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Nota per lettori italiani/e: troverete una versione italiana della ricetta alla fine del post.

Saffron buns are a speciality of one of my favourite places in the whole world, namely Cornwall, so when I saw that they were the subject of this month’s challenge for Fresh from the Oven, I just had to have a go at making them. As is my way, I interpreted the brief a little loosely, and made a loaf as well as the buns. What’s more, as you will discover, I got a bit carried away and made a rather exotic variation on the theme as well.

The challenge was hosted by Sally from My Custard Pie. She set the bar very high indeed with what look like some very fluffy buns. They also – and I want to know how she did this – were still beautifully yellow on the outside after baking. Mine ended up a rich brown colour with veins of yellow showing through. Rather appealing too, but I preferred Sally’s look!

I took the liberty of adapting Sally’s recipe to suit my way of working.

The Recipe

Makes 12 buns or 2 loaves

  • A generous pinch of Saffron (see picture)
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water
  • 150ml milk
  • 100ml water
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 600g strong white flour
  • 5g fine sea salt
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 1 medium egg
  • 200g currants
  • 2 tablespoons honey to glaze (optional)
  • 2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment
  • or two 500g loaf tins, of the longer, lower variety if possible, greased well with butter

Crush the saffron strands in a pestle and mortar then transfer them to a small bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave for at least an hour for the colour and flavour to be drawn out of the saffron.

Bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan, then remove it from the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter is melted, then add the cold water, along with the saffron and its water.

In a large bowl, stir the salt, sugar and yeast into the flour.

If the milk mixture is still hot, leave it until it is lukewarm, before adding it to the bowl along with the egg.

Stir until well mixed, then scrape out onto an unfloured surface and work or knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Work the currants into the dough.

At this point the original recipe went straight to forming the dough into buns, so you too could do that if you wish. I decided to give the dough a conventional first rise, so I put it in an oiled bowl, covered it and left it in a warm place until doubled in size. After that I patted it out into a disk and reformed it into a ball before proceding to shape it into buns.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a ball, flatten slightly and place about 3cm apart on the baking sheets.

Alternatively, make a loaf or loaves as follows. Take half the dough, divide it into 7 equal pieces (weigh them if you can bear it), and form each one into a ball. Tuck these into the loaf tin as shown. I think an uneven number of balls makes for a better effect, but if you like things symmetrical, you could use 6 or 8.

Cover the buns or loaves and leave to rise until doubled in size. As this is a rich dough, this could take considerabley longer than for a normal dough, perhaps as much as 3 hours, or even longer.

Preheat the oven to 220C / 425F / Gas Mark 7 (adjust for fan oven).

Bake the buns for about 15-20 minutes or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped underneath. The loaf will need 30 minutes or so. Turn the trays or tins half way through the baking time to ensure even browning.

If, like me, you’d like to add a glaze to the finished bread, heat 2 tablespoons of honey with 1 tablespoon of water until just boiling, then brush each bun or loaf twice with this while still hot.

I found that this dough rose very slowly, and I think I baked the rolls and loaf a bit too soon. Not that they were dense in texture, but I think they could have been larger and lighter. But, having said that, they weren’t at all bad. The saffron adds a lovely, subtle flavour and, of course, that vibrant colour; the photos are not lying!

Santa Lucia Sour Cherry and Saffron Buns

I was tempted to make the Cornish buns again to see if I could improve on the texture, but in the end I decided to make a Scandinavian version from Signe Johansen’s beautiful new book, Scandilicious Baking. These handsome s-shaped buns are a variation on the “Lussekatter” eaten in Scandinavia to mark Santa Lucia day on 13th December. As well as the traditional saffron, Johansen has scented them with cardamom (for which she confesses an obsession that I can certainly identify with), and has studded them with dried sour cherries rather than raisins. She suggests eating them warm with a glass of cold milk, hot chocolate or mulled wine, all of which sound delicious. I can tell you that they are lovely cold, spread with butter and apricot jam.

