10 May 2014

Saffron buns

Saffron buns are a Cornish speciality and are part of the fine British heritage of enriched bread products. The addition of saffron gives the buns a wonderful yellow colour and warm flavour. Although saffron is often thought of as a Mediterranean spice, Cornwall had a history of saffron growing, (the spice having been introduced to the British Isles by the Romans) and saffron appears in a number of traditional Cornish recipes.

Saffron hot-cross buns

On a wet Saturday afternoon, I decided to have a go at baking saffron buns, adapting a hot cross bun recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's great book 'How to make Bread'. Here's the recipe, which makes about 13 buns. I've given the liquid measurements in grammes, because I like to be accurate when it comes to doughs, but if you want to convert to millilitres, 100g =100ml. In case you are making these at Easter, I've added instructions as to how to pipe crosses onto the buns.

The recipe

For the glaze
200g water
150g caster sugar
1 unwaxed orange, quartered
1/2 unwaxed lemon, halved
(you can zest the fruit and use it in the dough)
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves
2 star anise

For the dough
5g quick yeast
40g caster sugar
a good pinch of saffron
200g water
200g plain flour

150g sultanas
150g currants
1tsp ground cinnamon
5 cloves, roughly ground
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
grated zest of 2 unwaxed oranges
200g strong bread flour
3g salt
90g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
1 large egg

To make the glaze
1) Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.
2) Once the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and leave the flavours to infuse.
This should make enough syrup for several batches. Because of its high sugar syrup, the glaze will keep in the fridge in a plastic bottle for several months.

To make the dough
1) Pour about 100g of boiling water over the saffron threads, and leave to infuse.
2) First, make a pre-ferment. In a large mixing bowl, add the saffron infused water, and top up the water so that there is 200g of liquid in total. The water shouldn't be too hot (about 30C max - if it feels hotter than skin temperature it's too hot and should be allowed to cool further) as this can kill the yeast.
3) Add 40g caster sugar and 5g quick yeast, and stir until the sugar and yeast have dissolved.
4) Add 200g plain flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well mixed.
5) Leave in a warm place to ferment. The pre-ferment doesn't need to double in size, but you are looking for a significant increase in volume. This will take the best part of an hour, depending on the warmth and humidity of your kitchen.

6) Meanwhile, in a different bowl, add the currants, sultanas, spices and fruit zest. Although not traditional, I like to replace about 10g of the currants with dried barberries, which have a sharper flavour.
7) Put 200g strong flour and 3g salt in a food processor. Add 90g of cubed butter, and with the blade and the pulse function, mix until the butter is rubbed in. The flour/butter mix should have a saw-dust like consistency. (You can also do this by hand, but it takes longer).
8) Once the pre-ferment has risen sufficiently, add the dry mix and the egg and mix until thoroughly combined. You can do this in a food mixer with a dough hook, in which case work the mixture for about 6 minutes on the appropriate setting for kneading (2 on a KitchenAid). After 6 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes before adding the fruit and spice mix, and work for another 4 minutes until the fruit is well distributed through the dough. Cover, and leave to rise for an hour or so.
8b) If you prefer, you can also knead the dough by hand, making sure it is well kneaded before adding the fruit, and then kneading gently until the fruit is evenly distributed through the dough.
9) After an hour, the dough should have risen quite a bit. Gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, dust your hands with flour and lightly roll it and stretch it so it forms a log with a diameter of approx 10cm. Treat the dough gently at this stage, there's no need to knock it back hard (I don't subscribe to the theory that doughs need knocking back). Try not to get too much flour into the dough as you make the log, as raw flour inside the saffron buns won't do their flavour any good.
10) Using a metal dough scraper or sharp knife, cut a slice off the log. To make buns of a regular size, weigh each so that it is between 80-85g. Again without getting too much raw flour into the dough, roll it into a ball and place it on a baking sheet covered in baking parchment. Continue to cut slices off the dough log, shape them into balls and place on the baking sheet. Leave enough space between the dough balls for them to expand.
11) Cover the dough balls with a tea towel, and leave to rise until doubled in size. This will probably take about an hour and a half, but as mentioned above, time will vary depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.
12) Meanwhile, place a metal baking tray in the bottom of your oven and pre-heat the oven to 220C
13) When the buns have more or less doubled in size, put them in the oven and pour a cup full of water into the tray in the oven. This produces steam in the oven which helps glaze the buns and keeps the crust soft. Turn the oven down to 200C and bake the buns for approximately 20 minutes until the crust is a nice golden colour.
14) Once ready, take the saffron buns out the oven, and, leaving them on the tray, cover with the glaze using a pastry brush.

The buns can be eaten straight away, halved and slathered with butter. They are also great toasted. You can freeze some of the buns and eat them toasted.

If it is Easter, and you want to make these into hot cross buns, mix 50g plain white flour, 50g water and a pinch of salt until just mixed into a thick paste. Add a little more water if necessary. Place this into a piping bag, and, just before you put the buns in the oven, pipe the crosses onto the top of the buns.

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