Swedish Saffron Bread
On the morning of Dec. 13, Swedish families recall St. Lucia with saffron buns served by a girl wearing a crown of candles. During the rest of the holiday season, saffron bread is braided into a wreath or simply baked in a pan so it can be easily sliced.
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
Egg wash made from 1 egg beaten with 1/4 cup milk
Set the oven at 250 degrees. Put the saffron in a cup and put it in the oven. After 5 minutes, pour 1/4 cup of very hot water over it. Let it steep for 20 minutes while you get on with the rest of the preparation. Put the raisins in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside.
Mix the yeast with the milk and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and leave for 10 to 15 minutes in a warm but not hot spot. Combine the flour, remaining sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the yeast mixture and then the butter.
When everything is thoroughly combined, add the saffron mixture. Drain the raisins and add them. Mix and knead thoroughly until the dough is soft but not sticky. Roll it into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and let it rise in a draft-free spot until it has doubled in bulk. This takes about 2 hours.
Knock the dough down by thumping it firmly several times. Knead it for 2 or 3 minutes. To make a wreath shape, divide the dough into 3 pieces and roll each into a rope about 18 inches long. Braid the 3 ropes together and twist into a circle. (Or make hollows in the wreath so that you can stick candles in them after baking.) Tuck the ends underneath. Place on a greased baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a draft-free spot for about an hour or until doubled in bulk.
During the last 10 minutes of rising time, set the oven at 400 degrees. Brush the bread with the egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the wreath is golden brown and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.
By Claire Hopley, Globe Correspondent