Cooking Gluten-Free with Anna

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

St. Lucia, December 13 ~ a symbol of light.

Lucia is an ancient mythical figure. She comes as the bearer of light into the dark Swedish winter. This tradition can be traced back both to St Lucia of Syracuse, Italy - a young martyr who most likely lived in the early 30o, and to pre-Christian mythology. The night before December 13th was considered the longest and most dangerous night of the year. It was a magical night when the realm between the real world and the supernatural was open. Beings like trolls and Tomtar, gnoms, that lived underneath rocks and boulders, and even under the barn, Älvor and Näcken, fairy like creatures dwelled in the woods and in streams, were active. And all animals could speak on this night. But, one must take care not to come close enough to hear what was said. No matter how curious one might be. Stay away or risk famine, or even the death of one's farm animals. By morning the danger was over, and everyone must eat. The animals needed extra feed. People too. One was urged to eat between four and nine hearty breakfasts. By this time, the harvesting and threshing were over and the cellars and cupboards were filled with apples, potatoes, turnips, hams, sausages and more; in preparation for the Christmas celebrations on Julafton, December 24th.

Tradition goes that during this night, young people dressed up in white and visited neighbors singing songs and asking for food. These days, many teenagers keep up the tradition, although in a more modern fashion, pulling an all-nighter hanging out with friends. Something I remember doing. It was difficult the next morning, keeping my eyes open while the teacher lectured. Thankfully, most teachers took it easy on us and showed a movie during class. But I especially loved the morning of St. Lucia Day. Lucia, a white-clad woman, along with her white-clad procession of stjärngossar or star-boys and tärnor, her handmaidens, sang the traditional Christmas songs. Christmas would soon be here.

Many songs share the same theme of the return of lighter days:

The night trade lightly
around yard and dwellings
in places unreached by the sun,
the shadows broad.
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

Lucia serves lussekatter ~saffron flavored buns shaped like curled-up cats with raisins for eyes, and pepparkakor ~ spicy gingersnaps. You eat them with coffee or glögg, a delicious spiced red wine infused with cloves, cardamon and cinnamon.

Here's to wonderful childhood memories of golden yeasty sweetness.

St. Lucia Saffranbullar ~ Saffron Buns

Makes 16 buns


4 tbsp butter

1 cup milk

2 tsp dry yeast

2 tsp psyllium husks*

¼ cup sugar, plus 1 tsp for yeast liquid

1/2 tsp saffron threads (about 1-2 g) ground up with a little sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

1 tsp guar gum

1 tsp gelatin, unflavored

1 large egg, whisked

1 tsp cardamom

2 ½ cups GF Cake Blend, plus 1/3 cup for rolling dough

Pearl sugar, or raw sugar, for decorating*

Raisins, for decorating


4-6 tbsp butter, softened

3-5 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

3-5 tbsp GF almond paste, if desired

Egg wash:

1 egg, lightly beaten


Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Add the milk to the melted butter and heat until about 105-110 degrees. Pour into a medium-sized bowl. Add the yeast, psyllium husks, 1 tsp sugar and whisk together until yeast has dissolved. Let sit for 10 minutes to proof the yeast. The liquid will bubble up.

Pour the yeast liquid into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugar, saffron, salt, guar gum, gelatin, one whisked egg, cardamom, and flour blend to the mixer. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. The dough will be extremely sticky, do not worry, this is normal. Remove the mixing bowl from the mixer and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set in a warm part of the kitchen and let rise for 30 minutes.

Punch down the risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Divide the dough in two. Place one half to the side and cover with clean kitchen towel. Pinch off small handfuls of the other half (about 1 1/2"inch balls) and roll into "snakes." Shape snakes into "S"-shaped buns or other desired shapes. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.

For cinnamon buns - Put 8 cupcake paper-cups on a cookie sheet. Set aside. Sprinkle some flour on top of the counter top, enough to cover the surface. Take the second half of the dough and place on the well floured surface. Flatten the dough with your fingers. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10x15 inch rectangle. Keep adding more flour, as needed, if the dough gets sticky.

