There is nothing much I like about January. After the rush of good intentions that a clean slate always suggests, I end up finding the first month of the year overly tiring. And nothing good ever seems to happen. The days are short but the month stretches on ad infinitum, the revelries are behind us and I can’t wait for February 1 to make an appearance.
Yes, I know, live in the moment but this particular January, despite my optimism, is being particularly taxing, already filled with annoyances and wrong turns. So, please, forgive me if I stick with December a little while longer.
Every Christmas, along the customary panettone and pandoro, I like to serve a dessert from a different part of the world. This year I settled on a very French Buche de Noel or Christmas log, a two-day affair I will not be repeating in a hurry but, as I was looking for inspiration, I came across Lussebullar, essentially raisin buns that the Swedes serve on December 13, St. Lucy’s Day. Smiling, I set the recipe aside, thinking I might use it at some later date, if not exactly on December 13.
While there is very little I miss of the Italian winters, I do have fond memories of St. Lucy’s Day, simply because, right on the street where I used to live in Bologna, the ongoing tradition since before I was born, was to have a 3-week street market just outside the church across from my house. All of a sudden, dark and damp afternoons were brightened by Christmas tree vendors and stalls offering papier-mache figurines for the nativity scene, bright ornaments, torrone, roasted chestnuts, candied nuts and apples, and cotton candy. Even with the cold that is plaguing me at the moment, I can recall the heavenly smell of this bounty I could hardly resist.
Obviously, these days the market veers more towards making money with Chinese imported scarves, horrid gifts and plastic figurines. My affection for St. Lucy is rooted only in my romantic memory but to see a special dish in honor of a day I associate with ungodly amounts of sugar brought a smile to my lips. Which is why I researched the recipe further and, on a grim Saturday in January, I made these soft and tasty buns which make for a perfect breakfast. Straight out of the oven, they are addictive but a little refresh the morning after, with a smear of butter and jam added, they did not disappoint either. And sure enough, they brightened my day.
3 oz butter (85 grams)
1 1/4 C of milk, lukewarm (300 ml)
a pinch of saffron
a pinch of salt
1/2 C sugar (100 grams)
0.4 oz instant dry yeast (11 grams)
1 pound of flour (450 grams)
a handful of raisins
one egg for brushing
- Dissolve the saffron in a little bit of the lukewarm milk. Pour the melted butter and the remaining milk into the bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture. Once the yeast is bubbling, add the sugar, the saffron and the salt. Whisk briefly.
- Using the dough hook attachment, start adding the flour, a bit at a time, and let mix for about 5 minutes, until you have a slightly wet, but workable dough (this can be done by hand – you will have to knead twice as long). Remove the dough, place it in a slightly floured bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide it into 12 balls. Shape each into braids or buns, adding a bit of flour if they are too sticky. Transfer them to two parchment covered baking sheets. Let rise again for another 45 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 400F/200C. Brush the buns with the egg wash and stick the raisins into the dough. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden. Let them cool under a cloth.