Saffron buns. How could something so ordinary sound so decadent? Buns can be a staple food–but the saffron gives this “ordinary bun” such a unique and special twist–resulting in a golden sunlight color that can only come from saffron’s ability to color things up to 150,000 times its weight unmistakably yellow.
Not to mention saffron’s unique flavor stemming from its Eastern Mediterranean roots. It’s hard to describe saffron’s flavor–it is an ingredient that has NO substitute (there is not one single ingredient known to us that can be used as a substitute for saffron–not safflowers, not turmeric)…some say it’s bitter, or say it tastes kind of like the sea, others describe a bitter, honey-like taste. All a testament to its unique position in the culinary diaspora.
It takes 150,000 crocus flowers (saffron are the dried stigmas of a crocus flower) to produce one kilogram of saffron. The effort required to produce saffron is a huge testimony to its value–so how could I resist making a bun with saffron in it?
I love saffron (not to be confused with safflowers, which have nothing to do with the “Real Thing”). I myself discovered it and made it a staple in my kitchen only a handful of years ago, after making paella and committing myself to a little (expensive) box of saffron threads. What was this thing? It was beautiful. I now use saffron in rice (coloring it a beautiful yellow and giving the rice a beautiful taste and aroma), and potatoes…mostly because I scored a big bulk stash of saffron from the Made in France Warehouse Sale late last year).
So I took out my Kitchenaid mixer, and my stash of saffron, and made headway.
I love the chemistry and process of breadmaking–the beauty of the transformation makes me check my impatience with ease. It is an amazing thing to watch the ingredients combine in a liquid mess, and then become an elastic, glutinous creature after minutes of dutiful kneading (whether by hand or by mixer). And it doesn’t stop there–the dough becomes something else entirely after being left to rise in a warm spot above the gas range for a couple hours, until it becomes a soft bubble of air and dough.
How beautiful are the flecks of dark red orange saffron in the dough, doubled in bulk after its first rising? I felt a little sad about punching it down–just a little sad. Not enough to prevent me from punching it down, a breadmaking step I always find strangely delightful. Kaboom.
The next step was to form the buns and allow them to rise again–a tedious step but one that is so very valuable (my favorite Cheese Board brioche recipe has a second rising too, one that leaves me salivating for the finish line). But by this point, I’m screaming silently, “A SECOND TIME?!” Even though I know it’s completely worth it.
But in a short time, the buns double in bulk. Time to glaze with egg whites, sprinkle with sugar…and then in the oven they go!
And in about twenty minutes, they come out, transformed and steaming after what seems like an eternity of tempting heavenly smells.
In our house, we devoured several of them instantly, letting the plugra butter (I can only imagine how WONDERFUL this would taste with devon cream) melt into the steaming bread before popping the bites into our mouths. Today was a cloudy day, but these buns brought a little bit of sunshine into our household, and made things a little more special.
Recipe follows after the jump…
Recipe for Saffron Buns
From the King Arthur Four Website
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons instant yeast (we recommend Fermipan Brown or SAF Gold)
3 to 3 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 egg white beaten lightly with a teaspoon of water
pearl sugar or other coarse sugar
Combine the hot water and saffron, and let sit for 10 minutes to soften the saffron. In a mixing bowl, beat together the saffron water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg, yeast, and 2 cups of the flour. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough (for about 15 minutes by hand, 12 minutes in an electric mixer, 90 seconds in a food processor, or in your bread machine using the dough cycle), then set it aside to rise till puffy (but not necessarily doubled in bulk), about 2 hours.
Punch the dough down, and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Place the balls fairly close together (but not touching) in a 12-inch deep-dish pizza pan or 9 x 13-inch pan, cover them, and let them rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until they’re puffy.
Glaze the buns with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle them heavily with pearl sugar. Bake them in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. (Watch them closely at the end; because of their high sugar content, they tend to brown quickly.) Serve with butter or Devon cream. Yield: 16 buns.