For the Filling: Spread the dough with the softened butter. Sprinkle the dough generously with sugar and cinnamon. Slice the almond paste thinly or crumple pieces with your fingers, and layer on top of dough. Roll the dough into a log, starting at the widest end of the rectangle. Cut into 2-inch pieces, dipping the knife in some flour if it gets sticky. Place the rolls into the paper-cups. Place the cookie sheet in a warm part of the kitchen, and cover with plastic wrap or clean kitchen towel. Let the rolls rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap or towels from the cookie sheets. Using a pastry brush, brush each roll with the egg wash. If desired, decorate the S-shaped buns with raisins, pressing one into each end. Decorate the cinnamon buns with a sprinkle of pearl sugar or raw sugar. Bake the S- shaped buns for 8-12 minutes, until tops are golden. Bake the cinnamon buns for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer the rolls to a wire rack. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let cool. If you have any in ziplock bags and freeze. If stored in freezer~let the buns defrost and warm in the microwave for 8-10 seconds.

*Psyllium husks are the same as Metamusil, which is gluten-free. Get the unflavored variety. This adds fiber, texture and elasticity to the dough.

*Pearl Sugar can be found at IKEA stores. It can easily be substituted with raw sugar or top the buns with chopped almonds before baking.

Photos by Anna Simon, unless otherwise noted. Lucia and Chorus photos from


  1. I came across your blog while I was looking for a GF recipe for saffron buns like my mother and I made when I was child. Your recipe looks amazing. The dough even looks as I remember it. You take a different approach to GF baking than I've seen in other places. I'm excited to get into the kitchen and start baking!
    Your blog is wonderful, and the pictures are beautiful!

  2. Hi Bee,

    I'm happy that you find the recipes inspiring. I also love St. Lucia buns! And cinnamon buns! Does your family come from Sweden?

    Let me know if you have any questions about the recipes.

    Thanks so much for your comments.

  3. Thank you so much for the recipe! My 25 yo has celiac and her patron is St. Lucy, so I will be trying these to serve tomorrow morning!

  4. I'm sorry if this is a repeat post -- I tried to post once, but I don't think it went through.

    This recipe worked out beautifully! I just made both your recipe and another and yours was the best by far!!! Thank you. This had great texture (one of the main problems with GF baking and a little challenging even with wheat saffron buns).

    I had a little trouble with proofing the yeast -- it didn't foam so I got worried and added another tsp yeast. It didn't turn out too yeasty. The other recipe I made a the same time *did* foam, and the only real difference at that stage was the psyllium, so I think I might try adding that in after the yeast proofs next time.

    I also cut the cardamom in half since mine was freshly extracted from pods and ground, which makes the flavor stronger. I was happy with the level of cardamom-ness that yielded. I also put the saffron in rum overnight to draw out the flavor. I don't know whether this mattered. And I added 1 Tbsp of sugar to the yeast liquid since I used almond milk, which has less sugar than cow milk. Finally, I added 1/2 c golden raisins to the batter, since the raisin bites are always my favorite and I wish there were more! Next year, I will use regular raisins, as they have a stronger flavor. The golden's didn't do much for me.

    I didn't make the cinnamon rolls -- just made them all into S-shaped saffron buns. Next year, I'll try the cinnamon ones, too. And I'm clearly going to need to double or triple the recipe, since we ate 6/16 buns ourselves as soon as they came out of the oven!

    I can't tell you how happy I am to find a recipe this good! We've loved these rolls ever since a friend from Sweden first shared the tradition with us several years ago. I can't believe we can have them gluten-free without sacrificing taste and texture. My husband was soooo happy. Thank so much! Can't wait to try more of your recipes. You rock!

  5. Curious which brand of GF cake blend you used? I know this can make a big difference!

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