St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter) Recipe

These lovely “S” shaped buns are commonly made with quark (kesella) but that’s not terribly easy to find in the States. Mascarpone is an excellent substitute (homemade if you’re feeling ambitious!). Crème fraîche can also be used, but sour cream is perfectly good as well. Most recipes for these call for fresh yeast, but I’ve converted it instant. As my dear departed grandmother Margaret liked to say “why not do it the easy way?” God she was a great lady. Anyway, here’s what you need:

1 gram saffron threads
16 ounces (2 cups) milk
2 lbs. 3 ounces (7 cups) all-purpose flour
4.5 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (20 grams) instant yeast
8 ounces quark or sour cream (room temperature)
3.5 ounces (7 tablespoons) soft butter
egg wash
raisins (optional)

Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back of a spoon as best you can. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan just to the simmer and add the saffron. Stir it, turn off the heat and let it cool until it’s just warm (about body temperature).

Meanwhile, stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Add the the quark (or sour cream) and stir to combine it a bit. Add the flour steadily and stir until a dough forms. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough about 7 minutes until it’s very elastic and comes away from the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, add the soft butter about a tablespoon at a time until it’s all incorporated.

Turn the dough out into a large bowl, cover it with a cloth and let it rise about 40 minutes or until about doubled in size. Flour a work surface, turn out the dough and cut it into 35 (or so) pieces. Roll them out into snakes about 14 inches long. Flatten the snakes slightly with a pin, then roll the strips inward from each end into an “S” shape. Lay them on parchment lined sheets to proof, about another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set your oven racks in the lower half of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Paint them with egg wash and dot them with raisins. Bake 8-12 minutes until golden.

47 thoughts on “St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter) Recipe”

  1. Looks like a pretty awesome recipe. So your grandmother was Swedish or she just liked Swedish recipes? 🙂

    1. She just liked doing things the easy way! 😉

      Actually growing up I lived two doors down from one of the great Swedish bakers, one Lily Lundstrom. I learned young how good Swedish baking was. I can still smell her cardamom rolls, ah…..

      Thanks for the memories, Linda!

      – Joe

        1. Oh…those are SO good. It’s funny, in Chicago they make a big cake-style version of it called “Swedish Flop.” The name is actually fairly descriptive of what happens when you try to cut a giant cream puff into separate pieces. Funny how things are done in different locales.

          Thanks for the memory!

          – Joe

      1. I guess quark should be available in most Russian stores too, if you have one nearby. Quark is among the products people from our region miss very much when living abroad, so Russian (and sometimes Polish) shops try to carry it.
        Definitely will try this recipe; I know many treats with quark as ingredient, but never heard of yeast dough with it!

        1. They’re spectacular, Antuanete. I’m on my third batch, and not because I keep messing up. They keep disappearing!

          – Joe

        2. Hi Antuanete,

          The Russian/Eastern European product is tvarog (dry curd cottage cheese) and while it’s sometimes lumped together with quark as a ‘fresh cheese’ (or fromage frais), it’s quite different – more grainy and less smooth. It’s closer to ricotta than to mascarpone, for example. I don’t know that it would produce the same results. Joe?

          (However, if your Russian shop has authentic smetana, that should do it. Smetana is usually translated as sour cream, but is much richer and thicker – pretty much identical to crème fraiche, in fact.)

          1. I’ll catch that ball, Jen!

            Yes a cottage cheese isn’t what’s needed here. Quark actually has extremely tiny curds (like mascarpone) and really is similar in consistency to a thick sour cream or creme fraiche. Bigger curds won’t disperse as well, so I wouldn’t recommend going that route.

            – Joe

          2. Oh, seemingly I have got lost in translation, as Latvian dictionaries often refer to quark being the product that is actually what you know as “tvarog”. But here in Latvia we have “tvarog” in different curd size and fat content, so it would be easy to find appropriate dairy product for these buns.

