Saffron buns made with sourdough starter and a no-knead method are perfect for winter holidays! These are inspired by Swedish lussekatter but shaped in some of the many different ways popular in Sweden.
Photography by Alexandra Daum.
These sourdough saffron buns are a holiday tradition, popular all across Europe. Served at Jul, Christmas, or on Santa Lucia day, depending on the shape – these are most common in Scandinavia and Italy.
During the course of my research – very scientific, I asked all the Swedes I know – I was told that these buns shouldn’t contain raisins (only as decoration), and that lusskatter are actually the double swirls (not the s-shape, which is julgalt or Christmas Pig).
It’s the same dough, though, so it doesn’t matter which shape you make. The s-shapes are the easiest and very beautiful. They don’t need to be constrained to December, of course, but are just as good at any time of year.
Tips and Notes
There’s no second rise period before baking. This is because the buns lose their shape and have too great of an oven spring if they have a second fermenting period.
Letting the dough rise overnight in a cold place (a fridge is great, but I use the unheated entrance landing) makes for a dough that’s easier to shape and with a better rise. You can do the bulk ferment at room temperature and shape the buns as soon as the dough doubles in size, but you’ll have better luck with chilling after proving at room temp for a few hours.
Chilling also makes the dough easier to shape – even if you don’t want to chill overnight, I recommend doing so for at least an hour before shaping.
Egg wash will help any complicated twists in the buns to stick, so they don’t come apart during baking. There’s no need to dab with water to ensure that the buns won’t pull apart if you use a wash.
Be sure to use active, bubbly sourdough starter. You want it at the peak for the best result.
As usual, starting with room temperature ingredients is best. Even though the milk is being heated, avoiding cold ingredients will make for the fastest and most effective bulk proof.
Grinding the saffron is key, and it’s what will make for the most evenly golden, flavourful buns. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, tearing it between your fingers is fine.
The decorative raisins are optional. Try cranberries or another dried fruit if you prefer (in any case, soak beforehand).
Add some cinnamon or cardamom to the dough if you’d like.
To make dairy free saffron buns, use a good vegan butter and non-dairy milk. For a vegan version, you can try adapting this saffron wreath bread.
We haven’t tried making these with bread flour, as we want to avoid any extra chewiness. If you’re a beginner and find plain flour too difficult to work with, you can try using half bread flour.
More Holiday Baking
Sourdough Saffron Buns
- Small saucepan
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon or spatula
- Tea towel
- Parchment paper
- baking sheet
- 180 grams whole milk
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads, ground
- 60 grams butter, room temperature
- 100 grams sugar
- 2 large eggs, divided
- 100 grams active sourdough starter
- 460 grams white all-purpose flour
- 5 grams sea salt
- Soaked raisins for topping, optional
- Heat the milk and saffron in a small saucepan until just simmering.
- Add the butter and sugar to a large mixing bowl, then pour the hot milk over top. Whisk to combine, until the butter has melted.
- Check the temperature of the milk mixture. If it's just warm to the touch or cooler, then it's fine to continue. If it feels hot, wait for it to cool down.
- Divide the eggs. You need one whole egg and one egg yolk for the dough. Set the additional egg white aside for later.
- Once the milk mixture has cooled enough, whisk in the egg and yolk. Add the starter and whisk to combine.
- Add the flour and use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix until a soft, shaggy dough forms.
- Do three rounds of stretches and folds over the course of an hour, one round every 20 minutes. After this, the dough should be soft and relatively smooth.
- Place the dough smooth-side up back into the mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel or plate, and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in size. Depending on ambient temperature and the strength of your starter, this can take anywhere from 4-10 hours.
- Once the dough has risen, cover well and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 12hours.
- After chilling, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Set a large piece of parchment paper to the side of your working area.
- Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces, weighing the full dough and then each piece to ensure that they're the same size.
- Use your hand to roll each piece of dough on a clean work surface to create some tension and form round balls. Set each onto the parchment paper.
- Roll the balls into strands, about finger length, and set back onto the paper to rest while you continue rolling.
- Start with the first strand that you rolled, and roll again into long, thin strands, each about 20cm (8 in.) in length.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Form the shapes that you like for each bun. Carefully place each onto the lined baking sheet and top with soaked raisins if desired.
- Brush each bun with the reserved egg white.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of the buns, until golden and lightly browned.
- Cool fully before storing for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Saffron buns freeze well.