On this day, a thousand years ago King Canute of Sweden declared that Christmas would last a month from December 13, the feast of St Lucia, until January 13, St. Canute’s Day. Legend has it that St. Lucia carried food to persecuted Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels and to light the way, she wore a wreath of candles around her head. St Lucia was eventually arrested.
The festival of St Lucia begins before dawn on December 13. The eldest girl in the Swedish family dressed in a long white robe tied with a red sash and wearing a crown of lingonberries with seven lighted candles carries to her sleeping parents a tray of hot coffee and Lucia buns. Brothers and sisters follow dressed in white, holding single lighted candles and singing songs of the season.
Prominent in this bread served throughout the Christmas season are two of Scandinavia’s favorite baking spices, saffron and cardamom. The bread machine takes all the work out of preparing the dough. which when processed can also be shaped into buns or a crown, but here is the most traditional shape, the braided wreath. A sugar glaze brushed on before baking aids in the browning process. Single candles are sometimes placed in the wreath before serving. Recipe adapted from Desserts From Your Bread Machine By Lora Brody.
St Lucia Wreath
For the Dough
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 jumbo egg
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter (2 ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, dissolved in and additional 1/4 cup warmed milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
- 2 ounces golden raisins
- 2 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped
For the Glaze
- 1 egg white
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- According to the manufacturer’s instructions for your bread machine, add all but the raisins and crystallized ginger to the pan of your bread machine. Process on the dough cycle. When cycle is complete, transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 24 inches long. Braid the ropes and tuck the ends under. Shape the braid into a 6 to 7-inch wreath and place on a parchment lined baking pan. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1-2 hours.
- While the dough is rising, make the glaze by mixing together the egg white, salt, water and sugar. Preheat the oven to 375° F. When the dough has risen, brush the wreath with the glaze. Bake the wreath for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cover the wreath lightly with aluminum foil the last 10-15 minutes of baking, if necessary. When baked, remove wreath from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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