Saffron, the worlds most expensive spice. It’s aromatic, colourful & has a unique flavour that really can’t be compared to anything. Saffron is harvested by hand from the stigmas of the saffron crocus (or flower) & it takes a very large quantity of these flowers to produce just a small amount of the crimson strands we know as saffron, hence its high price. Luckily a little goes a long way with this unique spice & only a small amount is required for any recipe.
Paella, risotto, bread, aiioli, all benefit from the bright golden influence of saffron. Personally, I find its delicate flavour can sometimes be lost in savoury dishes, overpowered by its contending spices. I find that saffron truly earns its starring role in sweet breads (although I may be bias towards my doughy friend). It’s beauty is unchallenged & permitted to shine through in both colour & flavour.
Pan de muerto, cornish saffron loaf, teacakes I’ve indulged in a few golden ventures with saffron. My love of buns prevails however, as my absolute favourite use of this costly crocus is in pretty little St Lucia buns.
A traditional Swedish Christmas treat, St Lucia buns are eaten to celebrate St Lucia’s Day (St Lucy’s Day), which is also the Winter Solstice. St Lucia’s Day originates from an old pagan festival of lights, Lucy meaning ‘light’, to celebrate a young girl who was martyred for bringing food to persecuted Christians in hiding inside the catacombs of Rome. She wore candles on her head in order to free her hands for carrying goods. St. Lucia’s Day today is celebrated by girls dressing in a white dress with red sashes around the waist and a crown of candles on her head (yikes).
ST LUCIA BUNS
(makes 6 )
- 325g strong white flour
- 4g fast acting dried yeast
- 0.25g saffron (ground)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 50g caster sugar
- 150ml whole milk
- 35g butter
- 2 eggs
- 12 currants or raisins
- In a small saucepan gently heat the milk along with the butter & saffron
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar & salt
- Pour the warmed milk mixture over the flour & add one of the eggs
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, cardamom & sugar together
- Gently warm the milk, butter & saffron in a saucepan or microwave, until well combined & lukewarm
- Make a well in the centre of the flour & pour in the milk mixture
- Mix well until a dough is formed, it is a sticky dough (you many not need all of the milk mixture, or need to use a little water if your dough feels a bit dry)
- Empty the dough out onto a floured work surface & knead for 5-10 minutes (or for 5 minutes using a dough hook in a stand mixer) until it is smooth, elastic & has a slight shine
- Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm or teatowel & leave to rise for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size
- Once your dough has risen tip it out onto a floured work surface & knock back the dough(knead out the air)
- Divide the dough into 6 portions
- Roll each portion into a 30cm strand & roll both ends alternatively towards the centre of the length to form an ‘S’ shape
- Place your buns onto a parchment lined baking sheet, well spaced apart
- Cover with cling film, a tea towel, or (my preference) place inside a ‘bag for life’ plastic bag & leave to prove for 30 – 45 minutes (they’re ready when the dough springs back when poked)
- Brush the buns with the remaining egg & use the currants or raisins to decorate the centre of each swirl
- Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, until beautifully golden