Authentic Swedish Recipe For Lussekatter (St. Lucy Bread)

Years ago I learned how to bake Lussekatter, a Swedish traditional sweet bread that is made with saffron and eaten in celebration of St. Lucy’s feast day, also known as Santa Lucia day! This is a big and important celebration to the Swedish people, and it has been an absolute joy to incorporate these celebrations into our home these past 10 years. You can find my resources for celebrating the feast of Santa Lucia here. I now have the added benefit of having a friend that is actually Swedish. I got to asking him about the St. Lucy day traditions in Sweden, and what do you know… he had an actually authentic Swedish recipe for lussekatter! It took more than an hour of discussion with him to get the recipe fully translated to English, and I’m very excited to share it with you today, along with a free printable version of the recipe!


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There is a printable version of this recipe available at the bottom of this post! Don’t miss that- it will help you a ton!

How To Keep Saffron Buns From Being Too Dry

For years I made this recipe and thought the buns were way too dry, and that they needed to be baked and eaten in the same day. But upon having a conversation with my Swedish friend, I realized they have an ingredient they put in their recipes that keeps the buns from being overly dry. However, this ingredient is not readily available in the USA. Therefore, a lot of recipes you find in English simply disclude the ingredient. This ingredient is called “kvarg”.

What To Substitute For “Cream Fresh” 

Kvarg translates in English to “cream fresh”. The reason why we don’t have it available to us in the states is because of our required pasteurization process for our dairy. According to my Swedish friend, you can sometimes find this ingredient at Target, but it usually comes flavored (such as garlic, or berry flavored) and you need plain for this recipe. So what do we use?

Well the closest dairy substitute we have available here is actually plain greek yogurt! You could also use sour cream or room temperature cream cheese.

My great grandma used to make a “chocolate irresistible cake” that was deliciously moist from the sour cream in the recipe, so this instantly made perfect sense to me! This is what my saffron buns have always been missing!

Another Swedish Baking Tidbit

I also discovered that often in Swedish baking, they use a syrup rather than a plain sugar to sweeten their recipes. My Swedish friend said some recipes use a dark syrup, and some of them use the light version. This recipe calls for the light syrup.

You can find the authentic Swedish baking syrup here. When I pulled up this link, my Swedish friend instantly recognized it as the syrup they all use! I am going to substitute an American light corn syrup. 

How To Garnish Authentic Swedish Lussekatter

Years ago somehow I learned to put poppy seeds on the saffron buns. My Swedish friend said he had never seen this. LOL!!! In Sweden, he assured me that the buns always have raisins, and at the big bakery shops where they’re making big batches, they put the raisins straight into the dough rather than bothering with them as a garnish on top.

The big sugar I have been putting on top of them however, is a more authentic topping. He showed me his box of Swedish sugar they top treats with. Our sugar tends to be sparkly, and theirs has the appearance of sesame seeds. Here’s some authentic Swedish pearl sugar. I didn’t have the pearl sugar- the sugar I found here in the USA is a lot more sparkly than what they use.

About The Saffron

This stuff is not cheap. In fact, it’s the most expensive spice in the world. You can find it at grocery stores, usually in a spice bottle, but inside the spice bottle is actually a tiny baggie with a small amount of Saffron inside. 1 pack of Saffron will do, but 2 packs will create a more vibrant yellow and a more potent smell and flavor. I ordered our saffron on Amazon this year! So easy!


If you can go to a specialty spice store, you can actually find it quite a bit cheaper. 

To bring out the most flavor in your saffron, crush it and soak it in 2 Tbsp of vodka the day before baking and let it seep overnight, but at least for 1 hour. You can also use warm milk for this if you prefer not to use vodka. 

Soak The Raisins

To keep the raisins from getting too dry when baked in the oven, you can soak them in water or orange juice while you mix your dough. The orange juice adds a nice flavor to the raisins! 

