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Food for St. Lucy’s Feast

From A Continual Feast:ookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Birge Vitz

Food for St. Lucy’s Feast

St. Lucy’s Day–Monday, December 13th–is one of those mysterious feasts during Advent that has probably been taken up because St. Lucy has become associated with light and this time of year is so dark! We have two recipes from two different cookbooks. One is for the more ambitious, St. Lucy’s Crown, from Cooking with the Saints although A Continuous Feast also contains a recipe. From A Continous Feast, we have a recipe for Swedish St. Lucy’s ginger snaps. Both recipes can be made with children although the first might seem more complicated, it is easily done with young ones. Yeast dough is very forgiving as long as you keep it warm and not either too cold or too hot. Children love to pound and the more kneading of the dough the better!

St. Lucy’s Day marks a moment of festivity in Advent, says Evelyn Birge Vitz, in A Continuous Feast. In Sweden in particular, her feast is celebrated with customs hundreds of years old. The eldest daughter of a household, wearing a white dress with a crimson sash, and a whortleberry or lingonberry crown, set with lighted candles, wakes the members of the family, and serves them special buns or a cake and coffee.

What does this have to do with St. Lucy herself? She was a Christian martyr, killed around A.D. 304 at Syracuse, in Sicily, under Emperor Diocletian. In the legend a rejected suitor denounced her as a Christian. Her eyes figure prominently in the legend, according to some accounts they were plucked out and miraculously restored by God. She was finally killed by a sword.

The elements of light and sight–the crown for martyrdom–are taken up in the celebrations of her feast.

Santa Lucia Crown



1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp saffron powder
4 cups flour
3 eggs, small

Icing and Decoration:
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
red and green glace’ cherries

Pour half the warm water into a large warm bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast; stir until dissolved. Add remaining water, warm milk, sugar, butter, salt, saffron and half the flour; blend well. Stir in 2 eggs and enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Remove dough to lightly floured surface; reserve 1/3 of dough for top of crown. Divide remaining dough into 3 equal pieces; roll each to 25-inch rope. Braid ropes. Place braid on greased baking sheet. Form braid into circle; pinch ends together to seal. Cover both braids; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Lightly beat remaining egg; brush on braids. Bake in moderately hot oven at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes or until done (small braid) and 25 minutes or until done (large braid). Cover large braid with foil during the last 10 minutes to prevent excess browning. Remove braids from baking sheets; let cool on wire racks.

To make the icing, combine the sifted powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in a small bowl. Stir until smooth.

To decorate the bread, make holes for 6 candles in the small braid. Place small braid on top of large braid and use toothpicks or icing to fasten it. If desired, drizzle with icing and garnish with candied cherry halves. Insert candles in prepared holes.

Serves about twelve.

Swedish St. Lucy’s ginger snaps

1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 1/2 cups dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons ground ginger
Grated rind of one lemon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
6-7 cups of flour

Directions: Heat the corn syrup in a saucepan. Stir in the sugar, molasses, ginger, lemon rind and baking soda.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until almost stiff.

Stir the syrup mixture gradually into the cream. Beat at low speed with an electric mixer for 4 to 5 minutes (about twice as long if you are beating by hand with a spoon or a whisk). Add 4 cups of flour, mixing well with a spoon. Then gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft, pliable dough. Knead for 2 or 3 minutes.

Wrap the dough well in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, you can start the chilling process in the freezer. Leave the dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with fancy cutters, such as animals and people, hearts and flowers. Try making some pretty young girls–perhaps with crowns–like St. Lucy. If possible, do creche scenes or other Christmas motifs, such as stars and angels. (Even in our baking, we can try to emphasize what matters about Christmas–the star, the baby, the angels singing–and play down Santa Claus and full stockings.)

Place the cookies on a lightly buttered cookie sheet. Bake at 275 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown.

Ice when cold.

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Icing: Beat the white of an egg until frothy. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (and, optional, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice). If the icing is too thick, add more lemon juice. Too thin, add more sugar. You can make several batches, adding food coloring as you wish. An even quicker icing is just a few drops of water mixed with confectioners’ sugar and food coloring.

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