Johansen has published the recipe on her blog, but I wouldn’t let that stop you buying the book. It is full of tempting and beautifully photographed recipes. How do you like the sound of oatbran flatbreads with cardamom sugar (there’s a lot of cardamom in this book!), or custard and coconut buns, or spiced baked barley pudding, or lemon nutmeg madeleines? My next bake from this book will be the marvelously named Swedish Sirapslimpa bread, a light rye loaf flavoured with treacle, aniseed, fennel and orange. What a combination!


Saffron is reputed to be the most expensive spice in the world. Admittedly I bought a premium brand, but at £4 for 0.4g it worked at £10,000 a kilo!

The round up of entries for Fresh from the Oven will be hosted by Claire at Purely Food and will be available from 1st September 2012. My thanks as ever to Claire and Michelle for running this event, and to Sally for setting an excellent challenge.

Tre tipi di pane allo zafferano

Il pane allo zafferano è una specialità della Cornovaglia, la contea, anche ducato, che si trova nell’estremità della stretta penisola sud-occidentale della Gran Bretagna. Amo la Cornovaglia come pochi altri luoghi del mondo, mi piacciono i Cornish Pasties (pasticci semicircolari che nel passato nutrivano i minatori di stagno), mi piace la clotted cream (panna densa, dorata, con una crosta) ed i “cream teas” che la usano. E naturalmente mi piace il pane allo zafferano, con il suo colore impressionante e il sapore ricco ma sottile. È buono con la clotted cream, con il burro, con la marmellata, tostato o no. Spero che piacerà anche a voi.

Per 12 panini ROTONDI o 2 pani

La ricetta per i panini a forma di esse (chiamati di Santa Lucia) si trova sul sito di Scandilicious (in inglese).

  • Un pizzico grande di filamenti di zafferano (vedi foto sopra)
  • 1 cucchiaio di acqua bollente
  • 150ml di latte
  • 125 g di burro non salato
  • 100 ml d’acqua
  • 600 g di farina bianca per pane
  • 5 g di sale marino fine
  • 7g di lievito di birra secco di azione veloce
  • 85 g di zucchero semolato
  • 1 uovo medio
  • 200 g di uva passa
  • 2 cucchiai di miele per la glassa (facoltativo)
  • 2 teglie foderate con carta da forno o due stampi per pane di 500g ben unta con burro fuso. Meglio se avete stampi bassi e lunghi.

Schiacciare i fili di zafferano in un mortaio poi trasferirli ad una piccola ciotola e versarvi sopra l’acqua bollente. Lasciar riposare per almeno un’ora per tirare il colore e il sapore dallo zafferano.

Portare il latte ad ebollizione. Sciogliere il burro nel latte quindi aggiungere l’acqua insieme allo zafferano e la sua acqua. Se la miscela non è tiepida, lasciarla raffreddare.

In una grande ciotola, mescolare la farina, il sale, il lievito e lo zucchero. Aggiungere il latte e l’uovo e mescolare bene.

Trasferire l’impasto sul piano di lavoro non infarinato. Impastare per 5-10 minuti fino a che diventa liscio ed elastico. Per ultimo, incorporare l’uva passa.

Rimettere l’impasto nella ciotola, coprire, e lasciare in un luogo caldo fino a quando si raddoppia. Ci vorrà forse due ore o anche di più.

Dopo la lievitazione, trasferire l’impasto sul piano spolverato con un poco di farina e schiacciarlo delicatamente.

Per fare i panini, dividere l’impasto in 12 e formare delle palle. Appiattirle leggermente e mettere sulle teglie, lasciando almeno 3cm tra loro.

Per fare i pani, prendere metà della pasta, dividerlo in 7 parti uguali e fare delle palline. Mettere nel stampo come mostrato nella foto di sopra. Ripetere con il resto dell’impasto.

Coprire i pani/panini e lasciare raddoppiare. Anche questa lievitazione potrebbe essere molto lenta.

Preriscaldare il forno a 220C (ridurre per forno ventilato).

Cuocere i panini per circa 15-20 minuti, i pani per circa 30 minuti, o finché saranno ben dorati. Se colpiti sul fondo dovrebbero suonare vuoti.

Per la glassa, mettere due cucchiai di miele e uno cucchiaio di acqua in una padella e portare a ebollizione. Spennellare i pani/panini due volte con la glassa mentre sono ancora caldi.