Saffron buns are also a traditional bread of the winter holiday season, when they are better known by the name St Lucia Buns.
Large pinch saffron (about 40 threads)
1/2 Cup water
4-1/2 tsp (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1-1/4 Cup warm milk (about 105 degrees)
6 Cup flour
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 lb (3 sticks, 1-1/2 Cups) cold butter, cut into pieces
1-3/4 Cups raisins or mixed dried fruit
Bring water to a boil. Put saffron in a bowl and pour hot water over. Allow to steep for 2 hours.
Warm the milk in a small saucepan to about 105°F (as warm as toasty bath water, but not hot). Transfer warmed milk from pan into a bowl. Dissolve yeast with 1 tsp of the sugar in the warm milk in a small bowl. Set aside and allow mixture to “proof” until yeast is frothy, about 20 minutes.
Combine the flour, salt, and butter into a large bowl and rub together with your fingertips (or use a pastry cutter to blend) until mixture resembles a pebbled, coarse meal. Make a “well” in the middle of the flour mixture and add the saffron with its liquid, the yeast + milk mixture, the remaining sugar, and the raisins or dried fruit.
Mix together with your hands (or a sturdy wooden spoon) until dough is smooth and comes away from sides of bowl easily, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to a lightly-floured work surface and knead briefly, until dough comes together into a neat ball. Wrap dough in a slightly dampened tea towel and place in a large bowl. Wrap bowl with a blanket or a thick towel, and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot to let rise until dough doubles in size, about 8 hours or overnight.
Unwrap dough. Transfer dough to a lightly-floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Divide dough into 18 equal pieces, rolling each piece into a ball. Arrange balls several inches apart on two baking sheets. Cover both baking sheets with plastic wrap and set aside to let rise, for about 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Bake buns in the oven until they look golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. Immediately take one off and eat, taking care to only burn your mouth a little. 🙂
You can serve the other buns while still hot, or transfer them from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to about a week.