Saint Lucia Day Saffron Buns

There are a number of traditional shapes for Lucia buns; two favorites are the figure-eight shaped ìcatsî with a raisin in the center of each loop and the ìbridal crowns,î a strip of dough topped with four smaller rings of dough, each loop embedded with a raisin like the stones in a tiara. This recipe is a little more time intensive and a bit trickier than our usual American recipes, with a prepartion and baking time of about 3 hours. This recipe comes from Virtual Planet through Gingerbread Snowflakes. Saffron is a very expensive spice so it is often sold in small vials or tubes.

Saffron threads, one tube, approximately 0.5 grams
1/2 cup sugar
1 and 1/4 cup milk
7 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 cakes of fresh yeast (0.6 ounces each) (You can substitute cakes for dry yeast packets.)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
3 and 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour,
plus additional flour for kneading

1 egg
3 Tablespoons milk

With a mortar and pestle, rub saffron threads and one teaspoon of sugar together and set aside. Heat the milk to lukewarm, about 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and add the melted butter along with the saffron-sugar mixture. Crumble the yeast in a bowl and pour about 1/4 cup of the warm saffron milk on top and stir gently. Sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt and let rest five minutes.Add the remainder of the sugar, the milk, 3 cups of flour and the beaten egg and stir with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour on top and knead dough in the bowl for several minutes, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle.
Shape into a ball. Dust the top of the dough with flour, cover with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm, dry place until double in size, about 60 to 90 minutes

Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Divide the dough into small pieces and, using your hands, roll the dough bits into an S or other traditional Lucia shape. Push raisins into dough as desired for decoration. Place buns on a cookie sheet that has been buttered or covered in parchment paper. Cover buns with a clean cloth and let rise again until double in size, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Make the glaze by beating one egg with 3 Tablespoons milk.
Brush the tops of the buns with the glaze just prior to baking. Bake 5 to 10 minutes, cool on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen buns, depending on size

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