birthday bonanza

I have had a bit of a break over the past few weeks. Partly because I’ve felt a bit bored and demotivated with cooking for just myself, partly because I’ve had some things going on around me, and partly because I just haven’t felt like writing. I guess with a steady readership of two (you know who you are!) I can take that luxury without upsetting people.

But now I’m back and so with a bang. I have written up a new meal plan for the coming two weeks (and the plan is to keep deciding what to eat two weeks at a time) with five new recipes in it so far and I technically have five recipes for you in this post. That’s right, five. And one of them has three variations to it.

The company I work for offers each employee a complete health check once every three years. Because it’s my first year with the company, I was offered one this year. They did a blood test which checked all your blood levels, iron, glucose, the health of your liver, etc. etc. and then there was a follow-up with a doctor where you got to check your weight, BMI, muscle and fat (percentage), lung capacity and ‘age’, eye sight, hearing, EKG and more. It was really interesting and I was happy with most of my results. The doctor said I was very healthy and I had a higher muscle mass percentage than the average woman (who apparently lies within a range of 24-30%) but I would like to improve my fat mass. And that brings me back to food – so now I’m going to renew my efforts of making good, and preferably healthy, meals as well as trying to keep myself accountable through keeping track of what I eat. I might, however, try not to make 2-4 portions rather than 4-8 so that I don’t grow bored of what I’m eating – especially if it doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

But before we get to all that we need to look back at what was my birthday dinner party a little over a week ago. S and I had invited my oldest friend and her boyfriend over for dinner and they are such foodies. I was terrified lol! Definitely had some major performance anxiety going on.

Anyway, I knew I wanted to make a main in the slow cooker, because it saves time and space. I also knew I wanted something warming and wintery, and preferably a slow-cooked piece of meat, and as I was googling ‘slow cooker dinner party recipes’ something popped into my mind: beef/ox cheeks. I found a recipe for slow cooker beef cheeks in red wine and decided to pair it with a garlic mash potato recipe I had seen before but never tried.  Dessert was already decided – I definitely knew I wanted to make something with Nigella Lawson’s salted caramel sauce and I decided that something was going to be scooping the sauce into the middle of a chocolate fondant and hope for the best. (Not really though – I did two practice runs beforehand.)

Then there was only the starter left. I had looked at maybe making some pick and mix bruschetta style bites, but then S came and said why don’t we make gravlax? We decided on doing three versions; traditional dill, the beetroot and gin one from Christmas, and a citrus one he found online.  Both the starter and the dessert also worked in well with my ‘do-as-little-as-possible- while-they’re-here’ approach, since the salmon needed to be cured for three days and would be ready to slice upon their arrival, and the chocolate fondants could be made and kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking. All I would really need to do once they were here was slice some salmon and bread, make mash potatoes, and put the fondants in the oven.

So from the top down, here are the recipes (including the beetroot gravlax – slightly modified). Unfortunately for the blog I didn’t take any pictures since it was a party after all, so you’ll have to make do with pictures of the leftovers in the case of the starter and main and the trial run for the dessert!


Traditional gravlax

350g fresh salmon

50 ml salt

50 ml sugar

50 ml chopped dill

a splash of water

Beetroot and gin

350g fresh salmon

50 ml salt

50 ml sugar

3 tbsp gin

1 medium beetroot

Citrus fruits

350g fresh salmon

50 ml salt

50 ml sugar

1 orange (zest only)

1 lemon (zest only)

1 lime (zest only)

a splash of water


Place the salmon in a plastic bag.

Mix salt and sugar and rub onto the fish.

Sprinkle a few drops of water (or gin in the beetroot and gin version) over the mix, then add the condiments for your chosen version (i.e. dill or beetroot or the citrus zest mix).

Put the fish in a plate or tray of some sort, skin-side up, and leave in the fridge for three days, turning once a day.


