St. Lucia is an Italian saint who has been "adopted" by the people of Sweden. Christmas celebrations in Sweden begin on her feast day, which is the 13th of December. Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, that date was the shortest day of the year and in some regions of Scandinavia the sun didn't rise at all. Lucia is the patron saint of light, and legend tells us she wore a wreath of candles on her head to free her arms to carry bread to starving Christians hiding in the catacombs. The man she was to marry denounced her for assisting the poor and as a punishment she was blinded and set afire. The flames, however, didn't touch her and it took a stab wound to the heart to finally kill her. It is said that Lucia regained her sight just before her death. She is, to this day, revered as the patron saint of the blind because of her association with light. Her place in Swedish legend was earned because farmers in the middle ages believed she walked across a lake to deliver armloads of bread to starving members of their villages during a famine. They reported her path across the water was illuminated by the crown of candles she wore on her head. Lucia's name is synonymous with light and her crown symbolizes the light of faith and the promise of the sun's return.
The crown should actually be made from two braids, one large, the other small. They are baked separately, and the small crown, which holds the candles, is placed on top of the other just before serving. But as mentioned before, when you stack braids they often fall. So for this one, I am forming 4 long 'snakes' of dough into a round challah form. Still crownlike but I wanted it to look different than the Swedish ones. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeunETdNYdk)
· 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 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
· GLAZE AND GARNISH
· 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
· 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
· 1/3 cup dried cranberries
· Candles (optional)
How to make it
1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan, then pour 1/2 cup of it into a large bowl.
2. Add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and let it set for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the remaining milk.
3. Add the butter and milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the eggs, juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, orange rind, and salt.
4. 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.
5. 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 11/2 hours.
6. Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a 30-inch rope and braid the ropes together.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Drizzle the glaze mix over the bread, then garnish with the cranberries. Finally, add candles, if you'd like. Serves 12.