  2. Hey Joe, according to my search of your archives, this is the second time you’ve mentioned Lily Lundstrom’s cardamom rolls, but there’s nary a recipe for them in sight! Any chance of blessing us with one this year? 🙂

    1. I may just be able to find that, Jen. They’re the stuff of legend to me as you can tell. My mother just might have the recipe.

      Nice thinking.

      – Joe

  3. Hey! Nice looking recipe, I can tell you the first time I got to try a saffron bun (and they have quite a few names…. and a few shapes) I fell in love. Most of the recipes I’d seen are without quark/creme fraich though. I keep meaning to make some of my own. I think this was the kick to do it. 😛 I’ve just never fully gotten the hang of bread-or rather the kneading part…so I think I avoid breadmaking recipes.

    1. Oh, get after it, now Kitty. This is really easy. Knead until the dough looks like the picture (forthcoming) and all we be well!

      – Joe

      1. well its also in the mixer and while I got a stand mixer within the last year.. I’m not the happiest with it. It isn’t a “planetary” type. I think for it to work well I would need to double recipes or something. I used to been keen to want a kitchenaid but as I want to do things like bread (and mebbe a batch of divinity-damn that can wear your arm out!) I’ve read things against it short of finding a older model. (newer ones can’t handle tough doughs as well it seems) Just like sewing machines. 😛
        Anyways, due to this I’m still delving into the bread making thing and I’m worried of overdoing it…. I tried by hand before and that… I grew tired of fast and I’m not a weak woman, I just dunno… I think I got the hand motion off. So I shelved the idea until I could get a machine.

        Oh and as for a semla cake? We got one once, ehhh it was a disappointment compared to the normal ones. Not enough almond paste.

        1. I think your mixer can handle this, but then I don’t know the model. It’s a soft dough. Give it a whirl! Why not?

          – Joe

          1. oh I have no doubt it can handle it, its a bosch universal plus 1000watt. I just don’t LIKE it as much. we got it on sale and I had previously looked upon the center post with disgust but was like what the helll its cheap and I could use it for bread. I think my problem with it is I havn’t done anything that actually challenges it, quite opposite. I’ve decided to use it more and try and make more bread and or pizza dough. At least with the nature of said dough I don’t have to worry about stuff not mixing properly. Never was worried about it being able to handle bread, I just havn’t gotten the knack of it… Yet. Its the centerpost that I don’t like about it. I thought I could get used to it. I’m gonna try to learn to like it. Short of finding a job, it will be awhile before I can get what I actually want. (used to want a kitchenaid, that was before I learned the new ones suck, at least for bread)
            Thing is I don’t DO big mixes, I was even thinking of halving the Lucia Buns. I guess I could look into freezing them… baked or unbaked.

          2. Yes you can freeze the dough after rising and it’ll keep for a couple of months in the freezer. That is an interesting design. Reminds me of the spiral mixers I use to use in bakeries. I’m sure if you show it a little love it’ll endear itself to you! 😉

            Let me know!

            – Joe

  4. Joe, can you comment on the mixer speed for the seven minutes of kneading? The kneading process is always where I have trouble – I have a tendency to overdo it.

    1. Hey Jessica! About medium speed is fine. It’s really hard to overdo kneading though. I’ve only seen it happen one time, when a mixer in the bakery was left to run by mistake for about half an hour. Eventually the proteins coagulated and the water in the dough ran out. A very, very odd sight. But it’s almost impossible for the home baker, truly. Knead away!

      – Joe

  5. As to making marscapone, what if the only cream available IS UHT as well as full of carageenan and the only milk available (forget about half-and-half) also UHT? Give up the idea of making the cheese?

    1. Er…um…I guess so. Sorry. Is there not a smaller dairy or specialty store in the area?

      – Joe

  6. Hi Joe,

    Do you think that strained yogurt (what’s called “Greek-style”) would work in place of the quark in this recipe, or is it too acidic? What happens with acid in a yeast dough?