Slow cooked ox cheeks in red wine (6 servings)

3 tbsp olive oil

1.2kg beef/ox cheeks

1 onion

1 carrot

4 garlic cloves

1.5 tsp dried thyme

4 dried bay leaves

1 cup beef stock

1 bottle (750 ml) red wine

3 tsp salt

black pepper

carrots

mushrooms

pearl onions


If necessary, cut off any large bits of fatty membrane. Season the cheeks with 1 tsp salt and some pepper.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan and sear the cheeks. (I don’t usually sear my meat for the slow cooker, but this time I did, since it was a ‘fancier’ recipe.) Set aside on a plate and cover with foil.

Turn down the heat and add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onions, carrots and minced garlic for about 3 minutes, or until the onion has become translucent.

Add the onion mix to the slow cooker and place the meat on top.

Return the pan to the heat and pour in 500 ml wine. Leave to simmer for a minute, then pour into the slow cooker, including all the brown bits stuck to the bottom.

Add stock, thyme, bay leaves, 2 tsp salt, and some black pepper to the slow cooker, then cook for 6-8 hours.

When the cooking is finished, remove the cheeks from the slow cooker and discard the bay leaves.

Blend the sauce with a handheld mixer until smooth and add the remaining wine. Pour it all into a saucepan and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until it has reduced enough for your liking. You can also add some cornstarch mixed with water as a thickening agent if you would like to.

At this stage, as I knew I was returning the meat and sauce to the slow cooker to keep warm, I also added some mushrooms, carrots and pearl onions.

You can also make this as a non-slow cooker recipe and the instructions for that can be found in the original recipe.


Garlic mashed potatoes (4-6 servings)

800g potatoes

250 ml cream

3 garlic cloves

85g parmesan


Cook the potatoes until soft.

Mince the garlic and add to a saucepan with just a touch of butter. Brown for a few seconds, then add cream and bring to simmer. Set aside.

Drain the potatoes then mash them and add the garlic cream and the parmesan, stirring to combine.

Season with salt and white pepper to taste.


Salted caramel sauce (6 servings)

50g butter

50g white sugar

50g brown sugar

50g syrup

125 ml cream

1 tsp sea salt


Melt butter, sugars and syrup in a heavy-based pan. Let simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Add cream and salt and stir to mix. Remove from heat and leave to cool.


Chocolate fondant (4-6 servings)

100g dark chocolate (I used half 55% and half 70%)

100g butter

100g sugar

100g flour

2 eggs and 2 egg yolks

butter

cocoa powder


Brush your moulds with melted butter and place in the fridge to cool. Once cooled, repeat, then dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.

Divide chocolate and butter into small pieces and place in a water bath (a bowl on top of a simmering pot of water – but not touching the water). Stir until completely melted. Set aside to cool.

Whisk eggs, egg yolks and sugar to a thick, fluffy, white-ish mix. Fold in the flour, then the melted chocolate – one third at the time.

Pour the batter into the moulds.

If you do not want to make caramel filled ones, fill to about three quarters. Leave in the fridge for at least 10 minutes before baking.

If you do want to make caramel filled ones, fill to just under half, then place something in the middle to make a hole. I used egg cups wrapped in cling film, which was a bit sticky. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove your objects and fill the hole with caramel sauce. Cover with more fondant mix (which has been kept outside the fridge) and make sure it goes all the way to the edge, not just covering the top. Leave to cool for another 10 minutes – at least.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.


Notes:

The citrus salmon was quite sweet. I think halving the orange zest and upping the lemon and lime zest would be better.

Also, last time I made gravlax I used the 1:0.5 ratio where you have half the amount of salt to sugar. I thought that was too sweet, so this time I did 1:1.

I cooked my ox cheeks for 6 hours on low, because I knew they would be keeping warm, and as such ‘after-cooking’, for another 2 hours. If you’re going to eat yours at once, you might want to cook them for 7-8 hours instead.

For the mash, make sure the cream is really heated or the mash will get cold. I would also recommend seasoning it with salt and pepper.

For my dessert I made two batches of salted caramel sauce – one that I made the day before and left in the fridge overnight to solidify a bit and one that I made just before our guests came and left out in a sauce jug to cool. If you’re using the sauce as an actual sauce (i.e. not as a filling) I would recommend not putting it in the fridge, as I felt that it went too solid to pour properly then.


