The Lucy Cat – A saffron-flavoured bread


The buns which you see above I made the other week. The most common name for them in Swedish today  is “Lussekatter”/Lucy Cats, but they are also called “saffransbullar/”saffron buns”, “Lussebullar”/”Lucy buns” and more ancient as “Dövelskatter”/Devil’s cats”.  According to one interpretation Lussekatten/the Lucy Cat has its roots in Germany during the 17th century. One legend says that the Devil in the shape of a cat used to beat naughty children up, while Jesus Christ in the shape of a child handed out buns or bread flavoured with saffron to kind and well brought up children. This was done to keep the fishy Devil away. To make the bread lighter in colour and more “sun-like” the yellow spice of saffron was added.

In Western Sweden the bread was called “Dövelskatt”, “Dyvelkatt”/Devil’s Cat as a sign to keep the Devil away, and this kind of bread are specific for this season, especially from December 13th and the days around Christmas. The first written evidence about this bread  is from 1897. The Swedish Encyclopedia Nordisk Familjebok in the 1912 edition still refers to this bread as “Dövelskatt”, even though the name “Lussekatt” was used as a parallell name. The word “lusse” is derived from the Latin “lux”, which means “light”, and both the names Lucia and Lucifer are derived from that Latin word, even if with two absolute opposite connotations. During the Swedish Middle Ages we had a tradition on December 13th called “Lussimässa”/Lucy Mass which was a Christian Mass in the then  Catholic church which celebrated the saint of light, Lucy, even if the story about her life was unknown to Swedes back then. That knowledge would come many centuries later. In 1941 the word “Lussekatt” was mentioned in SAOL, i.e. Svenska Akademins Ordlista/Dictionary of the Swedish Academy.  Now it had a strong connection to Saint Lucy and the celebrations around this saint of light which began to take shape as a distinct Swedish tradition from the 1920’s and onwards.

The Lucy Cat can be made in various shapes, but one of the most common designs is the one in my pictures, as a kind of S, or doubled with two arms intertwined. Some of the designs have their origins in Ancient archetypes used for sun-worshipping in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age 3000 – 4000 years ago.

The Lucy Cats are made of 50 grammes of yeast, one gram of saffron, 150 grammes of butter, five decilitres of milk, curd cheese, one egg, half a tea spoon of salt, two to three decilitres of granulated sugar and 17 decilitres of wheat-flour. The buns are mostly garnished with raisins, but sometimes also crushed loaf sugar or almonds are used. For me as a Swede this kind of bread is traditional and a “must” on December 13th and at Christmas. I presume that many other Swedes would agree with me. Today I intend to enjoy some saffron-flavoured Lucy Cats again. Maybe you will too?

Anders Moberg, December 13th 2013


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