Swedish Santa Lucia Saffron Bun Recipe

Ok, after working for quite awhile to translate this recpie from Swedish to English, then working for even longer to translate it from deciliters and grams to cups, then figuring out the best possible American substitutes, I very happily bring you this authentic Swedish recipe for saffron buns. 

For any of my Swedish speaking readers, here is his handwritten recipe for Santa Lucia buns in Swedish.

Ingredients For Lussekatter

  • 8 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt (or cream fresh, or cream cheese, or sour cream)
  • 1 pack active dry yeast (or 50g fresh refrigerated yeast, which is what the Swedish people use)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cups light corn syrup (or the Swedish light syrup)
  • 2 cups 1% milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 grams saffron (or 1/4 tsp.) 

Garnish For The Saffron Buns

  • egg (to brush the tops)
  • raisins
  • pearl sugar (optional)
  • other granulated sugar

How To Make The Saffron Buns

Before beginning, put your raisins in water or orange juice to soak. 

First you’ll want to crush and soak the saffron. To crush the saffron, I placed it on a paper plate and crushed it with the back of a spoon.

Then I curved the plate and used it as a funnel to put my saffron in my measuring spoon.

Now you want to soak the saffron to bring out the flavor, and you have a few choices for this. You can either add the crushed saffron to…

  • 2 Tbsp. of vodka and let it sit overnight
  • 2 Tbsp. of warm water or warm milk- soak for at least 1 hour to bring out the full color and flavor of the saffron


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In a medium sized pot, melt the stick of butter, then add the milk and warm it together. Not hot or boiling, just warm. 

Now remove from heat and add the sugar and yeast to the milk mixture. Stir and dump it into a large mixing bowl. 

Add half of the flour to this mixture and stir.

Add 1 egg, the greek yogurt, the syrup, and the salt. Stir well.

Now add the remining flour bit by bit until the dough is no longer sticky. 

Cover your bowl and let the dough rise in a warm area for 40 minutes.

It should double in bulk.

Punch the dough down and form your buns.

The traditional shape for these buns is similar to an “S”. Some people also see it as kind of a figure 8 shape. Place these on your baking sheet.

Allow the buns to rise again on your baking sheet for 30 minutes. 

Beat your remaining egg, and paint it on top of the buns.

Dry your raisins with a paper towel and use them to garnish your buns along with pearl sugar if desired. 

Bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes. 

Freeze whatever you don’t eat the same day as they don’t stay fresh for long! They can be microwaved one at a time for just a few seconds to bring them back to life. My Swedish friend recommended freezing them individually in sandwich bags and removing one at a time, microwaving it in the bag to retain the moisture. Personally we don’t microwave in plastic at our house, but to each his own lol. 

We packaged these up with baggies and bits of festive garland to deliver to our friends!

More St. Lucy Feast Day Resources

I have a ton of resources and Swedish recipes, traditions, and even crafts for celebrating this Saint feast day, so find everything you need to celebrate St. Lucy day here!

Printable Version Of The Recipe

This will help you out a ton to bake your St. Lucy buns without dragging your computer in the kitchen! Once you’ve read all my tips, you’re ready for the cliff notes version. 😉 To get your own download, click the blue button that says “get your free download” below. 

Another Swedish Cookie Recipe!

These are absolutely my favorite cookies of all time and I share all my tips and trick with you to make baking these as easy as possible! Don’t miss the world’s most delicious cookie recipe ever


  1. I love the little hand reaching for a bun in one of your pictures :).

  2. Just a note on saffron (and grocery store spices in general): they rip you off. A specialty spice store, if you have one available, will serve you much better when working with an expensive spice like saffron. My local spice store sells what looks like this grade of saffron (possibly better) for $5 cheaper a gram, and sells it in half gram amounts so you don’t have to buy more than you need for a small annual batch of Santa Lucia buns.

    My local(ish) store is Penzey’s and if they’re available, they’re very good and even reasonably kid friendly.

