How to Make Saffron Buns for St. Lucia Day

Saffron buns, also known “Lussekatter”, are Swedish yeast buns that are traditionally made and eaten on St. Lucia’s feast day. St. Lucy’s feast day falls each year on December 13, so these buns have also become associated with Advent and Christmas as well. Last year, I made very simple sweet bread to celebrate St. Lucy’s feast day, but this year, I thought I’d try my hand at the “real thing”.

At first, I was a little intimidated to make this recipe because I’m really not a big baker, but we actually had a lot of fun putting these together, and the dough wasn’t as finicky as I was afraid it would be.

Saffron is literally the world’s most expensive spice. When you go shopping for it, just scan all the prices of the spice bottles. When you’ve found the most expensive bottle, you’ve found the saffron. They sell you an entire spice bottle to make you feel a little better about your purchase, but there won’t be much inside. This bottle I found on sale for about $19.

For the 0.03 ounces that came in the bottle of Saffron I got, I was able to make 2 batches of the Saffron Buns recipe below. If you’re looking for a cheaper saffron substitute, I would suggest substituting some orange juice for the water, and orange rind for the crushed saffron threads. You’ll also want to add some yellow food coloring if you want it to be the same color as saffron buns.

Recipe for Saffron Buns:

  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 tsp crushed saffron threads
  • 1 cup very warm milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2- 4 cups flour

(Makes about 15 buns)

Optional Saffron Bun Toppings:

  • 1 Beaten Egg
  • Raisins
  • Currents
  • Other dried fruits
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Swedish Pearl Sugar (or White Sparkling Sugar Sprinkles)

Start by crushing your Saffron threads. This is what the saffron threads look like when you take them out of the little baggie.

I put mine on a paper plate, and crushed them with the back of a metal spoon.

This way, when I was finished, I could just bend the paper plate and pour them into the measuring spoon with no waste! The 0.03 ounces of Saffron I crushed made 1/2 teaspoon of Saffron total.

Put your crushed saffron into the hot water, and let it seep for at least 10 minutes. This turned the water golden instantly, and smelled incredible. It actually smelled a lot like tea!

In a large mixing bowl, mix your milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg, yeast, and saffron water. You can mix with a mixer, in the bread machine, or by hand. For experiment’s sake, I mixed one batch in my stand up mixer, and one batch in my bread machine. If you don’t have a bread machine, you should get one- I love mine!

The golden color produced by the saffron is really impressive! There is no food coloring in this recipe!

Add the flour slowly while you mix.

Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, and then place it in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap to rise. You should let it rise for about an hour.

Mine didn’t quite double in bulk. I have a lot of trouble getting things to rise here because my house is so incredibly drafty.

However, the batch in the bread machine more than doubled in bulk– I couldn’t believe how it rose! Like I said- I love my bread machine!

Punch the dough down, and gently shape into your saffron buns. The most traditional shape is a backwards “S” shape. You can also make it into wreaths and insert candles to simulate the crown St. Lucy wore on her head while bringing food to the poor.

Once you have them shaped, cover with plastic wrap and let them rise again for about 15 minutes. Then, brush the top of each bun with beaten egg, and garnish as desired.

I garnished all of my saffron buns with raisins, and then some were sprinkles with white sugar sprinkles, some with poppy seeds, and some with powdered sugar.

Bake at 350 F in a preheated oven until golden brown (about 12 minutes) and serve immediately. My internet research shows that saffron dries out the bread, making it get stale quickly, so these are to be eaten same day or put in the freezer.

The golden color of these buns really is incredible! Check out how them look in the sunlight! (Again, there’s no food coloring in these at all.)

I took mine to our cookie exchange yesterday, and they were a hit!

Saffron buns- a delicious Advent treat!

So what’s my final opinion on the Saffron Buns? Well… the saffron smelled absolutely amazing, and the golden color it produces is certainly impressive! It was really fun to make these traditional treats for St. Lucia’s feast day, and I put some in the freezer to pull out on December 13. However, I didn’t really think the taste of the saffron was worth the price you pay for it, and next year I’ll either substitute orange rind, or pull out my cinnamon rolls again.



  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

Share a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.