A what? You may ask – and that is indeed a very valid question. The 'Lusse' part allegedly1 comes from a colloquial form of Sancta Lucia, who was a Sicilian saint, and one of the very few saints still celebrated in (mainly Protestant) Sweden. The 'katter' part of the word means cats. Just why they are called cats, is still a mystery. And the real odd thing is that when you combine them into a single word, you mean wheat buns, usually in a curly S-shape, with saffron flavour, and raisins pushed into the bun. Sometimes, they are also called Lussebulle – Lusse-'bun'.
Saffron Buns with Raisins
So. Here you have a wheat bun. It's very yellow, and very saffron-y, and a bit sweet. In Sweden this used to be practically the only saffron-flavoured food you could find. A rice pudding on Gotland, oddly named 'pancake', also contains saffron, but not many other dishes. On the rest of the continent, you may associate saffron with the seafood dish Paella, or other hot foods, but not so in Sweden.
The recipe is basically the same as you would use for any other buns, cinnamon rolls or similar, but with a bit of extra butter because saffron tends to make the bread a little dry:
- 200 to 250g butter (normally, 150g is enough)
- 500ml of milk
- 0.5g (or 1g if you feel luxurious) of saffron
- 50g of fresh yeast (or dried, if you prefer)
- 1.5dl (approx. 130g) of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 14dl (approx. 850g) of wheat flour
- Raisins, perhaps 1dl
- 1 egg
- Melt the butter
- When melted, add the milk, and warm to 37°C.
- Use a mortar and pestle to crush the saffron with a teaspoon of sugar.
- Crumble the yeast in a large bowl
- Add the sugar
- Add the salt
- Add the ground up saffron
- Blend the yeast and sugar mix with the milk and butter, until the yeast is nicely dissolved.
- Mix about 12-13dl (approx. 750g) of the flour with the liquid, until nicely elastic.
- Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or lid, and let it rise until double the size. About an hour.
- When the dough has risen, knead it, using some more of the flour.
- Cut the dough into smaller parts, about three dozen pieces.
- Roll each piece to the thickness of a finger, and about 30cm long. Roll the ends in towards the middle, on opposite sides, and shape the curly S. Put on a baking sheet with greased paper and press one raisin into the centre of each spiral. The raisins will creep up when baking, so press all the way to the sheet. Let rise for about 10 to 15 minutes on the baking sheet. If you feel constrained by the S-shape, just go ahead and be creative! Treble clefs, twists, pretzels, what you feel like!
- When risen, whisk up the egg, and brush the buns; this will give them that shiny golden surface.
- Bake at 225 to 250°C for about ten minutes. Keep an eye on them through the oven glass, and take them out before they go too dark – golden, not brown is the idea.
The most important serving of Lussekatter is by Sancta Lucia, who comes early in the morning of the 13 December. She will wear a white gown, a wide red ribbon around her waist, and a crown on her head which has lit candles and usually is decorated with twigs from the Lingon plant. She will bring the Lussekatter and coffee, and often thin gingerbread biscuits. Lucia and her train will sing special songs for the Lucia holiday, and for Advent and Christmas, to the people she visits – while they are still in bed!2
It's also very common to invite some friends for Advent get-togethers, where you serve glögg and Lussekatter, and other holiday sweets. Lussekatt together with hot chocolate (preferably topped with whipped cream) is another favourite. Coming in from a cold day, few things taste better. Or you can make your afternoon coffee break a bit more interesting by adding a Lussekatt.