Definitely a good birthday dinner.

/t

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swedish scones

If you actually read this blog you’ll know I made English scones for the first time in August when we had a birthday afternoon tea fika for my mum. I was pleased with how they turned out, and though I like English scones sometimes there’s just that craving for a Swedish one. Swedish scones are nowhere near as dense as English scones, and they’re usually (at least among my family and friends) made as a bigger but flatter round shape which is scored with a cross in the middle – creating four tear-apart triangles when baked.

The Swedish scones also, for some reason, feel a lot easier to make – but I guess maybe that’s just because I’ve grown up with making them? In any case there’s only four ingredients and whipping them up takes almost no time. You just need to have the patience to wait for them while they’re in the oven – and even that is only about 10 minutes!

On Monday last week I had no food at home and really didn’t feel like cooking something for that night. I was tired after a week of bad sleep because of my pulled muscle (it’s getting much better by the way) and having gone to bed at 2:30 am after coming home from London and landing a bit after midnight. I had planned to throw something into the slow cooker to make food for the remainder of the week, but I didn’t feel any inspiration or want for dinner that night. But then when I was browsing recipes online I saw a post for scones and the craving hit me like walking into a brick wall. It was all I felt like then.

So I went to the supermarket and got my beef stew ingredients, whipped up the scones, whacked them in the oven, chopped up all my stew ingredients and threw them in the slow cooker, and then sat down in front of the tv to enjoy my still slightly warm scones with jam, cheese, and a cup of tea. It was heaven.

Now the recipes for scones usually say that the quantities below make for 4 servings. As I’ve shown they can clearly also make for one. I have to say that I don’t agree with the four though, unless you have a lot of other things that you’re serving too, because they make rather small triangles. Instead I’ve opted to say it makes 2 servings. If you want to make more (I didn’t becasue I knew I would eat them all) you can easily double or tripple the recipe.


Ingredients (2 servings)

100 ml flour

1 tsp baking powder

25g butter

100 ml milk

a pinch of salt


Mix together baking powder, salt and flour.

Add butter and ‘crumble’ until it’s a fine mixture without big lumps.

Add milk and stir together to a slightly sticky dough.

Press the dough out into a round shape. The bigger the round, the thinner the scones (obviously).

Score with a cross through the middle and bake at 250 degrees Celsius for 8-12 minutes (depending on how thick).

Enjoy with jam, cheese, butter, or whatever else tickles your fancy!


The texture of these really is so much fluffier, and even if you decide you don’t like them you should at least try them once.

/t

chokladbollar – an old post

I found one of my old cooking blogs I started while I was at uni on Blogger a few weeks ago. It was quite fun to read my old posts, though there weren’t many of them, and remember when I wrote them.

I had planned on sharing my first slow cooker recipe with you this week, but the week just ran away with me and I’m going snowboarding over the weekend, which means I won’t have time to write anything then. So I thought that I’d share one of my blog posts written in 2012 (for fun). It’s a quite brief post but it’s still better than just an apologetic post saying sorry I won’t post – right?

*****

Chokladbollar is Swedish for chocolate balls (yeah, I know, super tricky translation there!). Now don’t be fooled into thinking they’re like those healthy protein and date balls people seem to be making all over the internet though! These are proper sweet treats.

Chocolate balls are a staple in most Swedish homes, cafés and even supermarket bakeries, and are so easy to make. A favourite with children around the country – particularly as they’re easy even for little hands! The staple ingredients are oats, cocoa powder, and sugar. If you don’t want them as chocolatey you can opt for their cousin havrebollar (oat balls) which are made with Nesquick-style chocolate drink powder (O’Boy) rather than cocoa powder – and a lot of the time they leave out the coffee.

Anyway, the reason these balls of deliciousness are so easy to make is that there’s no baking involved. So even the least accomplished baker can have a go. The only thing that needs adult supervision (if your kids are involved) is melting the butter.

Now if you’re not Swedish (or Scandinavian) there are a few things here that may throw you off a bit.

