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Saffron Bread

August 15, 2011
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I’ve been back in the US for more than a month, slowly readjusting to my American kitchen, and I’ve already compiled quite a list of recipes to share.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to forget about my Spanish food blog and let it peacefully pass out of readership, because I’ve had a really good time writing about food this past year.  Knowing that I’ll be able to write a post about the food I’m eating makes me more motivated to try new things and photograph them.  It even makes me a little more outgoing in shops, markets, and restaurants; since I’m eager to find out all I can and share it with other people, I don’t mind asking questions about the origin of the food or the history of the locale.  In short, I think I’ll continue to write about my food experiences–which will shortly be taking me very far from home–as a way to chronicle them but also as a way to enjoy them more fully and share them with you.

It seems only fitting that the first recipe I share from this side of the pond be one that I made using an ingredient from the other side: saffron. Lightly fragrant and richly colored, saffron is exorbitantly expensive in the United States but essential to various typical dishes in Spain, like paella.

Saffron threads are the stigma of the crocus flower, and it takes upwards of 85,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron.  You can understand why it’s so expensive, and why I took advantage of the cheap(er) prices in Spain and brought back quite a bit, both for myself and for some foodie friends of mine.

Naturally, when I was thumbing through my favorite bread recipe book, The Book of Bread, and saw that they had a recipe for Saffron Bread, I just had to try it.  They write: “Fortunately, it takes only a few of the red gold threads to turn a basic white bread like this one into something that seems exotic.  Each loaf you make will be infused with color and pungent flavor–the tiny red threads at the center of the deep yellow stains in the dough are sure signs of the real thing, not a substitute in powdered form that bears the saffron label.”

And they deliver on their promise.  Since you steep the saffron threads in boiling water first, you won’t believe the color that you’ll see in your dough.  And even in the finished product, you’ll see pockets of marigold among the nooks and crannies of your delicious breakfast toast.  Which, I might add, tastes best with a generous layer of salted butter.  Enjoy!

Saffron Bread

Yield: one 9-inch loaf

1/2 tsp saffron threads

1/4 c. boiling water

1 Tbsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1/3 c. warm water

1 1/4 c. buttermilk

1 Tbsp butter

2 tsp coarse salt or 1 tsp table salt

3  – 3 1/2 c. white flour, preferably unbleached

Softened butter

1. In a large bowl, steep the saffron in the boiling water and set aside to cool.  In a medium-sized bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water, and let stand until yeast starts to swell.

2. Warm the buttermilk with  the butter and salt.  When the milk mixture has cooled, add it to the saffron and its marigold-colored liquid.  Combine with yeast, mix well, and beat in three cups or more of flour until mixture is hard to stir.  Turn out on floured surface and knead, adding a little more flour as necessary, until smooth and resilient.

3. Clean and grease the mixing bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap (I find that it’s a good idea to grease the underside of the plastic wrap, too, so you don’t lose any of the dough due to stickiness.)  Let rise slowly in a cool place until more than double in bulk–2 hours or more.

4. Punch down and form a loaf.  Place in a buttered 9-inch pan and let rise, covered loosely, at room temperature until double in volume.

5. Bake in a preheated 425º oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350º, and bake for 25 minutes more.  Remove to a rack and brush the top with soft butter.

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