On the morning of December 13th, I arrived at my pastry shop to find a lantern sitting upon the front stoop.  The candle inside was bright enough to light the dark path leading to the front door.  A note attached wished me a Happy St. Lucia Day.

Who, at 4 am, would leave such a lovely message on the darkest of days?

Larry, of course.

Our favorite customer (we had loads of favorite customers but Larry managed to shine bright) had a habit of leaving wonderful surprises for us.  He's also an insomniac.

When we opened the doors to our customers that morning, Larry was one of the first to come through.  And what did he find waiting for him?  St. Lucia Buns.  What better way to thank a friend for brightening your day?

(Makes 15-16 buns)

St. Lucia Buns are a staple in Sweden to mark the "the darkest day" and the death of St. Lucia.  At the time of her death, solstice fell upon December 13th, not the 21st.  Today, the towns of Sweden still honor the sainted woman on the 13th by crowning  a "Queen of Light" who dons a wreath adorned with candles, bringing light to her townsfolk along with cardamom and saffron laced Lucia buns and coffee.  That would brighten anyone's day.

4 1/3 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup more on reserve, I use King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 (1/4 ounce) packet of instant yeast, I use Platinum Superior Baking Yeast
1 cup lukewarm whole milk
2 eggs
3 1/2 ounces softened, unsalted butter

To finish

30-32 small pieces of dried fruit like raisins, currants, craisins or dried apricots cut into small pieces
egg wash (1 egg whisk together with 1 tablespoon water)
1/2 cup Swedish sugar or 1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw (or both)

In a large bowl, combine the flour (all but the reserve 1/4 cup), brown sugar, cardamom, salt, and instant yeast.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the saffron with 1 teaspoon warm water.  Allow to sit for 1 minute.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the milk and eggs.  Whisk to combine.  Add the saffron and butter.  Add the flour mixture and mix on low until the dough is smooth and glossy, about 10 - 15 minutes.  Add the reserve flour a teaspoon at a time in the event the dough sticks to the side of the bowl after a few minutes of mixing.  This dough is meant to be very soft, so don't worry if the dough still sticks a small amount to the bottom of the bowl.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 15-16 pieces, each weighing approximately 2.5 ounces each.

Roll each piece into an 11" rope, with the ends tapered.

Shape each piece into an "S."  Place the "S"s onto 2 parchment lined sheet pans, spacing them a few inches apart.  Place a raisin, a currant, a cranberry or an apricot round (I only had dried apricots and punch currant sized holes into them with a medium sized open pastry tip) onto the "S"s as shown.

Cover each sheet pan with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour or until they are about 1 1/2 times bigger than their original size.  Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Brush the buns with egg wash and sprinkle with Swedish sugar or Sugar in the Raw (I like to coat only the sides in the sugar).  Bake for 15 20 minutes or until golden brown and baked through.  Serve warm.

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