Making St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)

“Lucy cats” is another of their many names. With two little currant or raisin eyes on one end, they’d certainly be reminiscent of a cat with a fluffy curled up tail. Think? I took a big box of these to a party on Saturday and happened to be standing nearby when a woman blurted out “Somebody tell me which bakery these came from, because they’re the best rolls I’ve ever eaten!” I then had to pretend to be embarrassed as several people pointed over my way. Aw shucks, it was me. I was impossible to deal with for the rest of the evening, just ask the missus.

But that’s the sort of reaction these buns get. They’re fluffy and moist to the bite, exotic on the tongue and bewitching to the eye (they look like little flames to me). It’s a devastating combo. Plus you can make them start-to-finish in only a couple of hours. Oh yes, I’ll be making these again. Start by getting your ingredients together. Crush or grind the saffron as finely as you reasonably can. Add it to the milk and set the mixture on a low stove. Warm it and stir it but don’t simmer it. You just want to infuse the milk with all that lovely flavor and color. Set it aside to cool.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl.

Stir it all up.

When the milk mixture is blood warm, pour it into a stand mixer.

Add the quark. You can see here that the texture is nearly identical to sour cream (just a but grainier as a result of the tiny curds). The taste is very close as well. The only difference is that it yields a slightly softer dough compared to the quark. Still it makes a perfectly good and readily available substitute.

Stir it together and start adding the flour mixture.

Once it comes together in a mass, switch to the dough hook.

Knead it for several minutes until it comes away from the sides of the bowl. With sour cream it’s a little looser than this. If it’s too loose, add about a half cup more flour. More if necessary. Start adding the soft butter about a tablespoon at a time. Just like brioche, no?

The dough will come apart…

…then back together again. You want it smooth but still sticking to the bottom of the mixer.

Remove it to a lightly oiled bowl and roll it a little to coat it. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let it rise for about 45 minutes.

It should be not quite doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Here I should point out that the dough can be refrigerated for several days or even frozen at this point. Say, if 35 rolls is more than you need. It’ll keep in the freezer for a couple of months. Simply thaw it overnight in the fridge and proceed with the recipe.

You want to cut it into about 35 small pieces. Those of you who have both digital scales and uptight personalities (me), cut them to 1.9 ounces each.

Now then, selecting a likely piece…

…roll it out with both hands into a snake 14-16 inches long. You won’t need much if any flour for this. In fact, so the snakes can grip the work surface, you may need to brush the board with a moist paper towel every so often.

Now, with your pin, roll the dough snake along its length to flatten in it. This will allow you to achieve a tighter curl.

Roll up one end half way.

Turn the thing over…

…and roll it up the other way.

You’ll have something like this.

Lay them out on sheet pans lined with parchment. They can be fairly close if you wish. You’ll want to move along promptly since the dough will be rising fast. Two people make short work of this shaping step. Now preheat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes: hot.

Let them proof for half an hour, brushing them with egg wash at about the fifteen minute mark, then right before you put them in the oven. You can dot them with currants or raisins at this point, which is traditional. I liked the curls so much I skipped that step.

Bake them for 5 minutes, turn the pans and bake another 5-7 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom to make sure they’re evenly browned. If you were slow to shape them and one pan is further along in the proofing, you can bake the pans in succession if you like. Bake them to about here.

If you like them darker, more like a brioche presentation, you can do that. It’s also a nice look.

I even did a batch without saffron and using sour cream, just to see, though I did add three egg yolks for color. Nice, right?

Watch out or these will become your go-to rolls. And there’s not a thing wrong with that.

36 thoughts on “Making St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)”

  1. My granddaughter is named Lucy. I think I may halve this recipe and bake a batch for her on St. Lucy’s day. These are beautiful!

  2. The shape reminds me of the Pane Siciliano from Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

    They look fantastic, and I’m sure taste even better. Another winner, Joe!

    1. Indeed it does. I thought the very same thing. Definitely try these, Ed. Let me know what you think!

      – Joe

  3. Those look amazing. Are they okay to bake the night before to present them the next day or better baked and served the same day. I love the look!!

    1. Since they have both extra fat and sugar, they keep pretty well. Like all breads they’re best the day they’re made, but the next day is perfectly acceptable…if you can keep from eating them that long!