First; my recipe measures solids in ml. Sugar, flour, oats, etc. etc. is measured in Sweden in decilitres, and one decilitre is 100 ml. So when it says ‘100 ml sugar’ that means take out the measuring cup and measure up 100 ml as if it was a liquid.

Second; vanilla sugar. In Sweden, we don’t really use vanilla essence. We have vanilla flavoured powdered sugar instead. If you want to make your own you just put one vanilla pod (seeded and cut in half) in 200 ml granulated sugar and leave until the pod has dried out. Once this has happened, run all the sugar through a food mixer until it’s a fine powder and sieve it to get rid of any leftover pieces of pod. If you can’t get hold of vanilla sugar and can’t be bothered to make your own – vanilla essence will do just fine, just put in a bit less.

Third; pearl sugar. Unfortunately this isn’t really something you can make yourself (a far a I’m aware). As you can see from the picture below, pearl sugar is larger pieces of sugar that the chocolate balls are rolled in after they’re made. If you can’t get hold of pearl sugar you can roll your balls in coconut flakes or even sprinkles.

So, onto how to make them!


Ingredients:

100g butter

100 ml sugar

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

3 tbsp cocoa powder

300 ml oats

3 tbsp cold coffee

pearl sugar (or coconut flakes or sprinkles)


 

Melt the butter in a pan and leave it to almost simmer for a little while.

Meanwhile, mix the oats, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla sugar in a bowl. Pour over the melted butter and cold coffee.

Now I like my chocolate balls a bit ‘grainy’, so I like it when they have large oats. However, if you don’t, you can combine the mixture with an electric whisk. Otherwise a normal spoon will do. Once all is combined, put the bowl in the fridge.

When your mixtures has cooled and solidified, take it out of the fridge and roll into balls. I like them a little bit smaller (then you can have two if you want!), so I used about 2/3 of a tablespoon to roll one ball. Then when it’s round enough for you – roll it in pearl sugar /coconut flakes/sprinkles and you’re done! Easy as that.

They really are a super easy treat that anyone can make. And they’re so adaptable. If you don’t like coffe – take it out. If you love coffee – add more. You can add cinnamon for a more Christmassy feel, or a splash of alcohol for an even more grown up treat. Your imagination is the limit.

*****

It really is a very easy and child-friendly recipe and I remember making these with my mum when I was little. They’re so good as well, and if you make them a bit smaller you can have more of them, haha!

/t

julskinka (chistmas ham)

In the UK, the star of the Christmas dinner is the turkey. Everything else (well, apart from the rice pudding) is just an accompaniment really, a side dish. In Sweden I wouldn’t say that there’s that one centrepiece. Since Swedish Christmas dinners often have the three parts – fish, cold cuts and hot food – each part has their own pièce de résistance. (I should probably add a disclaimer that this is just my personal opinion.)

But if I were to choose the nearest Swedish counterpart to the turkey it would have to be the ham. I have always loved Christmas ham (there’s something special about it just coming from it being called ‘Christmas’) and it’s one of those leftover foods you don’t mind having every day until New Year’s.

I also can’t think about Christmas ham without thinking about my mum. Pretty much every Christmas we’ve spent at my grandparents’ the story about when my mum tried to make Christmas ham has come up. My mum – not having the slightest interest in cooking really – didn’t realise you need to boil the ham, so all she did was cover the raw joint in the mustard mix and breadcrumbs and place it in the oven for 15 minutes. I guess this sets the prelude to why she some years later told her friend they should bring a grilled chicken to a barbecue, hehe. (You know I love you mum, even if you can’t cook.)

Anyway, I’ve never made my own Christmas ham, since my grandma or aunt always makes it, so as we were doing Christmas at ours this year (well, last year technically) I thought it would be the perfect time to try out the new slow cooker my MIL had given me as an early Christmas present. However, the smallest joint they had in the shop was 2.5kg, so it didn’t even fit in the slow cooker! I had to use my 6 litre stew pot and even then I had trouble fitting enough water in to cover the whole joint. A bit of the top was left above the water, but it worked out ok in the end.

