A saffron bun, Cornish tea treat bun or revel bun, Swedish lussebulle or lussekatt, Norwegian lussekatt, is a rich, spiced yeast-leavened sweet bun that is flavoured with saffron and cinnamon or nutmeg and contains currants similar to a teacake. The main ingredients are plain flour, butter, yeast, caster sugar, currants and sultanas. Larger versions baked in a loaf tin are known as saffron cake.
In parts of Britain, the buns were traditionally baked on sycamore leaves and dusted with icing sugar.
The “revel bun” from Cornwall is baked for special occasions, such as anniversary feasts (revels), or the dedication of a church. In the West of Cornwall large saffron buns are also known as “tea treat buns” and are associated with Methodist Sunday school outings or activities.
In Sweden and Norway no cinnamon or nutmeg is used in the bun, and raisins are used instead of currants. The buns are baked into many traditional shapes, of which the simplest is a reversed S-shape. They are traditionally eaten during Advent, and especially on Saint Lucy’s Day, December 13. In addition to Sweden, they are also prepared and eaten in much the same way in Finland, above all in Swedish-speaking areas and by Swedish-speaking Finns, as well as in Norway and Denmark.Most commercially available saffron buns and cakes today contain food dyes that enhance the natural yellow provided by saffron.
The very high cost (it is the world’s most expensive spice by weight) makes the inclusion of sufficient saffron to produce a rich colour an uneconomical option. The addition of food colouring in Cornish saffron buns was already common by the end of the First World War when the scarcity of saffron forced bakers to find other ways to colour their products.
For the buns
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
- ½ cup butter
- 4½ cups unbleached plain flour
- ¾ tablespoon instant yeast
- ¼ cup potato flour or ½ cup instant potato flakes
- 1½ teaspoons salt <em>, see notes</em>
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping
- 1 large egg white <em>, reserved from dough</em> mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
- pearl sugar, optional
- golden raisins, optional
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat <em>(or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave)</em>, heat the milk and saffron to a simmer; remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Set the mixture aside to allow the butter to melt, and for it to cool to lukewarm, 30 to 35 minutes. You can reduce the milk's cooling time by about 10 minutes by refrigerating it.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar.
- Separate one of the eggs, and set the white aside; you'll use it later.
- Pour the lukewarm milk and butter mixture over the dry ingredients.
- Add the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Mix to combine, then knead for about 7 minutes by mixer, about 10 minutes by hand, till the dough is smooth and supple.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large <em>(8-cup)</em> measuring jug, cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.
- Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. A kitchen scale makes this job easy; each piece will weigh about 92g <em>(3¼ oz)</em>.
- Shape the pieces of dough into rough logs, and let them rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. <em>This gives the gluten a chance to relax.</em>
- Roll each log into a 38cm to 45cm rope. <em>They'll shrink once you stop rolling; that's OK.</em>
- Shape each rope into an "S" shape. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the two side-by-side coils, if desired.
- Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a centimetre or so between them. Cover them, and let them rise for about 30 minutes, until they're noticeably puffy, but definitely not doubled. While they're rising, preheat the oven to 190°C.
- Brush each bun with some of the egg white/water glaze. Sprinkle with coarse white Swedish pearl sugar, if desired.
- Bake the buns until they're golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you've used raisins, tent them with foil for the final 3 minutes, to prevent the raisins from burning.
- Remove the buns from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.