Saffron buns

Saffron buns

By
From
The Tivoli Road Baker
Makes
12
Photographer
Bonnie Savage and Alan Benson

I grew up in Cornwall eating saffron buns. They’re still very common in Cornwall, but nowadays many contain food colouring instead of the real deal. Saffron buns are similar to a hot cross bun in that they’re a light bun with fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg, the difference being the subtle note of saffron above all the other spices (and the absence of the cross). They make a lovely morning or afternoon tea served with clotted cream or butter. Some say they’re even better the next day, toasted. A large version, saffron cake, is also very popular, and easier to make.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
225g full-cream milk
1 teaspoon saffron threads
125g sultanas, soaked in water overnight
125g currants, soaked in water overnight
500 g + 5 g bakers flour
50g soft brown sugar
10g salt
5g cinnamon
2g freshly grated nutmeg
zest 1 orange
1 large egg, at room temperature
35g fresh yeast
50g cultured butter, in 1 cm (½ in) cubes, softened

Method

  1. Warm the milk and saffron in a small saucepan over medium heat, until the mixture simmers. Turn it off and leave it in the fridge to cool and infuse for a few hours, or preferably overnight.
  2. Drain the soaked fruit and squeeze out any excess moisture. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) of the bakers flour, the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. In a separate bowl whisk the saffron-infused milk, egg and yeast together until the yeast has dissolved.
  3. Pour the egg mix into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix for five minutes on a medium speed. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and base of the bowl with a spatula to ensure that all the dry mix is incorporated and the mixture is forming one large ball of dough. Mix for another five minutes until the dough is smooth and strong, and comes away easily from the sides of the bowl.
  4. With the mixer still running, incorporate the butter slowly, a couple of cubes at a time. Make sure the butter is being incorporated and not just coating the bowl – you may need to stop and scrape down the sides once or twice. Mix for 2–3 minutes, until the dough is firm and shiny, not sticky or wet. Use the windowpane test to check the dough – take a small ball of dough and gently stretch it between your hands. You should be able to stretch it very thin without it breaking. If you find that it breaks easily, continue to mix for a few more minutes to work the gluten in the flour, then test it again.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining 50 g (13/4 oz) of bakers flour over the fruit. With the mixer running, incorporate the dried fruit into the dough in three batches, and mix for 2–3 minutes after each addition, until the fruit is evenly dispersed.
  6. Knead the dough in the bowl for about a minute, then fold the dough by lifting it up and over onto itself a few times, turning the bowl 90 degrees between each fold. Leave the dough to rest in the bowl, covered with a damp tea towel, for an hour. (If you want to spread the work over a couple of days, you can leave the dough in the fridge overnight at this stage – it will be fine.) Once again fold the dough by lifting it up and over onto itself a few times, turning the bowl 90 degrees between each fold. Leave it to rest, covered with the damp tea towel for 2 hours or until risen by half, and gently pressing it leaves a dent (if it is still springy, leave it for a bit longer then test it again).
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured bench and cut it into 12 equal pieces. Take each piece and gently flatten the dough. Bring the edges together in the middle so it forms a rough ball, then turn it over so the seam is at the bottom. Cup your hand over the dough and roll it on the bench using firm pressure until it forms a nice tight round ball with a smooth, even surface. Cover the buns again with the damp tea towel, and leave them to rest for 15–20 minutes.
  8. Line two trays with baking paper. Take each bun and knock it flat, fold the edges into the middle, then turn it over so the seam is at the bottom. Cup your hands over the bun and roll it in your hand on the bench again, using firm pressure, to make tight round balls that sit up on the bench. Putting pressure on the bun strengthens the dough so it will rise well.
  9. Place the buns on the lined trays, evenly spaced to allow for the eventual rise. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 2–3 hours, until risen by half. Test the buns by gently pressing the surface – if it leaves a dent, you’re ready to bake; if it springs back it still needs more time.

Egg wash

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 egg
splash full-cream milk
pinch salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Lightly whisk the egg, milk and salt in a small mixing bowl to make the egg wash, and brush it evenly over the buns. Put the trays in the oven, reduce the temperature to 180°C (360°F) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the tray and bake for a further 3–5 minutes, until golden brown. Cool slightly on a wire rack. They are delicious still warm from the oven, with clotted cream.

Bakery notes

  • Scalding the milk with the saffron denatures the protein in the milk, which creates a lighter crumb. Infusing the saffron in the milk better distributes the flavour into the buns, too.

    You will need to start this recipe the day before to make the saffron milk infusion and soak the fruit.
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