We have several friends who celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and even though I love the idea of putting shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with gifts, we’ve never managed to pull this one off. It probably has something to do with the fact that we’re always recovering from Cookie Extreme, which always takes place the first Saturday of December.
We do manage to celebrate St. Lucia Day on December 13, though. I can’t take any credit for this. It’s all Lexie. I think her love of this special day was influenced by lots of things: Kirsten, the American Girl doll, who was given to us in a homemade St. Lucia dress by Great-Grandma Charlotte when Lexie was still just a baby; our Swedish and Italian heritage on my mom’s side (St. Lucia was Italian, but her story was really embraced by the Swedes); and the second-graders’ study of “Christmas Around the World” at her school.
Tradition has it that the oldest daughter in the family wears a white dress with a red ribbon and a wreath of candles on her head to wake her family bright and early with coffee and buns. Here’s where our family strays a little from tradition. For starters, Lexie is not a morning person. So her portrayal of St. Lucia is as an evening dessert-server rather than as a morning waker-upper. Secondly, since I haven’t yet managed to make her an official St. Lucia dress (even though I have a pattern and fabric), Lexie gamely cobbles together whatever white outfit she can come up with. I believe last year’s version (featured in the photo) is the white dress she wore as a snowflake in the school Christmas program and one of my white Gap T-shirts. We found a cloth crown during a visit to the Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, but you can make a paper crown that will work just as well.
Luckily, my cooking skills are better than my sewing skills so every year I make a Swedish Kringla, or kringle. The kringle looks sort of intricate, with its layers of buttery crust, filling, and sugar frosting, but it’s actually really easy to make. This version is modified from a few Lutheran church cookbook recipes. Donuts or coffee cake work great, too. Just don’t let your St. Lucia forget the coffee if she’s an early riser.
Part 1: Butter Crust
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2-4 Tbsp. ice water
Part 2: Topping
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp. almond extract
sliced almonds (optional)
Part 3: Sugar Frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. soft butter
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1-2 Tbsp. half-and-half or milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To make the butter crust, mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir in cold water until a dough forms. Divide the dough into two balls then pat the dough onto a buttered cookie sheet into two 3X16″ strips.
To make the topping, bring the water and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the almond extract. Spread the topping evenly over the two strips of dough.
Bake the kringle for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then decrease the temperature to 400 degrees and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. The strips will puff up and turn golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then slide onto the rack. The topping will collapse and turn into filling. Cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, stir together the sugar, butter, and almond extract in a small bowl. Add the milk, drop by drop, until the frosting reaches a medium consistency. Drizzle over the cooled kringles and let set. You can also sprinkle sliced almonds over the kringles if you’d like.
Cut the kringles into 1″ strips for serving.