    Also on the subject of yogurt (sorry to hijack your delicious lussekatter post!), do you think that a natural yogurt mixed with water could substitute for buttermilk in non-yeast baking such as soda bread or scones? I know that milk mixed with vinegar or lemon juice is the usual substitute for buttermilk, but I don’t always have milk on hand and I practically always have yogurt!

    1. Yes and yes. Greek yogurt would be an excellent substitute in this recipe. No worries about the acid. Yeast actually like it…up to a point. Unstrained yogurt is a perfect substitute for buttermilk, the lower the fat the better. Great questions, Jen!

      – Joe

      1. Fantastic, thanks! And I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the cardamom rolls 🙂

          1. Most of the cinnamon buns here have cardemum in them. I love them! If you need any help with translating, or something I could probably help, or ask someone if I don’t understand.

          2. I am looking for a good cardamom roll recipe. I’ve been looking for my boyhood favorite, from a Swedish neighbor of ours, but so far to no avail!

            – Joe

  7. Do you have the original recipe with standard yeast? I’m all for the easy way, but in my case, the easy way is using up my current jar of active dry yeast rather than buying instant! Thanks, Joe! Love your site.

    1. Thanks, Ashley! You’ll use 1.75 ounces (50 grams) of cake yeast for this. Have fun!

      – Joe

      1. “by any other name…” I thought active dry yeast IS instant yeast. Am I wrong?

        1. In fact they are different things. Active dry need to be “proved” in warm water or milk before using while instant can simply be mixed in in its dry state. Both are widely available in supermarkets. Beat of luck DG!

          – Joe

  8. Hi Joe,

    I was looking at my mom’s Danish cookbooks to see if there was anything like a cardamom roll or bun in them. I found several bread recipes that had cardamom. I was wondering if you could tell me more about the cardamom rolls of your childhood neighbor Lily. If I knew more about what they were like (shape, sweetness, add-ins like currents, etc), I might be able to see if any of my moms recipes are similar. If you know the Swedish name for them that would be a shoe in. I’m happy to share any or all of her recipes.


    1. Wonderful, Eva. They were simple square buns, baked in a pan. Sometimes Lily would ice them, but normally they were just that: plain rolls with a little cardamom. Honestly I don’t think there was anything magical about them, except when she made them!

      Very thoughtful of you.

      – Joe

  9. I’m so keen to try my hand at making these… but I do my breadmaking by hand. In your recipe you suggest kneading in a machine then slowly adding the butter – can I do the same if I’m kneading it myself? Or would I be better to add in the butter before I knead? What do you think?

    1. Hey Melanie! Just answered a question along these lines. You can do it by hand if you like. Try enclosing the soft butter in one of the folds. You’ll get greasy hands and a greasy board, but adding melted butter in the mix undermines the gluten and hence the rise. It’s still perfectly valid if you decide to go that way of course. But both ways are possible by hand. Let me know hoe they go!

      – Joe

  10. Can I use Fleischmann’s active dry yeast in the little 1/4 oz packets? I made the mistake of writing yeast on my grocery list and that’s what was bought. I know that I can sprinkle it on my milk when it cools down to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit but want to check on the amount. Right now I have 3/4 oz (21 g).

  11. I’d guess Finnish and Swedish food are close to each other. I’m from Finland and our “regular sweet buns” are also cardamom buns (I’ve tasted also Swedish buns and they are like the Finnish ones). Finnish cardamom buns are made basically like these Lusse-buns, but without the saffron and the quark and the amount of butter should be increased to 150-200 g, salt 1/2-1 teaspoon. And the most important part: Add 1 tablespoon ground cardamom seeds to the milk.

    And btw, I love your site 🙂

  12. Joe,

    Are you using European style butter or American style butter in this recipe?

    Looks great BTW

    1. Hi Travis!

      In fact I am. It’s not essential for these, though I think it helps!

      Thanks for the question!

      – Joe

  13. I make lussekatter and pepparkakor every year for Luciadagen. I don’t think I’ve ever tried them with quark, though. I’ll have to try your recipe this year!

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