1 cup melted butter, 1/2 tsp. saffron threads, finely crumbled (or 1 tsp. powdered saffron), 1 cup milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 2 pkg. dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp), 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg white, raisins or currants to decorate
Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour (this intensifies the saffron flavor).
Heat milk to a light boil, turning off heat when it reaches the scalding point (with small bubbles across the top). Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool until “finger-warm” (still quite warm, but just cool enough to touch). Stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
Mix 3 1/2 cups flour into liquid. Stir in two well-beaten eggs. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough (just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don’t want to add too much flour).
Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch down risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a racquetball) and roll into “snakes.” Shape snakes into “S”-shaped buns or other desired shapes (please see my photo gallery of Lucia buns for traditional examples). Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel again, and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).
Decorate buns with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 375º oven about 15 minutes, just until brown. Yield: 20 St. Lucia Buns (“Lussekatter”)
Saint Lucia’s Day is the church feast day, dedicated to Lucia of Syracuse, also known as Saint Lucy, and is observed on 13 December. St Luca’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Italy and in Scandinavia, with each emphasizing a different aspect of the story. In traditional celebrations, Saint Lucy comes as a young woman with lights and sweets. It is one of the very few saint days observed in Scandinavia. In some forms, a procession is headed by one girl wearing a crown of candles (or lights), while others in the procession hold only a single candle each.
In Hungary on Luca’s Day the process of making the Luca Chair was started. It looked more like a step stool, had no arms or backrest, and was one of the principal tools used in witch-spotting. The stool had to be made of nine different kinds of wood, and had to have just a bit of work done to it from December 13 right up to Christmas. This gave birth to a Hungarian lament when things don’t progress very fast people say: it is getting done slowly, like Luca’s chair.