      – Joe

  4. I am so intrigued by this recipe. My family would love it but with saffron at $21 per gram at Penzeys I’m thinking that the kids will just have to be satisfied with the low rent baked goods I supply.

    1. Hey Thames! Since there are other flavors in operation with these, you don’t need Penzey’s quality saffron for these to be a success. I bought a gram at the local supermarket for eight bucks. Or you can always go without. In the last version at the bottom there, I made some with just a few egg yolks. They were excellent.

      – Joe

    2. See if the Costco near you has saffron. The one near me carries it seasonally.

      I can’t remember what I paid or how much there actually was since I think it’s been about a year since I bought it. But I can’t imagine I would have popped for $21/g. It was a decent amount though.

      1. Indeed good saffron is never cheap, but it can be had for a good deal less than $21.

        Thanks Rainey!

        – Joe

    3. I find saffron at Indian grocers for about half the price I find in supermarkets. $8-10. I think there are “fake” saffrons out there, but if that’s what I got, it still works fine for the recipes I’ve tried.

    1. Thanks Beth! Try them yourself if you get a couple hours to yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

      – Joe

  5. OMG! You do have a way of producing food porn grade stuff!

    I bet they’re delicious too.

    1. Ha! Thanks Rainey. With all your bread experience these will be easy for you. Make some next week!

      – Joe

  6. I made these last night. They’re very very good, but I have a few comments and questions (of course).

    It really does make a huge amount of dough, and I started mixing the dough together before I read the recipe all the way through (I know, I know). So I froze half, but I proofed it once and punched it down before I froze it. I suppose time will tell if that works. I have a regular KitchenAid stand mixer, and this was almost too much dough for it to handle. It’s very much like brioche dough, comes apart, goes back together. Fascinating stuff.

    I doubled the salt, and I think it could have used a bit more. I used sour cream, maybe quark is more salty so it would need less added salt if you use quark? Maybe I’m just a salt freak? (I’m not usually.)

    Some of my “ess” shapes toppled over as they rose. Not a big deal, I think it’s because each end was a different size for some of the rolls so they lost their balance. I need to practice. They still came out quite fine, if I may say so myself.

    Preheat to 475F? Really? Why such high heat? I chickened out at that, and preheated to 450F, and I even thought that was high. I could have taken them out of the oven about a minute earlier, but ovens differ. I think if there were raisins on the surface of that dough (I didn’t use raisins), they would have burned, no?

    I usually use just pinches of saffron in things, this is the first time I’ve had something so fully flavored with it. It’s wonderful stuff, but because of its price I guess it’s not for everyday use. It’s nice to have something for special occasions, and these rolls definitely fit the bill. I’m looking forward to taking the frozen dough out and making more of these. (I also froze some of the rolls I baked.)

    Quibbles aside, thanks for this great recipe and tutorial!

    1. Hey Chana! Thanks for the test run!

      As for the oven temperature it is rather high, but then brioche-type doughs generally bake at a high temperature. Being so light, heat penetrates them quite easily, at the high temperature browns them very nicely before they have a chance to dry out.

      Did they rise any slower with the extra salt in there? Probably no, but I thought I’d ask!

      – Joe

  7. Thank you so much for humoring me and making these! Your recipe and photos look excellent, but I was wondering… Could these be shaped before freezing, then defrosted/proofed overnight in the refrigerator for baking in the morning?

    1. Hey GL!

      You certainly can do that. Just thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. Proof them in the morning for an extra half hour to take off the chill and proceed as normal!

      This was fun!

      – Joe

  8. I was also concerned about the dough rising if I added more salt. It did take a bit longer than 40 min, I let it rise for about 1 hour or so. But there’s a lot of yeast in there, so I guess that helps. It’s a very nice recipe, the rolls have a beautiful tight crumb and wonderful flavor.

    1. So it does have at least a small impact, good to know!

      Something else about them, they really keep for quite a long time. Even two days later they’re still nice for breakfast!

