Today, 13th December is St. Lucia's Day!
Celebrated in Scandinavia and Italy, this feast day is dedicated to Lucia of Syracuse (d.304).
Legend has it that on 13th December 1764, a gentleman in Sweden was woken in the middle of the night by a beautiful voice. He saw a young woman in white, singing and dancing through the room. She had wings and was carrying a candle. It was Saint Lucia.
She brought light, food and wine for comfort on what was, in the Gregorian calendar, the longest night of the year.
This fabled event is still celebrated today in Scandinavia. Girls dress up in long white dresses, and boys as 'star boys' and walk carrying lit candles, singing the beautiful Lucia carol, with the eldest daughter or a particular girl picked out to be 'Lucia' with her wreath of candles on her head. I myself have fond childhood memories of celebrating Lucia each year, when my sister and I would go round to my grandparent's house very early in the morning for Lucia, and sing for them at the foot of their bed, dressed in our long white dresses and red sashes with candles and home made gingerbread.
As well as gingerbread, another traditional Scandinavian treat at this time of year is 'Lucia Bread'.....delicious little saffron buns, often taking the form of old Nordic mythological symbols, such as buckthorn and cats.
Here is a simple recipe for Lucia Bread, taken from Trine Hahnemann's beautiful book 'Scandinavian Christmas'. The recipe should make about 22 of these lovely little buns....perfect with morning coffee and not too sweet to have for breakfast.
|ALL PHOTOS VIA PINTEREST|
40g fresh yeast (or 15g dried yeast)
500ml lukewarm whole milk
200g salted butter, melted
1kg plain flour, plus more to dust
100g caster sugar
75g raisins, plus more to decorate
1 egg, beaten
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a mixing bowl, then add the saffron and stir until the mixture turns yellow. Add the melted butter. In a separate mixing bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then stir in the sugar and raisins.
Pour the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes cleanly from the edge of the bowl. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for 10 minutes, until it is shiny but not sticky. Return it to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 1.5 hours at room temperature.
Lightly knead the dough again on a floured work surface. Divide it into about 22 equal pieces. Roll them into sausages, then form them into different shapes, as in the picture above, curling up the ends. Stud each with a few raisins.
Place the breads on baking trays lined with baking parchment, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise again for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 F/gas mark 4. Brush the risen breads with the beaten egg and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown all over, then leave to cool on a wire rack.
Eat them as they are, or spread with chilled butter.
To all my lovely family in Sweden, and to all my Scandinavian readers, I wish you a very happy Lucia celebration today!