Tag Archives: saffron

{7} Saffron and Almond Buns

Right, enough with the biscuits! I think it’s time to broaden the festive fare, and move over the buns, and what buns they are! I’ve decided to make a “twist” on traditional Swedish lussebullar, the famous saffron buns served around St Lucia on 13 December, but I’ve made them in a spiral rather than the usual scroll shape. If you want to know more about this, I recommend this article on Foodie Underground by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (who also did the fabulous illustrations) for some history on the buns and the Scandinavian traditions around the celebration of St Lucia.

This is actually an adaptation of my cinnamon bun recipe, but without the usual spices. Instead, the dough contains saffron, so it turns the most glorious shade of golden yellow when you’re making it. Really, it is almost worth doing just to see that bright, glowing colour. It will make you happy, honestly! Not only is it a treat for the eyes, but the aroma of the saffron is also quite intoxicating (if you happen to like saffron, of course).

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You could just make these without any filling (usually there is none in authentic lussebullar), but I got a tip from a reader, suggesting using grated almond paste and sultanas per a family recipe. In all honesty, I was  sold on this idea the moment I read about it, but could not resist a peek into my copy of The Flavour Thesaurus to check whether saffron and almonds are a “thing”.

Well, it turns out they are, the book confirming that almonds and saffron are a good combination. Apparently, it’s the bitter notes in saffron that marry well with the sweet-bitter flavours in almonds. I also happened to have half a bar of almond paste from making Bethmännchen a few days ago, so a perfect way to make sure it didn’t go to waste. In a nod to the original recipe, I skipped the sultanas in favour of currants, and I think they worked well – their smaller size suited these buns, and the contrast of the yellow and black looks really quite jolly.

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Of course, the important thing here is the taste test, and I am happy to report that my fake Scandinavia festive saffron buns are utterly, ridiculously delicious!

The saffron and almonds are fragrant, and they were amazing while fresh and still warm (or cheat – 10 seconds in the microwave if you’re a little late to the party). They also don’t need much by way of decoration – nothing more than a quick glaze when they come out of the oven to give them a lovely shine, but otherwise, they look stunning as they are. Bright and sunny, such a contrast to the grey chill outside. These would be a perfect addition to a festive brunch!

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In all honesty, I have to say that this is a bit of  cheat’s version of proper lussebullar. They are normally shaped into intricate scrolls or other shapes, and my roll-and-slice approach just skips all that. However, if you’re busy around Christmas and want something a little different, I really cannot recommend these highly enough.

To make Saffron Buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g white caster sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 0.5g saffron threads (a teaspoon)
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 325g strong white flour

For the filling:

• 100g currants
• 120g almond paste

For the glaze:

• 50g white sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring the boil, remove from the heat, crush the saffron strands, add to the milk and leave the lot until lukewarm.

2a. If using a bread machine: put one of the eggs, the saffron milk and the rest of the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk mixture and one egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Sprinkle over the currants, and grate the almond paste directly onto the dough. Roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

3. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Beat the remaining egg, and use to brush on the buns.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, turning half way if necessary. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

5. In the meantime, make the sugar glaze. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook for 1 minutes.

6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot sugar glaze.

Worth making? Just one word – sensational!

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Kulich

Have you been able to enjoy some good weather recently? In the last few weeks, things seem to be warming up, and my garden is full of the joys of spring – the clematis is heavy with pale pink blooms, and the tulips that seemed only a week ago to be tentative at best are now adding extravagant bursts of colour – reds, golds and purples. A few other more traditional flowers are also starting to peek out from the sea of green, and it really does feel like summer days are not far away now.

Actually, I’m under-selling this time of year. I have just spent Easter in Scotland, and against all expectations was able to enjoy some spectacular sunny weather – clear blue skies and lovely views. Walks in the countryside, a picnic by a loch, a ride in a hot air balloon and visits to ancient castles, all in the blazing sunshine. The result of all this excitement was that, eh, I actually got a little behind on blogging and did not get round to posting some of my Easter baking. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to bear with me as I write about some seasonal bakes with a slight time lag. Better late than never!

Easter offers quite a lot of options when it comes to baking. The most obvious thing to do is whip up a batch of Hot Cross Buns, rich with spice and finished with a sticky honey glaze. Well, it would be, except the bakery round the corner makes amazing buns, so I’ve been tucking into plenty of those rather than making them myself. So that left me with the task of trying something a little different, and I though I’d have a go at making traditional Russian kulich. Something like this!

kulich

The most striking thing about kulich is the shape of the loaf – tall and slim, with domed top drizzled with a little icing (or in my case – slathered with lots of icing!). It is topped with a few slivers of candied peel, or more traditionally, some edible spring flowers. To get this shape, the easiest way is to use a large-ish tin can, then just wash it out, and line it well with greaseproof paper on the bottom and the sides, and you’ve got a good makeshift kulich tin. One little tip though – don’t use a can that held garlic cloves or strong curry – they can hold the flavours of their original contents, and I think an curry-garlic kulich is a flavour experience that I can happily live without. In my case, I used a tall milk pan, which had a useful handle that made putting it into the oven a little easier.

