So, as we move ourselves nearer to Christmas, my infatuation with all things saffron heightens.
It’s everywhere in Sweden and I found myself suddenly curious to learn more about why a fairly dark, cold country would be fascinated with the exotic spice, especially at Christmas.
It seems that even historians are a little vague on how long saffron has been used in Sweden and why.
They do know that Sweden had a long history in the global spice trade and saffron, along with another very popular spice, cinnamon, has been around since the middle ages.
In more modern times, using saffron in Christmas baking stems from the tradition of adding it to Lussekatter in celebration of St Lucia.
The celebration has always been about light (St Lucia Day is on 13th December the longest night of the year) and it’s thought that the value of saffron along with its bright colour were the reasons it was used.
Here in Sweden, everything from confectionary to cakes include saffron in the run up to Christmas and for me, the colour and flavour make it very inspiring.
So, the recipe. This time, it is soft, pillowy sweet buns which are delicately infused with the brilliantly-hued spice.
I was really pleased with how the buns turned out. The cream cheese provides the softness and the vanilla butter and white chocolate a touch of richness. The saffron is fairly mild but despite this, provides the perfect finishing touch by way of its distinctive flavour and colour.
These buns are great for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. Well, actually, there’s never going to be a bad time to eat them.
The ingredients below made 12 buns.
Saffron and White Chocolate Buns
250ml (1 cup) milk
75g (1/3 cup) butter (chopped into small pieces)
100g (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) cream cheese
500g (3 + 1/3 cups) spelt flour (you can use regular, if you prefer)
½ teaspoon salt
75g (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) sugar
1 sachet (7g) yeast
70g (1/3 cup) butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
100g (3/4 cup) white chocolate (chopped)
Pearl sugar (optional)
PLEASE NOTE: These instructions are for making the dough in a bread machine. If you don't have one, follow the instructions for my raspberry buns swapping the fresh for dried yeast and adding it to the flour rather than the milk.
~ Warm the milk gently in a pan until just lukewarm, then add the saffron. Let the mixture sit for around ten minutes.
~ Pour the liquid into your bread machine along with the butter and cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients (keeping the salt and yeast away from each other as best as possible). Set the machine to make the dough as per manufacturer's instructions.
~ While the dough is being made, prepare the filling: beat the butter together with the vanilla sugar. Chop the white chocolate.
~ When ready, split the dough into two roughly equal parts. Put one half aside and on a well floured surface, work on the other, rolling out into a long, thin strip (around 23cm x 40cm). Spread half of the butter mixture over the dough, leaving about ½cm edge all the way round. Sprinkle half of the chopped chocolate over the top. Carefully roll the dough up as tight as you can, and then place the roll with the seam facing down. Using a sharp knife, cut into fairly think chunks (around 1½cm thick) and place close to each other in a buttered pan or dish (the closer you put them, the more squished they become, causing them to rise up rather than spread).
~ Beat an egg and wash the tops of the buns, then sprinkle some pearl sugar (if using). I kept mine in the fridge overnight. If you do the same, cover with cling-film, then pop in the fridge. Next morning, take them out about an hour before you want them, just until they come up to room temperature. Bake as per instructions below.
~ If baking immediately, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC (430ºF), cover the buns and let them sit in a warm place for around 30 minutes until the oven is ready.
~ Bake for around 15-20 minutes until the tops are nice and brown (be careful not to overcook as they will dry out). Leave to cool for little while, then scoff them warm! Enjoy!