      – Joe

  9. Have you done a post on egg washes? (I couldn’t find one) This recipe got me thinking about them, as I don’t have much experience with them. If you haven’t, I think it would make for a good read. 😛

    These were delicious by the way! Mine were not quite as pretty as yours but certainly delicious. I’m thinking about doing some variations with honey as a flavoring or perhaps a cinnamon roll.

    1. Hey Andy! Great idea…I really haven’t addressed egg wash and it’s a good topic for a couple of posts. Thanks!

      And I’m glad to heat they worked out! Please let me know how the improvisations go!

      – Joe

  10. Thank you from me too for great recipe and tutorial; one batch is already eaten, another waits in the freezer to be baked for my colleague, named Lucia! I got very cheap saffron which didn’t make yellow color at all, but it added nice, subtle flavor to the dough.

    But I have one question regarding mixing the dough. I don’t have stand mixer and do all kneading by hand, but it seems to be difficult to incorporate butter as the last ingredient; therefore all traditional yeast doughs made in my family incorporate butter in the first mixing step, together with warmed milk. What is the difference between these techniques? I guess that it might have impact on gluten formation and the mixing of butter at the last step allows it to form more efficient?

    1. Yes indeed Antuanete, excellent insight. Adding the fat before the gluten has had a chance to develop does undermine the structure, so the buns won’t rise as aggressively or have as smooth a shape when they’re baked. However as you point out it is common to make these sorts of buns that way, adding oil or melted butter in the mixing stage. The process makes good buns, but I do prefer to add the butter later.


      – Joe

  11. I made these over the weekend and absolutely loved working with the dough. I made one-half batch since we are only two at home and I work in a small office. I had the fresh, Spanish saffron and it lent an amazing, subtle flavor. I made the dough in the morning, popped it in the fridge to rise while I went to a movie. Arriving home, I set it out and began working with it and never have I had a dough behave so beautifully. They rolled out and up perfectly and quickly with no added flour whatsoever. They even looked just like your photo when finished! I had to hide them from my husband since he didn’t want me to take any of them away to my office. I was also nervous about the high heat, but it all came out perfectly. If these are close to brioch, then I must try that very soon because it was very easy.

    1. Wonderful news, Linda! Thanks so much for giving me a full report. I like the extra retarding step you added in there. Very nice indeed!

      Cheers, and let me know how the brioche go! You’ll love them.

      – Joe

    1. Hey M.L.! I noted in the instructions that they typically have raisin eyes, I just didn’t put them on, I was too into those cool swirls!

      – Joe

  12. Joe, Happy Santa Lucia Day 2013!
    I have been making a non-quark version of these delicious buns for the last four years, but they were so much prettier today thanks to this post of yours. I *love* your shaping technique, which I had never come across before. Rolling the “snake” of dough flat and then rolling into the S makes all the difference, as you explained. They just look so much more elegant. I was a little leery of baking them at 475 F the egg wash glaze turned a little darker than I like. One question- would baking them at little lower temp for a few minutes longer prevent that over-browning? Or should I throw a piece of brown paper bag over the pan of rolls when they start to brown?
    Also, I found my saffron for around $8/gram at TJMaxx/Home Goods and it gave a lovely flavor and color to the buns.

    Thanks, again, for your terrific blog. I always learn something new when I start reading. Have a happy Christmas

  13. Do you think ricotta, possibly run through a small food processor to smooth it, would work?

  14. I found this recipe and made these this morning for St. Lucy Day. They were a huge hit and will become an annual tradition! Thanks!

  15. My 8 year old daughter loves to cook and bake and deciees to try this recipe tonight. They turned out amazing!! She’s so excited to bake these for our neighbors this Christmas and is already looking for ways to make them her own. She brought up wanting to try and make a homemade custard to add to this recipe…almost like a danish I guess. (We are stationed in Germany right now and creme filled danishes and breads are everywhere) What do you think? Would a little custard cream be a nice add on to this traditional recipe or do you think it would be too overwhelming?

    1. Hi Christina!

      What a great comment. I love successes. Hats off to your daughter for her daring!

      You could certainly put a little cheese filling in the center of a roll if you like. Nice idea!

      Custard is a possibility but it’s fussy and inclined to break down in the heat of the oven. This delivers much the same effect with no risk of curdling. Let me know how they go!


      – Joe

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