Saffron Cake

December 13th is St Lucia Day in Sweden and traditionally you have saffron bread on lucia “Lussekatter.” You can actually make anything saffron and this year I decided to make this amazing moist saffron cake, which was delicious.  The saffron is not overpowering and the cake is not too sweet.  Just a great light moist dessert or during your afternoon “fika” snack.

What is Lucia?

There are a lot of different version of stories and theories of this.  The Lucia tradition can be traced back both to St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304, and to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. It is said that she consorted with the Devil and that her children were invisible infernals. Thus the name may be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and its origins are difficult to determine. The present custom appears to be a blend of traditions.

In the old almanac, Lucia Night “winter solstice” was the longest of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak. By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were urged to eat seven or nine hearty breakfasts. This kind of feasting presaged the Christmas fast, which began on Lucia Day.

The last person to rise that morning was nicknamed ‘Lusse the Louse’ and often given a playful beating round the legs with birch twigs. The slaughtering and threshing were supposed to be over by Lucia and the sheds to be filled with food in preparation for Christmas. In agrarianSweden, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.

The first recorded appearance of a white-clad Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 20th century, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar custom virtually disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful carousals of the past.Stockholmproclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The custom whereby Lucia serves coffee and buns “Lussekatter” dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.

Picture from Swedish newspaper

Today, Lucia is a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle “Lucia Train.” The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Santa Lucia song describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness.

In the Lucia procession at home the oldest daughter brings coffee and saffron bread to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter wears the candle-wreath.

If you are even in Sweden during this time you will see the competition for the role of Lucia. Each year, a national Lucia is proclaimed in one or other of the TV channels, while every town and village worth the name chooses its own Lucia. Candidates are presented in the local newspaper a couple of weeks in advance.

Print Recipe

Saffron Cake

Yield: 8 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes


15 tbsp (200g) butter
½ tsp (0.5 g) of saffron (usually sold in 1 gram packages use ½ of that)
1 tsp sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups (3 dl) sugar
1 cup (2.5 dl) milk
1 3/2 cups (4 dl) flour
2 tsp baking powder
Confection sugar for decoration


Turn oven to 350 F (175C).  Butter a round cake pan with removable bottom.

Melt the butter.  Mix the saffron in a mortar with 1 tsp of sugar until you have it all into a powder consistency.

Using a mixer, whip up the eggs and sugar until fluffy.  Add the saffron/sugar mixture and then the butter and milk.

Then add the baking powder and flour until all mixed together.

Pour into the cake form and bake for about 45 minutes.

Powder with confection sugar before serving.

Adapted from:  Allt om Mat


One Year Ago: Saffron Buns “Lussekatter”