The Festival of Lights and Saint Lucia’s Feast Day marks the beginning of the Christmas Season in some countries, especially Sweden, Norway and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland. The day honors Saint Lucia (Saint Lucy); one of the earliest Christian Martyrs.
On December 13, 304 Saint Lucia died at the hands of her Roman tormentors. She died a terrible death, yet refused to abandoned her religious convictions to escape persecution. Why, you might wonder, are the feast days of Saints the day of their death? Because it is the day they are carried up to heaven. It is not a day of sadness but one of great joy. Why do Catholics put such stock in Saints? Because a saint is just a person, like any of us, who chose to make this world a better place not for themselves but for others.
The story of Saint Lucia is set against the backdrop of great political uncertainty and turmoil within the mighty Roman Empire. After 400 years of superior powder and dominance, the Empire was in a state of decline, attacked on every side by enemies. It was into this world that Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily. She was born into a rich and noble Roman Family. However; her father died when Lucia was just a small child. Her mother, of Greek descent, raised Lucia as a devout Catholic. Saint Lucia helped the Christians hiding in catacombs, bringing them food. To light her way while allowing her hands free to carry as much food as possible, she wore a wreath with candles on her head. This is why a coffee cake or bread with candles is the traditional food on her feast day.
Saint Lucia Crown
1 tablespoon Lemon Zest
1/2 cup Candied Citron
1/4 cup Blanched Almonds
1/2 cup Milk, warmed
1 pinch crushed Saffron (see note)
1/2 cup Water, warmed
2 packages Dry Yeast, regular or fast-acting
1/2 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
4 1/2 to 5 cups Bread Flour
Shortening as needed
Note: A few drops of yellow food coloring may be used as a substitute for the Saffron.
In a small bowl, beat two eggs. Set aside until ready to use. Zest lemon peel and set aside. Chop the Candied Citron and blanched almonds. Set aside.
Heat milk to between 105 and 115 degrees.
Stir saffron into warm milk or color the milk with food coloring. Set aside.
Warm the water to the same temperature as the milk. In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in saffron-milk mixture, granulated sugar, salt, eggs, butter and 2 1/2 cups of the flour. Beat with spoon until smooth. Stir in citron, almonds, lemon zest and enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and springy. Grease large bowl with shortening. Place dough in bowl, turning dough to grease all sides. Cover; let rise in warm place about 1 hour 30 minutes or until double in size.
Note: Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.
Grease 2 cookie sheets with shortening. Gently push fist into dough to deflate. Cut off one-third of dough for top braid and reserve. Divide remaining dough into 3 equal parts; roll each part into 25-inch rope. Place ropes close together on cookie sheet. Braid ropes loosely; shape into circle and pinch ends to seal.
Divide reserved dough into 3 equal parts; roll each part into 16-inch rope. Place ropes close together on second cookie sheet. Braid ropes loosely; shape into circle and pinch ends to seal. Cover both braids; let rise in warm place about 45 minutes or until double in size.
While the dough is rising for a second time, heat oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the crown for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to wire rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour, before assembling.
1 cup Powdered Sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons Milk
In small bowl, mix glaze ingredients with spoon until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle glaze over both braids. Make holes for 5 candles in small braid. Place the large braid on a round serving platter. Place the small braid on top of the large braid to form a crown.
5 Green Candied Cherries or as desired
10 Red Candied Cherries or as desired
5 Red Ribbons for candles
5 White Candles
Garnish the top and bottom braid with cherries as desired. Tie red ribbon mid-way up the candles for decorative bows. Insert candles into the holes on the top braid of the crown.
For a dramatic presentation, light the candles and bring to the table. Just be sure to blow out the candles before cutting and serving.