food: lucia day


Tomorrow, December 13th, is Lucia Day, celebrated widely in Scandinavia and Italy. When I was young, I often partook in ceremonies that involved walking around with lighted candles on my head and serving cookies. Luckily, it didn’t take long for my mother’s friends to find an electric version of the wreath headgear, saving my scalp from dripping wax + a general fear of setting something afire.

In one version of this ceremony’s origin, the Saint Lucia was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. - from Wikipedia

Of course, the fact that winter solstice is fast approaching, and my relatives in those northern European countries can use light from where ever it may come, toting candles around (even if they are on the head!) probably doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I’ll admit, what I like most about this holiday is the food (I know, shocking!). In this case, a delicious, lightly sweetened bread that is perfect for a breakfast treat, or a mid-afternoon coffee break. I’ll be thinking of Norway, relatives + holiday cheer all the while making this treat tomorrow morning!


- adapted from Martha Stewart’s Saint Lucia Day Coffee Cake

(makes 1 braided loaf)

Bread Ingredients:

1/4 cup warm water (for yeast- not scalding hot!)

1 envelope active dry yeast

1/2 cup sugar (plus, a pinch for yeast)

3/4 cup + 2 Tbs. whole milk

1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crushed

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp. salt

4-5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup dried cherries

Grated zest of 1 orange

Vegetable oil, for greasing bowl

1 egg yolk, room temperature

Icing Ingredients:

1 Tbs. heavy cream

1 cup confectioners sugar


- in the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together warm water, yeast and a pinch of sugar. let stand until foamy, about 5 minute.

- meanwhile, heat 3/4 cup milk in a small saucepan until just steaming. remove pan from heat. add saffron; cover, and let steep 5 minutes.

- in a medium bowl, whisk together saffron milk, butter eggs, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. add to yeast mixture. using the dough-hook attachment, beat until combined, about 1 minute. with mixture on low, add flour- 1 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from side of bowl but is still slightly sticky (you may not need all the flour).

- add raisins, cherries & orange zest. continue to mix dough on low until elastic and smooth- 7-8 minutes.

- place dough in a large, lightly-oiled bowl, and loosely cover with a clean, cotton tea towel. let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight (let dough come to room temperature before proceeding).

- preheat oven to 375˚, with rack in the center. punch down dough, and divide into three equal pieces. gently roll each into a rope, 18-20 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches thick. on a lightly floured work surface, lay ropes vertically in front of you. working toward yourself, braid ropes. then form the braid into a circle (wreath); pinch ends together to seal.

- transfer braided wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet; loosely cover with the tea towel- let rise 20 minutes.

- in a small bowl, whisk egg yolk and heavy cream. brush dough with egg wash. bake 15 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 350˚. continue baking until golden brown, 15-20 minutes more. transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

- when ready to serve, make icing by stirring together confectioners sugar and 2 Tbs. milk until smooth in a small bowl. then drizzle over cake.


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