PUBLISHED: 05:26 27 April 2015
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015
Richard Hughes of The Lavender House in Brundall, as serves up a tasty saffron bun.
This month’s recipe – also known as Easter Sunday buns – are as traditional as chocolate bunnies, roast lamb and hyperactive, slightly queasy children travelling on the back seat after visiting relatives. Often eaten as the break from the fast that’s lasted since Ash Wednesday, these sweet little golden buns really are something to look forward to.
Easter is as big a food festival as we get all year but without the gluttony you associate with Christmas. Hot cross buns, Simnel cake and, in the west of the country, these sunshine-filled breads which are baked to celebrate the spring holidays. There is no reason why the west should have the monopoly on these delights, with one of the very few commercial saffron producers right here in God’s own county.
Dr Sally Francis is one of the leading experts on this edible treasure, and recently had our Ladies in Lavender lunch club enthralled with the tales of her saffron production and the long history and association the plant has with the county. At one stage, the ports of Wells and King’s Lynn exported this most precious of spices across the globe, all grown in the fields in the north of our county. More expensive per gram than gold, she and her family grow and harvest some of the finest saffron in the world at her farm in the Burnhams.
It’s quite the most beautiful product I have ever worked with, and though breathtakingly expensive, a pinch will transform your baking, sauces and paellas.
The kitchen team are normally quite ambivalent towards anything that I cook which is “off menu” but on this occasion the saffron cakes were devoured with gusto. The sharp lemony topping, the sweet fruit and peel and the unique, yet truly distinctive, aroma of the extravagant saffron will cause a clamour to bake them all year round, but I think some things are so special that an annual treat makes them even more sacred.
1/2 tspn saffron strands
300ml warm milk
20g fresh yeast or 1 x 7g packet of dried yeast
1 tspn sugar
500g strong white bread flour
1 tspn salt
75g caster sugar
170g dried mixed fruit
1 lemon - zest and juice
100g icing sugar to glaze
1 Gently crush the saffron strands. Add them to the milk and gently warm. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
2 Add the fresh yeast to the milk (if using dried yeast, add this to the flour).
3 Add the 25g of the sugar to the milk. Stir until the yeast and milk has dissolved. Leave the mixture in a warm place to ferment, this should take 20 minutes. (If using dried yeast, you can mix this straight into the flour.)
4 Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining caster sugar.
5 Add the soft butter.
6 Rub the butter through the flour and sugar.
7 Add the dried fruit.
8 Add the saffron milk to the flour.
9 Mix together to form a smooth, pliable dough.
10 Knead the dough vigorously until it become less sticky and more elastic.
11 Roll and shape the buns. Place into silicone moulds or on to a lightly greased baking sheet (you can, of course, place the dough into a loaf tin).
12 Cover with a tea towel and allow to prove. This will take approximately 30 minutes. When ready for the oven, bake at 180C/gas mark four.
13 Meanwhile place the icing sugar in a mixing bowl.
14 Add the chopped lemon zest.
15 Add a teaspoon on the lemon juice. Mix to a fairly stiff icing. Use more juice if required.
16 When the buns are baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
17 Dip the buns into the lemon icing and serve.