In comparing my slow cooker recipe with the regular recipe I noticed that all of the ‘condiments’ were missing. The regular recipe just called for the ham joint to be covered by water and left to boil, where the slow cooker recipe added spices and vegetables to the water. Because I’d already bought everything, and because I thought it sounded nicer, I still added the condiments to the water despite not using the slow cooker – so if you want to simplify this you can remove all the spices and vegetables and just cover the ham with water and boil as specified below.

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Ingredients

2.5 kg ham

1 carrot

1 yellow onion

1 tsp whole allspice

1 tsp whole white pepper

2 bay leaves

0.5 tsp salt per litre water

 

1 egg

2 tbsp mustard

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp sugar

100-150 ml breadcrumbs

corn flour or maize starch


Rinse the ham joint in cold water (leave the netting on) and stick a meat thermometer in it. Place it in a large pot.

Chop up the carrot and onion and add to the pot with the allspice, pepper, and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the ham, and then 0.5 tsp salt per litre water.

Cover the pot with a lid and bring to boil. When it starts boiling, bring it down to a simmer and leave to cook until the thermometer shows 70-75 degrees Celsius. The estimate is 1 hour per kilo of ham – so in my case that was 2.5 kg.

If you instead want to use a slow cooker, cook on low heat for 9 hours.

Once cooked, leave the ham to cool down before taking off the net and cutting off any excess fat you don’t want.

Then mix together the egg, two mustards and sugar. Put some starch or corn flour on the top of the ham (this helps to keep the mustard mix from sliding off too much) and cover with the mustard mix.

Pour the breadcrumbs over the mustard mix, then grill in the oven at 225 degrees Celsius for 10-15 minutes.

 


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Again, this is a Christmas recipe that isn’t very difficult. It just takes a bit of time. But since you’re going to serve it cold it’s perfect for making a day or two in advance – if you can keep your hands off it in the meantime – so you don’t have to stress on the day.

My Christmas was actually very relaxed cooking wise. I had made the gravlax and the ham in advance so they were ready to serve. I got up around 9 am to roll up some meatballs to be ready to fry later, and then just boiled some eggs and potatoes, fried the meatballs and sausages, and cooked the sausage meat and pigs in blankets (S’s additions) in the oven. The bread and cheese and ready-bought sauces obviously didn’t need any preparations. So the only thing that was a bit of a hassle was the rice pudding, and that was mainly because I’d picked a bad recipe since I’d never made it before – so I had to make a second batch following another recipe, which turned out much better.

/t

swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs must be one of the most famous things to come out of Sweden. If you ask people what they know about Sweden the list usually goes; Abba, IKEA, Volvo, Swedish meatballs. If they’re into football, music, films, or Scandi noir, the answer might stretch a bit with things like Zlatan, Swedish House Mafia / Avicii / Red One, Alexander Skarsgård / Alicia Vikander / Ingemar Bergman, or The Bridge / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – but those first ones are usually the first four mentioned. I mean who’s been to IKEA and hasn’t had the meatballs?

Here’s where it gets interesting though – because what I’m guessing that you don’t know (unless you read The Local Sweden) is that most Swedish people wouldn’t have the IKEA style meatballs the way they’re served in IKEA. This is because we have a division of how you serve ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (or ‘posh’ and ‘non-posh’ if you like) meatballs. And don’t get me started on meatballs with fries. Unless you’re buying them at a street vendor / kiosk / petrol station during a drive (and even then they often have mash as an alternative) or you’re a toddler, you do not have meatballs with fries.

So, as you may deduct from the above, the good, or posh, meatballs are the homemade kind. The ones your parents or grandparents used to make for you when you were little. The ones that are hand-rolled with love. These are (always) served with potatoes or (homemade) mash, cream sauce, and lingonberry jam. They are traditionally made from mixed mince – half beef half pork – but can also be all beef, moose, boar, deer, or whatever else your family is in to. In my family it was moose.

The bad, or non-posh, meatballs are the factory-made kind you buy in the supermarket – or at IKEA. In Sweden these are usually served with pasta (often snabbmakaroner, i.e. ‘quick macaroni’ which takes about 2 min to cook) and ketchup. I know! Ketchup. This is what we used to get in school when I was little and we were served meatballs. It’s also what my mum used to pack in my food thermos (that or pancakes) when we were going on outings with school.

