What are lussekatter?
What is the origin of lussekatter?
The origin of the festival and the connection with St. Lucy are not very clear. There are two famous stories about the origin of this celebration and the traditions of December 13th.
The first is that Lucy, who died around 300 AD in Syracuse, Sicily came from a wealthy family. When her very sick mother recovered miraculously, she and her mother handed out their wealth to the poor families of Syracuse.
Another version says that Lucy who was devoted to God, refused to marry her fiancé and gave her dowry to the poor. The young pagan man became angry and took his revenge by informing local authorities that she was a Christian. They tried to burn her at the stake but her faith protected her from the flames and her body did not consume. They finally killed her with a sword through her throat.
Over time, this story has turned into a story where she was allegedly tortured by soldiers who took her eyes out. This is why she is often represented in religious images with both eyes on a plate, and eventually became the patron saint of the blind.
There are many theories on how the legend of Lucy arrived in Sweden. She may have been brought by the priests, by German traders or even by the Vikings through their expeditions in the south of Europe. Nobody knows exactly how the legend has evolved into a unique Swedish tradition as it is today, which explains the many versions of the stories of the Swedish St. Lucy.
In Sweden, the name Lucy has also been associated with the devil, Lucifer, and other farfetched legends have been told from generation to generation.
It was not until the twentieth century that Lucy has become a national phenomenon. In 1927, the newspaper Stockholms Dagblad began to choose Lucy to represent the city and conduct a formal procession. Other papers in various Swedish cities quickly took the idea and now almost every town and village elects a Lucy.
Lucys are picked in elementary schools, and there is even a national Lucy. Girls who are not chosen as Lucy wear white robes and candles and take part in the procession. The boys join as stjärngossar (star boys) dressed in white robes with cone-shaped hats decorated with golden stars or as gingerbread boys carrying lanterns at the end of the procession.
On St. Lucy’s day, it is traditional in Sweden for the eldest daughter of the family to wake her parents up with a breakfast composed of lussekatter and hot coffee. She is always dressed in a long white dress tied with a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) and wears a crown of leaves decorated with candles on top. Some would say it is a nine-branch candelabra to celebrate Chanukah but there is apparently no connection.
An S-shaped bread similar to lussekatter called pane siciliano has traditionally been cooked in Syracuse for the Feast of Santa Lucy, and their shape is called occhi di Santa Lucia (eyes of St. Lucia). This bread, which honors the same saint is a different kind of bread as it is made from semolina and is not topped with raisins but sesame seeds.
Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Sweden, December 13th (Saint Lucy’s day) fell on the winter solstice. Originally, the Swedes celebrated this holiday in honor of Freyja, Norse goddess of beauty, fertility and creativity. With the arrival of Christianity, this holiday has become a celebration in honor of St. Lucy.
Lussekatter are delicious when served hot and fluffy, right when they come out of the oven.
This recipe is validated by our Swedish culinary expert, Delphine from Del’s Cooking Twist.
- ½ teaspoon ground saffron
- 2 tablespoons Cognac (or Brandy)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons instant dried yeast
- 2 cups milk (cold)
- 6 cups flour
- ¾ cup sugar
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (soft)
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ cup raisins
- 1 egg , beaten
- In a small glass cup, dissolve the saffron and 2 tablespoons of sugar in Cognac. Infuse overnight.
- Dissolve the yeast in milk and add the other ingredients: dissolved saffron, sugar, butter and half the flour.
- Work the dough with in a stand mixer for 10 to 12 minutes, or by hand for 15 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
- Add the remaining flour gradually until the dough does not attach to the sides of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a large bowl and cover with a clean cloth.
- Let rise until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour.
- Punch down dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface.
Divide dough into twenty-four equal portions (about 2½ oz/75g per bun for this recipe).
Roll each portion of dough into a 10-inch (25cm) long cylinder and make an S shape wrapping each end around the middle.
Preheat oven to 430F/220C.
- Put two raisins on every little S-shaped bun and brush with beaten egg.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the saffron buns are lightly browned.