So the sister just got back from India for business, and she brought goodies! A couple packets of chili spices, which I need to remember to use more, some special sweets/snacks, a tin of masala chai, a little tin of ‘digestive’ dried herbs+spices to nom on at the end of the night, a ginger-garlic ‘pickle’ which is AMAZING, and last but certainly not least a little jar of Saffron. Which I sorely need to find uses for; I’ve had a lot of saffron in the past that just sat on my shelf… in fact I know I still have more, but don’t have a clue where. Can no longer let all these special ingredients sit on the shelf.
Thus this week I had it in my mind to find a bread recipe that focused on saffron, which was yet in my book; though I’m sure I could easily just add it to any basic recipe by steeping some of the stems into the water/milk before adding, but it’s always fun to find something new. And new I found, as my simple search for ‘saffron bread’ found my engine heavily dominant with a particular sweet-butter bun from Sweden. Absolutely perfect. I love foods from Eastern Europe.
Lussekatter, or lussebullar or lusse-whatever (I guess it depends on region or dialect or personal preference, as with many foods), is one of the many international holiday-celebration breads, so well known for their part in the Swedish Christmas-time holiday of St. Lucia, also known as the Festival of Light. There’s some interesting things to say about the holiday itself, but I could give a penny or two, I’m more interested in the bread.
Because my research in finding a recipe I liked, in keeping common proportions and certain ingredients, brought up some intriguing ideas. Obviously, one uses the saffron to infuse into warm milk and sugar, which is then used to jumpstart our Yeast; this is followed by making a typical enriched bread dough with butter and egg additions. Flavor wise, a few recipes may also add a little extra something; I found one seemingly classic recipe that uses a bit of Cardamom, which sounds right with the region and should be awesome alongside saffron; and I love cardamom, so I’m doing it. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t call for typically using the pod; instead, you break it open and just use the seeds INSIDE it, which is something I never really paid attention to. But it’s the heart of the whole thing, might actually provide the true sense of flavor without any flavorless husk numbing it out. Another optional concept, many a lussebullar will include raisins and/or a sprinkle of large-grained sugar on top before baking, adding to its sweet flavors; but I’ve seen some that don’t do this, keeping it a straight, eggy-buttery enriched bun to use for a more savory application. I’m gonna do both myself, but I wouldn’t say one should or should not do either.
Then there’s Quark. Nope, that wasn’t me trying to impersonate a duck getting strangled, it’s a typical kind of dairy ingredient used in Sweden for baking and cooking, which a few recipes list with the ‘substitution’ of sour cream for those who can’t find any in specialty stops. My thought, of course, was that it was then one of those super-rich naturally made sour creams that Sweden and Russia and all those countries are known for when you go in their markets, but I typed it into Google just in case… and nope, it’s not. Thank god, because I was heading to use a ‘substitute’ that should never have been suggested.
I understand the reason why of course. Quark itself is made from soured, turned milk, so it has that distinctive tangy aspect which sour cream does. But in reality it’s more of a fresh cheese product made from it, like marscarpone and ricotta. A more proper sub, which I made sure to double check as well, would be one of those cheeses or, ideally, a 2:1 mixture of Ricotta and Sour Cream, to provide that wonderfully similar combo of richness, fresh-cheese flavor, and tang which a real quark would. And now that I’ve got that figured out, I can make my bread!
Oh, one final note: I’ve seen two different ways of handling this. One can make the dough the night before, then put it in the fridge overnight after an hour or less of counter fermentation (my plan in the hopes of getting some good slow yeast flavor development), or a lot of recipes just let it bulk ferment 1-2 hours and proceed on the same day. The option is officially up to you.
¾ cup/175ml Whole Milk
½ tsp Saffron Threads
¼ cup/50g + 1 tsp Sugar
0.25oz Dry Yeast
3½-4 cups/490-570g AP Flour
½ tsp Kosher Salt
Seeds from 3 Cardamom Pods, Ground
4Tb/56g Butter, softened
¼ cup Quark or Quark Substitute (2 parts Ricotta to 1 part Sour Cream, ideally)
Raisins and Organic/Large Grain/Pearl/Good Grain Sugar, Optional
- Combine Milk, Saffron, and Tsp of Sugar in saucepot, heating until scalded/steaming
- Remove, let cool until 115F, or warm to the touch, and add Yeast, leaving 5-10 minutes until fully bloomed
- In bowl of stand mixer, combine3 ½ cups Flour, Salt, remaining Sugar, and ground Cardamom, quickly tossing together
- Make well in center, pouring in the bloomed and saffron-infused milk, Butter, Quark/Substitute, and 2 of the Eggs
- Mix on low with paddle until everything’s evenly distributed
- Switch to dough hook, knead on medium speed, adding additional flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough seems particularly sticky/wet, until the dough no longer sticks to the fingers, ‘but is still sticky,’ and passes the windowpane test
- Transfer to oiled bowl, cover w/ plastic wrap, and let it ferment at room temperature 1 hour
- Gently knead to de-gas, return to bowl and transfer to fridge, leaving to sit overnight and up to 24 hours; it should double in size
- Next day, let it warm up to room temperature, about 30-60 minutes, and cut dough into 12-14 separate 60-70g chunks, forming each into a rough ball
- To shape: roll each ball into a thin, 14” long line, using the top of your palms to rub between and against the counter to do so
- Take the ends and twist a tight pinwheel towards the center on opposite sides, turning each line into a very curly s-shape
- Transfer to baking pan, spray tops with mist oil and cover with plastic wrap or loose towel; let proof about 30 minutes, until doubled in size
- Turn oven to 400F
- Beat the remaining Egg thoroughly and brush over the proofed buns
- If desired, and to make these even further ‘desserty,’ place a raisin in each of the curly centers, or wherever you want on the dough, and/or lightly sprinkle the top with sugar at this stage
- Place into oven, cook 10-11 minutes, rotating pan 180F halfway through, until golden brown in color
- Remove and let cool on rack before enjoying. Or cram in while piping hot, that is when they’re best afterall
What Have I Learned This Time?
This has nothing to do with the recipe, but I had to pick up some more yeast and ended up reading the label. Did you know dry yeast needs to be refrigerated!? After opening the thing of course. Who the hell would have known?
Next time I’m separating the buns into two different pans… and making sure I get them in the BIG oven; got a bit crowded and the outer lussebullar ended up ready a minute or so before the inner ones. Need to ensure more airflow, especially considering their rising… though it’s good to pack them tight for classic pull-apart buns.
I am SO using the Cardamom Seeds more often! They’re much easier to grind fine without the skins, and the aroma is so much more pungent, though really comes in on more of that ‘soapy’ side, so gotta use wisely…
It may be rather sweet and dessert-y, but still tastes great hot and spread with butter!
I can taste everything that went in here and I love it. The saffron is distinctive, so absolutely worth using here, and I love how it tastes with that eggy/enriched dough flavor and experience. The cardamom is very slight but still there, if I do it again I’m putting even more because I LOVE the taste so much; maybe I’ll toast it in a pan this time too. Even the ricotta-sour cream, there was that certain ‘fresh wet cheese curd’ flavor that I could sort of get in place of the usual milky aspect, which isn’t naturally noticeable. Think I got some of the sourness too. God I love how these turned out; maybe not absolutely perfect, shape and bake wise, but the flavor was even better than expected. Oh, and my mom’s Swedish friend identified them on Facebook in an instant, which is so cool!
I think I may have won over the Enriched Doughs, though I need to double-check with Rich Man’s Brioche before I can know for sure.