Another use for the non-posh meatballs is on a traditional Scandi-style open sandwich, together with what we call beetroot salad (which is essentially small cubes of beetroot mixed with mayonnaise).

The other use for the posh meatballs is of course at the Christmas table and Christmas dinner – served besides the sausages and other hot foods – and that brings us neatly on to today’s recipe, because after Christmas we had loads of meatballs left. Feeling slightly tired of Christmas food, I suggested we could make meatballs with mash and cream sauce.

The recipe below is a very basic meatball recipe. My nan and my dad always used to put onion in theirs, but since I’m not a fan of onion (I can do it in stew where I can pick it out or soup where it’s blended) I don’t. Some people put garlic in theirs, others allspice. And like I already mentioned before, people use all kinds of meat. Even chicken and turkey, but then I don’t think it would go too well with the sauce. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that if you want to experiment – go nuts! You can also replace the milk with cream if you want a heavier feel.

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Ingredients

500g mince (I use lean beef with 5-10% fat)

50 ml breadcrumbs

100 ml milk

1 egg

salt

pepper


Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for about 10 minutes, until they have swelled and soaked up all the milk.

Mix in the egg.

Add the mince and salt and pepper. Mix together (best done with a fork or your hands).

Roll out the meatballs by taking a piece of mince mixture and putting it in between your palms, moving them in opposite directions.

Fry in butter on medium/high heat for 5 ish minutes, until cooked through.


For the cream sauce to go with it, I usually improvise. The way I go about it is: add a small piece of butter to a pot, then pour in 300 ml cream. Add 1-1.5 beef stock cube and stir until dissolved. Then add a splash of soy sauce, some white pepper and, if necessary, some flour to thicken. If it’s too thick, add some milk. Not enough saltiness, add more soy sauce. And so on. However, this doesn’t make for a very good recipe for someone who doesn’t know what they’re after in the taste and texture department, so I’ve Googled a recipe for you and adapted it slightly to go better with my version.


Ingredients

1 tbsp butter

300 ml cream

1 stock cubes / 1-2 tbsp concentrated stock

1 tsp soy sauce

white pepper

flour


So as stated above, melt the butter in a pot. Add the cream and a teaspoon of flour. Whisk until there are no lumps.

Crumble the stock cube (or pour in the concentrated stock) into the pot and stir until dissolved (combined).

Add the soy sauce and some white pepper.

Leave to simmer until slightly thickened.


This should be served either with a creamy homemade mash or with boiled potatoes, and then lingonberry jam. I know we haven’t talked that much about lingonberry jam before, but I think I’ve made it clear that this is a staple in the Swedish kitchen? We eat it with meatballs, with potato pancakes, with our macaronilåda pastabake, with oven-pancakes (pancake batter cooked in a large tin in the oven, often with bits of bacon in it), kroppkakor (Swedish potato dumplings with pork filling) and so on. If you really want to do these good meatballs justice, you should have rårörda lingon (which translates as raw-stirred lingonberries) because they have less sugar in them and are less jelly-ish in texture. But lingonberry jam will do. (It always does.)

So now you know that Sweden has a tier system in place when it comes to their meatballs, and how to serve them depending on which tier they belong to! You can of course do it differently, but once you’ve had a good, homemade, meatball, mash and sauce meal you will never be able to look at the IKEA version the same again

/t

lussebullar

Today is Lucia, which is an old Swedish tradition. Surprisingly, it’s technically the celebration of an Italian saint, but in true Swedish fashion we’ve thrown in some pagan associations too. You don’t need to look far to find pagan celebrations in Sweden – just look at Valborg (Walpurgis Night), Midsummer, and even Easter and Christmas. (On the Thursday before Good Friday children in Sweden dress up as Easter witches and go knocking on doors to get sweets, and Christmas is commonly said to be celebrated at the end of December because we already had pagan celebrations then that the Christians wanted to replace.)

