Saffron cakes are common across the Mediterranean and in Scandinavia, but in the British Isles they survive mostly in Cornwall. For me the taste is associated with fresh, salty Easter holidays next to the churning sea and rocky coves of that English county. This recipe combines the qualities of a hot cross bun with Cornish saffron cake, to make an alternative Easter morning bake. Break them open when still warm from the oven to savour the deep fragrance of the yellow saffron with the tang of orange zest and candied peel.
MAKES 12 BUNS
500g strong white flour
10g sea salt
20g dried yeast (not fast-acting)
50g candied peel, chopped into small pieces
finely grated zest of 1 orange
60g caster sugar
100g butter, in small cubes
1 lightly packed teaspoon of saffron strands
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of sea salt
A sprinkle of caster sugar for glazing
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and leave in a warm place to reach room temperature. Then add the salt, yeast, dried fruit and zest of orange.
Warm the water, milk, sugar and butter in a small saucepan until all combined and the sugar has melted. Take off the heat and add the saffron strands to the liquid, leaving to steep in a warm place until it's reached blood temperature.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the blood-heat liquid. Mix together with a rubber spatula, scraping around the sides until the liquid is fully incorporated and you have a thick doughy paste.
Drop the dough on to a board and knead well, slapping it down, stretching a length towards you with a hand either side and folding back the pleat to trap air. Keep going like this for at least 10 minutes. This dough and your hands will be very sticky but as you knead it will get easier to manage. Use your rubber spatula to scrape the board and yourself. You will know when you have kneaded enough because the dough will become exible and springy. Test by pressing with a floury finger if the dough is ready the finger mark will spring back. Form the dough into a large bun shape by pinching all the edges together and then turning it smooth side up.
Give the mixing bowl a wipe, oil it a little, then settle the dough inside, cover with a tea towel and move the bowl to a warm, draught-free place to rise. The aim is for the dough to double in size. How long that takes depends on the ambient temperature. In a moderately warm room, allow 12 hours, or longer in a cooler place.
Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl and cut it into twelve equal-sized lumps. Make into little bun shapes by tucking the edges under the bun base and pinching to seal. Arrange the buns, smooth side up and spaced well apart, on baking trays covered with baking paper. Return to the warm place to prove for a second time for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until the buns look pillowy and have risen to 112 times their original size.
Heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
When the buns have risen nicely, use the beaten egg to glaze the
tops and sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Bake in the oven for 1215 minutes, until golden. To be sure the buns are completely cooked, tap on the base. A cooked bun will sound hollow.
Eat warm on the day of baking, spread with good butter.