Now, I have seen this refered to in a few places as “Russian Panettone” which I think does a bit of a disservice to this bread. You find enriched, spiced, fruited breads across Europe, but I guess that the Italian version is so well-known that they’ve got that market cornered. While there are some superficial similarities, kulich has different spices, including cardamom as well as a little saffron for the adventurous. I find saffron and cardamom a curious combination, one that I really have not seen together very often at all, although I did make an Estonian Christmas wreath last year with that flavour pairing, and I can assure you that it really is very, very delicious. That, and the dough will have the most amazing golden colour!

That said…the recipe I’ve used is actually my own Panettone recipe, as it is one that I have made many, many times and I am very happy that it works well, with a good but not overwhelming amount of fruit and candied peel. Well, it’s Panettone, albeit tweaked to reflect the usual Russian ingredients, and baked in the traditional shape. Matryoshkas and babushkas might find this a little bit strange, but it works.

When faced with such a tall loaf, you might wonder how on earth to cut it. Well, rather than trying to cut it like a cake, lay it on the side and cut it into slices. Hey presto – circles of kulich! This does of course mean that some lucky person will get the last slide, smothered in sweet icing. Kulich is traditionally served with pashka, a sweetened cream cheese mixture prepared in intricate moulds. However, it is equally delicious on its own, or served toasted and spread with butter and jam or honey.

To make one large or two small kulich:

• 80ml milk
• Large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
• Large pinch saffron strands
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 egg
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 35g butter

• 25g sugar
• Pinch of salt
• Zest of 1/2 orange
• 3/4 teaspoon dried yeast
• 200g strong white flour
• 75g dried fruit (such as currants and golden sultanas)
• 40g candied peel, diced
• 25g slivered almonds

1. Put the milk in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the spices, then leave to one side until lukewarm.

2. Mix the egg and vanilla into the milk and blend well.

3a. If using a bread machine: Throw everything into the mixing bowl (put the fruit, peel and almonds into the raisin compartment). Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

3b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, orange zest and yeast. Add the milk/egg mixture. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Work in the fruit, peel and almonds. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

4. Once the dough is ready, prepare either one large or two normal tin cans by lining with greaseproof paper (make sure to leave a high collar around the top, as the dough will rise a lot). Take the dough out of the machine, form into one or two balls as needed, then drop into the tin(s). Leave in a warm place covered in cling film for about one hour until the dough has reached to top of the tin.

5. In the meantime, preheat the oven at 180°C (350°F). Put the kulich into the oven, baking for around 15-20 minutes for smaller loaves or 25-30 minutes for a larger loaf (they should sound hollow when tapped). If the top is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before icing.

For the icing:

• 100g icing sugar
• 4 teaspoons water
• slivers of candied citrus peel

6. Mix the icing sugar and water until smooth. Spread on top of the kulich being sure the encourage a few dramatic drips down the side.

7. Finish with a few slivers of citrus peel on top.

Worth making? Definitely. This is a delicious, aromatic loaf which makes a lovely teatime treat. This is equally delicious slices and toasted for breakfast.

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Rava Kesari

I’ve always found Indian sweets rather daunting. I put this down to the fact that I really do not eat them that often. When you go for Indian food, by the time you’ve filled up on rice, bread and delicious curry, the last thing you are looking for is something sweet and heavy to finish the meal. Maybe, at a stretch, I could manage a little mango sorbet at most, but certainly not fried milk-rich sweets like gulab jamun or rasmalai.

However, I was keen to have a go at making some Indian sweets as I’ve had a hankering to try them for a while. I’ve done some digging recently, and it seems that a lot of them are actually incredibly easy to make. And so it is with rava kesari. There is a little work to be done in preparing some of the ingredients, but you’re not required to do much more than prepare a sweet, spiced syrup and then add it to a ghee/semolina mixture. You’re essentially making a white sauce, but one that is brightly coloured and sweet, which is then cooked until thick, then left to set and cut into fancy shapes. But doesn’t it look pretty?

ravakesari2

If you were trying to guess the ingredients here, you would probably not guess that this is mostly made from semolina. Forgot the nasty, grainy stuff you might have suffered at school. In this recipe, the result is firm but smooth. And you’re probably already guessed how these sweets get their brilliant yellow colour. They are flavoured with saffron, and I must confess that my pictures don’t really do it justice. The colour is amazingly vibrant. The saffron is balanced with ground cardamom (which seems to be to Indian sweet treats what vanilla is to British baking), and they are finished off with some toasted almonds and sultanas.

One of the other vital ingredients is ghee, and so I had to have a go at making it. I was able to buy it in a local shop, but I was going all-out on this one. Recipes often say you can switch ghee for clarified butter, but a quick peek in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook confirmed that it is slightly different, but not unfamiliar – in fact, it’s simple browned butter. Just throw butter in a pan, leave over a gentle heat, and then wait until the solids darken and the butter has a delicious toasted aroma and flavour. This is well worth doing, as it adds a subtle nuttiness to whatever you are making. It is also so ubiquitous in Indian cooking that it would be a shame not to use it here.

