What are “Lussekatter”?

Lussekatter aka Lucia buns are sweet and fluffy buns, made of sweet yeast dough. They are best eaten fresh from the oven (after a short cool-down;) and are meant to be shared. In Norway and Sweden, we make them exclusively on Dec. 13th – St. Lucia day. The buns get their yellow color from Saffron, which is why they are also called “saffron buns”. Personally, I skip the saffron and find my buns are yellow enough without them. Saffron is used for the yellow color but is not essential for the taste.

Historic background about the Scandinavian tradition of St. Lucia and “Lussekatter”

Lucia day is celebrated on December 13th every year, primarily in Norway and Sweden.

St. Lucia was a young Christian girl living in Sicily a long time ago. She was martyred and killed for her faith.

Wanting to remain a virgin to serve God, she gave her dowry to the poor. She would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians while wearing candles on her head to have both hands free to carry things. Her fiancee denounced her for defying him and in the year 304 she was sentenced to be burned as a witch. The flames didn’t touch her so she was stabbed in the heart. The red sash used in the celebration today represents the wound that finally killed her.

It is said that she appeared during a famine in Sweden in the middle ages carrying food to the farmers across Lake Vännern. In the middle ages it was believed that December 13 fell on the shortest day of the year; Winter Solstice (during Winter in Scandinavia, the sun is up for only a few hours. In some places far north it doesn’t come up at all. Today we know Dec. 21st to be the shortest day of the year)

Based on the old belief, this Festival of Lights was turned into St. Lucia’s day, celebrating that the days will start to get longer.

The celebration of Lucia Day in Sweden and Norway

On the morning of December 13, the oldest daughter dresses in a special long white dress with a red ribbon around the waist and white socks and no shoes. She puts a wreath made out of leaves on her head. The wreath has 6 – 8 candles on it. Nowadays the candles are usually battery powered light bulbs instead of real candles. Her sisters also wear special long white dresses but they have a shiny/glittery ribbon around their heads while carrying a candle in their hands. Her brothers wear a special long white gown with a shiny sash and a pointed hat with three stars on it. They carry a baton with a star on it. They are called Star Boys.

The children serve coffee and Lussekatter to the rest of the family. They walk into the bedroom with the oldest daughter in the front, followed by the next tallest girl, down to the smallest. Then the boys follow with the tallest in the front. As they bring in the Lucia buns and coffee the girls sing a song called “Santa Lucia” and then the boys sing “Stefan was a Stable-boy.” Finally, the children go to their neighbors and teachers and serve them the coffee and buns.

See this video from a traditional celebration to get a visual of what it looks and feels like.

Scroll down for the Lussekatter recipe.

Recipe for “lussekatter” or saffron buns – 30 st

150 g butter
5 dl milk
50 g dry yeast
1/2 ts saffron
150 g sugar
1/2 ts salt
2 ts cardamom
10- 13 dl flour (stop adding when the dough is smooth and feels ready)

1 egg for glazing
raisins for decoration

  1. Grind saffron with a little sugar in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have saffron or you don’t like the extra hassle, it’s actually fine to leave the saffron out. In fact, I normally leave the saffron out.
  2. Melt butter, add milk and heat to about 40 degrees (just about hot when you put your finger in), add the saffron.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, but hold off on some of the flour and only add if necessary. You’ll also need some for the rolling out later on. Make sure salt and yeast don’t touch in the mix, as salt lessens the rising ability of the yeast. Gradually add the hot milk mixture.
  4. Knead the dough for at least 5- 10 mins.
  5. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth, plastic film, or a lid, and let rise in a warm place till twice the size. Normally for about 1 hour.
  6. Knead again.
  7. Divide the dough into 30 parts and roll them into traditional shapes (you can see a video of how to make the shapes in the digital story/book below, click on it to start the app). Add raisins as decoration and place them on a baking sheet. Let rise for about 15 minutes.
  8. Brush with a beaten egg.
  9. Bake 7-10 minutes at 225 degrees C until a nice golden color.
  10. Try to wait 10 minutes before you eat them:)

Tip: If you have leftovers or too many buns to eat in one go, the buns can be frozen. Re-heat the frozen buns at 180 degrees C for about 5-7 minutes and they will taste like fresh buns.


Good luck and enjoy!

Click on the below digital book “LUSSEKATTER” for a video on how to make the different shapes. You click on the arrow to leaf through it like a book: