By Haley Pollock

At the East Bay Waldorf School, students bake Santa Lucia buns each December to celebrate a Scandinavian tradition about teaching kindness. The story honors a woman who, hundreds of years ago, delivered provisions to the needy in the dark, wearing a crown of leaves and candles to light her way. With its celebration of Santa Lucia, the small preschool–8th grade private school, nestled in the El Sobrante hills, teaches that human kindness brings light into the darkness. The school curriculum is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and seeks to educate the whole child through a philosophy that embraces “head, heart, and hands.”

Second grade children prepare the twisted sweetbread adorned with currants and raisins and often served with coffee. Dressed in white and with lighted crowns on their heads, the children walk through dark hallways to deliver the bread to all students and staff. The school honors this tradition each winter to encourage compassion and generosity. It is at once a lesson in cooking, history, and service to others.

To learn more about this school and its curriculum, parents and children are invited to an open house on Saturday, January 9, 1–3pm. Info: here

Baking Santa Lucia buns is an annual tradition at the East Bay Waldorf School. Photo: Kelly Chappie

Baking Santa Lucia buns is an annual tradition at the East Bay Waldorf School. Photo: Kelly Chappie

Santa Lucia Bread

Baking this sweet, flavorful bread is a delightful winter project for both children and adults. Santa Lucia’s story originates in Scandinavia, and the bread remains a popular winter treat there. The saffron threads that give the bread its golden color serve as a reminder of the saint’s generosity. This recipe was adapted from kingarthurflour.com for use by the East Bay Waldorf School.

Makes 12 buns

1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
1/2 cup butter
4 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
1 large egg white (reserved from dough) mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Raisins or currants, optional

Place milk and saffron in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let come to a simmer, then remove from heat and stir in the butter until it is melted. Set aside and let cool to lukewarm.

Whisk together the yeast, flours, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Separate one of the eggs, and set the white aside.

Pour the lukewarm milk and butter mixture over the dry ingredients. Add the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Stir to combine, then knead (about 7 minutes by mixer or 10 minutes by hand) until the dough is smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let rise for 1 hour, or until it’s very puffy. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces (approximately 3.75-ounces each). Shape the pieces of dough into rough logs, and let them rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax.

Roll each log into a 15- to 18-inch rope. They’ll shrink once you stop rolling (that’s ok). Shape each rope into an “S” shape. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the two side-by-side coils. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between them. Cover 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 375°. Whisk the reserved egg white with a little water and brush each bun with this glaze.

Bake the buns until they’re golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you’ve used raisins, tent the buns with foil for the final 3 minutes, to prevent the raisins from burning.  Remove the buns from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.

Santa Lucia buns are sometimes adorned with currants or raisins and often served with coffee. Photo: Kelly Chappie

Santa Lucia buns are sometimes adorned with currants or raisins and often served with coffee. Photo: Kelly Chappie