that the twine was a bit rough to work with, so I could only make one or two stars at the time to protect my hands. Unlike the instructions in the pattern, I did not starch my stars, so they are a bit less crisp and pointed than the originals, but nice anyway.

Once they were done I thought they needed an extra little something. I once got three small bags of buttons, in green, red and blue respectively. It wasn’t the best deal of my life, as it turned out that rather few of the buttons actually matched. For this project they would work well though, so I picked out every red button of the size that I wanted, and stitched one in the centre of each star. I made a hanger from the twine, and the ornaments were ready to be hung.

Simple but pretty, if one is into a Scandinavian Christmas decor, an "old fashioned" Christmas or the “rustic” Christmas (whatever that’s supposed to be) that seem to be one of the trendy themes right now.

Have you crocheted some kind of ornaments for Christmas?