Anyway, back to today. Lucia is a Catholic saint from Sicily who lived during the late 200’s, and the story is that she was persecuted for being a devout Christian. As a young girl she had taken a chastity vow, but her mother – not knowing about the vow – arranged for her to be married because she herself was sick. When Lucia found out, her and her mother travelled to St Agatha’s shrine to pray for a cure. The mother was cured and agreed that Lucia would not have to be married, but her intended husband was not please by these news, and so he reported her to the Governor of Syracuse who ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. Lucia refused and was then ordered to be defiled in a brothel, but when they came to pick her up they could not move her. Eventually she was killed with a sword.

St Lucia’s day became 13th December, which before the calendar reformation coincided with the Winter Solstice. The Swedish Lucia tradition is therefore thought to stem from that. There are Swedish versions of the legend saying that St Lucia would bring food to prisoners, and that to be able to carry as much as possible she would put the candles on her head, but reference to this is not commonly made in the English articles about her. What is more likely is that we put Lucia onto our pagan tradition to be able to ‘Christianise’ it. According to folklore, 13th December was a dangerous night on which many supernatural beings moving about, and it was thought that animals could talk on that night. Because it was a dangerous night, people should try not to go to sleep, and some would walk the towns with torches to bring light on this darkest night.
13th December was also the day on which all the Christmas celebrations should be finished, and when the Christmas pig should be slaughtered. People would therefore often have a small feast, and some even called it ‘mini-Christmas’.

And there you have it. This mix of pagan tradition and a Sicilian saint has brought us today’s Lucia celebrations, where a girl with a crown of candles leads a procession of boys and girls in white gowns, singing Lucia songs and handing out gingerbread and lussebullar (saffron buns) to people – which neatly brings us onto the recipe of the day.

Lussebullar, or lussekatter, are a Swedish Christmas food strongly associated with Lucia. ‘Att lussa’ is the verb used in Swedish for describing partaking in a Lucia train, so lussebulle technically means ‘Lucia bun’ and lussekatt means ‘Lucia cat’. Apparently the latter is because the lussebulle came about in Germany, where the devil, in the form of a cat, beat children while Jesus, in the form of a child, gave out buns to children who were good. To keep the devil away the buns were coloured with saffron – since the devil had an aversion to light. You learn something new every day!

Either way, lussebullar are one of my favourite things, and I always get that giddy feeling when they start selling them in the shops. But what’s great about them is that they’re actually not very difficult to make, you just need some patience, and they usually turn out so much greater than the store-bought ones.


Ingredients
50g fresh yeast

100g butter

500 ml milk

250g quark

1g saffron

150 ml sugar

0.5 tsp salt

ca 1.7 l flour

raisins

1 egg / some milk

First I want to emphasise again how much I prefer fresh years to dry. I know everyone can’t get their hands on fresh yeast, but if you can it’ll so be worth it.

Start by crumbling your yeast in a big bowl.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the milk. Heat to max 37 degrees Celcius. The easiest way to know that it’s right (if you don’t have a thermometer) is to do the finger test. Just dip your finger in there and if you basically can’t feel the liquid (i.e. it’s neither hot nor cold) it’s good to go. Make sure your finger doesn’t just graze the top though – the bottom could be hotter which would kill the yeast.

Pour the liquid over the yeast little by little until it dissolves. Add saffron, sugar, and quark and dissolve. Then add almost all of the flour, tip the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth.

Leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has almost doubled in size, tip it out onto a floured surface and cut into smaller pieces. I usually do this by halving the dough and then halving each bit as I go, which I believe gave me 36 buns.

To make the buns, take one piece and roll it out into a long, thin(ish) strand. Then grab the ends and roll them up opposite ways until it resembles and S. If you want to (I don’t like raisins) garnish by putting one raisin at each end of the S.

Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.

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Again, this step is up to you. You can either glaze the buns with a beaten egg before baking, or do what I do and brush them with some milk after. I prefer the milk after, because it gives the buns a soft exterior, but others prefer the top to be more bread-like.

Either way, bake the buns for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size) at 225 degrees Celcius, then why not enjoy them while they’re hot with some glögg or julmust.