  3. Jennifer G. Miller says

    The buns look fabulous! Don’t give up on the saffron. Trader Joes has saffron I think year-round for very reasonable prices.

    • I definitely should have tried Trader Joe’s.

      • This recipe looks challenging but worth it. I have three grandchildren and appreciate your creativity and humor – your work of love is a blessing (and a relief to find) to a lot of people!

  4. If you have any Persian markets near you (in Los Angeles there are lots), you could probably find cheaper saffron.

  5. I have, in my cupboard, a spice called Bijol. I got it years ago when a Cuban friend gave me her recipe for Arroz con Pollo which called for saffron. Bijol is the poor man’s substitute, evidently. I’m sure you can get it in the ethnic aisle of your grocery store for that lovely yellow color.

  6. I agree about not purchasing saffron at a grocery store. I purchase it at either Trader Joe’s or our local bulk spice/Indian market. If you make something with saffron and it turns out less than stellar, it makes the food a lot more palatable when you haven’t paid so much for the spice. The buns look scrumptious and I hope to get a chance to make them!

  7. Thanks for this post, and your blog in general! I’ve been reading on and off this year, and really like your ideas! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Re: St. Lucy day, I have cinnamon buns planned, yum! If I didn’t already have all the ingredients, I would be making these! They are beautiful!!!

  8. oh my gosh. they look amazing! i am definitely in the cinnamon roll camp myself. nice and easy. i’m impressed by all your hard work though!

  9. My older daughter and I made these last night in the shape of a crown and put candles in it and sang “Happy St. Lucia Day to You!” We had lots of fun with it. I’d include a picture, but I don’t know how to add pics to comments.

  10. Crunchy Con Mommy says

    Yay! I’ve been looking everywhere for ideas of what to sub for saffron, and I am glad to have found your site again (I had it bookmarked on my iPod touch…and then it died! I learned my lesson the hard way that only bookmarking my favorite sites one place is a bad idea!)

    I can’t wait to make orange St Lucia buns with my preschooler 🙂

    • Yes, we will make them again this year, and no, we will not be buying Saffron. 😉 Glad you found me again!

      • Hi Lacy, I love your website, and we’ve been taking ideas for our catechesis to prepare children for First Communion in our parish in a “small” town in the surroundings of Madrid (Spain). This year we used the templates for the Nativity set, will send you pics … But my comment now is about Saffron :0)) I found your recipe for St. Lucia’s day and I smiled while reading your comments on Saffron, yes it’s very very expensive, here in Spain is a little bit cheaper but not much…. I don’t know if you know the process of harvesting the saffron, it is done manually, this is the cause to be so expensive, I found a webpage that explains the proccess :=) … I do apologize, my english writting is not good :0) Thanks so much for your beutiful website! Regards, Lola

  11. Lacy, Should there be a link foe the printable? I am only able to copy the image and print it but it is not coming out clearly.

    • Directly under the image of the printable recipe is another image that says “get your free download, click here” and if you click that it will take you straight to the pdf. No hoops or anything, just a click 🙂

  12. I just finished these for breakfast tomorrow, and they are LUSCIOUS. Pillowy soft, just golden brown, no burnt raisins, lovely crust on the outside and Oh My Stars the FLAKES on the inside! I wish I could post my picture. Give your Swedish friend an enormous thank you from me, because this recipe is a knockout!! I don’t usually keep corn syrup around, but it was worth getting just for these buns. Happy feast of St. Lucia!!

  13. When do you add the saffron in your recipe? With or without the water?

  14. Sorry, just saw it in your downloadable recipe. Just didnt see it in the post, which is what I was using. Happy St. Lucia Day

  15. Kristen Anderson says

    What can I use instead of saffron?

    • Hi Kristen –

      I found some suggestions elsewhere that suggested turmeric as a substitution for saffron. And then somewhere specifically about bread for Saint Lucia’s Day suggested cardamom.

      Angie, Catholic Icing Business Manager

  16. How many buns does this recipe make?