Friday, December 12, 2008

Saint Lucia's Braided Bread

The feast of St. Lucy, a fourth-century martyr, is celebrated on December 13th, also known as Saint Lucia Day. I have really enjoyed learning about the many customs associated with her feast day.

Some of the lovliest St. Lucy Day traditions are Swedish! In Sweden, this special feast is called Luciadagen. Before dawn, the oldest daughter in the family will dress as St. Lucy, wearing a white gown to represent purity , a red sash to represent martyrdom, and a crown of greenery and lit candles. Her little brothers will join her dressed as "starboys" wearing white gowns, cone-shaped hats decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wants. She will then wake her family and serve them special St. Lucy Day treats such as Lussekatter (St. Lucy's Cats) and Saffron Buns shaped into various shapes.

I have been looking forward to trying out the following recipe for a Braided St. Lucia Crown/Bread ever since I saw it posted by Karen Edmisten last December. At the time I just didn't have time a chance to bake it, so after a quick trip to our local bakery my oldest daughter served Donuts instead... This year I am determined to give it a shot! The recipe sounds fairly easy and it has received rave reviews from Karen, Eileen and Charlotte. Doesn't it look heavenly!?

Photo Courtesy of Karen Edmisten

Saint Lucia's Braided Bread
Source: Family Fun


  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/4-ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2 o 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Glaze and Garnish:
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • Candles (optional)


Warm the milk in a small saucepan, then pour 1/2 cup of it into a large bowl.

Add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and let it set for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the remaining milk.

Add the butter and milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the eggs, juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, orange rind, and salt.

Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes, adding more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to your hands.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning it once to coat it. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a 30-inch rope and braid the ropes together.

Transfer the braid to a greased baking sheet, pinch together the ends to form a circle, and let it rise until it has again doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°. Bake the bread for 25 minutes or until golden brown, then let it cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

For the glaze, stir together the confectioner's sugar and orange juice in a medium bowl until smooth.

Drizzle the glaze mix over the bread, then garnish with the cranberries. Finally, add candles, if you'd like. Serves 12.

    Hear us, O God, our salvation, that, as we rejoice in keeping the festival of Blessed Lucy, thy virgin and martyr, so we may profit by the tender devotion we gain through her example. Through our Lord. Amen.
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    1. OH, this looks good!! My 6 year old is planning on dressing up Sat in her white gown and red sash, so, I might have to get up early and bake this!! I was going to do what you did last year...donuts! I still might....

    2. Oh, I'm so excited to make this wonderful looking breakfast! I can't wait! I wonder if I could make the braid the night before and then add the glaze in the morning?

    3. This looks scrumptious! I was referred to you lovely blog by Natalie. So glad I dropped by. I posted on St. Lucy this week, BTW.

    4. I am planning on making it the night before. It needs to rise for for over 2 hours plus the prep and baking time, there is no way I could get up early enough in the morning! ;)

      I am pretty sure that Karen and Eileen have made it the night before as well.

    5. Last year, I made the dough the night before, and let it rise in the refrigerator. The result was a marvelously easy to handle dough, that my daughter was able to braid herself!

      We did indeed get up very, very early so that the St. Lucia procession to "invite everyone to breakfast" could take place by candlelight.

      We used the final rise and baking time to get my daughter's hair all prettied-up and to make any final adjustments to her wreath and dress. We also set a pretty table with the good china, and made up a batch of hot cocoa while we were at it. I think the final cooling and glazing of the bread happened while our oldest came home to make sausage omelettes to order!

      It has become a very big deal, and we think it's every bit worth it! (Even if you still have to get started about 1-1/2 hours early!) I really do expect that we will do it this way again this year.

    6. I'm bumping the date on this post to place it just above all of the Our Lady of Guadalupe posts (in stead of in the middle), for convenience.

      I hope you all had a great feast of Our Lady today and a lovely feast of St. Lucy tomorrow! God Bless!

    7. Oooh, that looks so tempting. I love ripping braided breads. Somehow, it tastes better than slicing.

    8. My mother used to make this for Christmas eve, thanks to your recipe i am going to try it this year..with some smaller ones to give to my Swedish friends .

    9. I make the dough several days in advance to the point of rising, but instead of rising I freeze it. The night before I put it on the pan to rise, put the pan in the oven, set a timer to turn the oven on at the right time in the morning, and wake up to delicious fresh baked bread! Only thing to do that morning is take the bread out and ice it!

      This is our second year using this recipe, thank you for sharing it!