Elin Nodegren’s prowess with golf clubs aside (sorry … couldn’t resist …), ever since I was about 11 years old, I have always thought Swedish women are awesome.

This is a direct result of having read about the Swedish celebration of the feast of Santa Lucia on December 13. I don’t quite remember where I would have read this, but I do remember reading that the Swedish celebration of the day involved the eldest daughter in every family wearing flaming torches in her hair.

Seriously. You have got to be some kind of cool to wear a flaming torch in your hair!

Of course, as the years went by and I learned a bit more about Santa Lucia, I soon discovered the flaming-torches-in-the-hair-story might have been a slight exaggeration.

As is usually the case when it comes to martyrdom, there are many versions and explanations as to Santa Lucia’s life. The one that has always struck me the most is the story of a woman named Lucia helping slaves to escape and wearing candles in her hair to light the way out.

If I had to think of one word to describe the Christmas season, it would be light. In the midst of the coldest and darkest time of the year, even a simple lit candle becomes a symbol for warmth and hope.


Having always been fascinated by Swedish culture, I’ve had “make Santa Lucia buns” on my Christmas to-do list for many years. And this year, I got up in the early-morning darkness, turned on a light and made these beautiful buns for my family.


Being the eldest (and only) daughter, I did not wear flaming torches, or even lit candles, in my hair. However, I did give them over to my loved ones with much hope and warmth, that they would enjoy them and the season.

Happy Santa Lucia Day! God Jul!


Santa Lucia Buns
From a Christmas magazine recipe that I can no longer identify.

Note: This recipe will make 24 buns. It’s from a holiday magazine from 2001, unfortunately, because it’s a photocopy I can’t tell what magazine it is. Sorry!

21/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more so have some handy)
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground saffron (you can also use whole saffron but be sure to strain the milk mixture before you add it to the flour)
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 golden raisins
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 egg white, slightly beaten (for egg wash)
1 tbsp. water (for egg wash)
coarse sugar (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 cup of the flour and the package of yeast. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom and saffron. Heat until it reaches 125 degrees F. on a thermometre. If you don’t have one, you want to heat it until it’s warm enough that the butter is almost melted. Add the mixture to the flour and yeast mixture.

With the paddle attachemnt, beat on low until combined.

Add the egg and beat on medium speed for three minutes.

Add the raisins and ground almonds and beat for another minute.

Switch to the dough hook and add another cup of the flour. Mix on low until combined. Add in the remaining flour and continue to mix on low.

Increase the speed to medium and mix for five minutes until the dough forms a neat ball around the hook (it should not be sticking to the sides of the bowl). If the dough is sticky, add some more flour. Continue to beat until you have a smooth ball of dough.

Remove the bowl from the stand and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set it in a warm place to rise for about an hour and a half (the dough should almost double in size).

Once doubled, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, divide each half of dough into 12 pieces (you will have 24 in total). Roll each piece out into a rope that’s roughly 12 inches long. Shape each rope into an “S” with the ends rolled in. Place a raisin in each end. Transfer the buns to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Once all the buns have been formed (you will need two baking trays), cover with kitchen towels and let rest for 40 minutes (the dough will rise more).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the egg white and water together. Brush each bun lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle on some coarse sugar if you like.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the buns are golden.

Serve warm.