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Frankly, I could not have been happier with how this turned out. Sure, there is a little faffing about with skinning some almonds, making the ghee, leaving the saffron to infuse the milk and in grinding the cardamom seeds, but nothing is too taxing, and all of these steps could be easily done ahead of time. The actual process of making rava kesari is a doddle – just cook the semolina in the ghee, then add the liquid and sugar, cook until thick and spread in a tray.

My version was not too sweet (which was the first shock, I was expecting something tooth-aching) and the combination of cardamom and saffron was light, fresh and aromatic, a combination of resinous and slightly minty with the warm flavour of saffron. I remember at Christmas being pleasantly surprised by this spice combination in a festive loaf, so it was a welcome reappearance for this duo in these sweets. I also loved how the pieces looked when cut – you can see pieces of sultana and almond, flecks of black cardamom and flashes of orange from the saffron threads.

Before service this, I had kept the rava kesari in the fridge. This had an unexpected but welcome impact on the flavour, and it meant these sweets had a very cooling quality. Served like this, I can see how they would be welcome at the end of a meal. In the interests of culinary exploration, I also tried a piece when it had come to room temperature, and while it was still delicious, on balance, I think the chilled version is better. Now, all I have to hope is that I’ve done justice to this delicious sweet!

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To make Rava Kesari (makes 24 pieces):

• 80g unsalted butter
• 3 generous pinches saffron strands
• 360ml whole milk
• 360ml water
• 200g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom seeds
• 160g semolina
• 30g toasted slivered almond
• 35g golden sultanas
• 24 whole almonds, to decorate

1. Put the milk into a saucepan until warm. Add the saffron and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the ghee: melt the butter on a low heat, and watch it. It will hiss and spit, then calm down. The solids will turn light brown and the butter will develop a nutty aroma. Strain and put to one side.

3. In a pan, combine the milk, water and sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is just starting to foam. Add the cardamom, stir and remove from the heat.

4. Prepare a large tray (20 x 30 cm) for the rava kesari. Brush with a little of the melted ghee and set aside. I used a glass tray with no other lining and had no problems with sticking.

5. In a large pan, add five tablespoons of the ghee. Heat until melted, then add the semolina. Cook on a low heat for two minutes, stirring all the time (it should not go brown).

6. Now start to add the liquid mixture to the semolina. This is a bit like making a white sauce, so start with a ladle of liquid, and stir well. Repeat two more times, then finally add all the liquid. At this point, whisk the mixture until smooth and there are no lumps. It should be bright yellow and smell glorious!

7. Cook the mixture on a medium heat until it is very thick and starts to come away from the sides of the pan. You can test whether it is done by dropping a small piece onto a cold plate – it should quickly become firm.

8. When ready, stir in the almond slivers and sultanas, then pour the whole mixture into the tray. Flatten the mixture (a rubber spatula is ideal). Use a knife to score diamond shapes, and place a whole almond in the middle of each piece.

9. Leave the rava kesari to cool, then chill in the fridge. Before serving, use a sharp knife to cut along the score marks to separate into individual pieces.

Worth making? This is a really different and delicious sweet. It’s fairly easy to make, and you get a really good result from ingredients you might have in the cupboard already. Recommended!

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{10} Kringel (Estonian Christmas Ring)

Today’s bake moves away from the world of biscuits and into traditional yeasted celebration loaves. This is something called Kringel and (from the limited amount that Google was able to tell me) it originates in Estonia. This is an enriched dough flavoured with cardamom and saffron, and enlivened with cardamom butter and sultanas. Brilliant gold in appearance, and wonderfully aromatic. Oh, and it looks spectacular!

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Yes, today is my tenth Christmas baking post, and I always feel a little sense of relief come over me when I get into double digits in my festive bake-a-thon. I can see the end, and it means I’m 80% of the way there. In case you’re wondering, I’m not one of those people that plans everything in the middle of June, with posted timed to ping out with clockwork regulatory ahead of Christmas Day.

Nope, my world is one of baking chaos, with ideas on top of ideas, changes of heart, new inspiration and abandonment of things that are either over-exposed or no longer tempting. What this all means in a more practical sense is that I’ve been off work for Christmas since Friday, and I’ve been in the kitchen pretty much non-stop to prepare food for Christmas Day but also to make sure I deliver on my Twelve Days of Baking challenge. It’s all real-time action. When I say it’s freezing outside, I don’t mean it was a chilly October day when I made something – I mean there is a December rainstorm outside! This is probably one of the reasons I will never forge a career as a food journalist – I don’t think I would be terrible good at working on a food shoot when it is warm and sunny outside (although I would like a lot more natural light to come streaming in through the kitchen windows than I get at the moment…yesterday it seemed to get dark at quarter to three!).

Today’s recipe is one that sort of evolved in my kitchen. A few weeks ago, I decided to look for some festive ideas from countries that I’m not so familiar with, and once of them was the Estonian Kringel. Oddly, I was not actually able to find out that much about it beyond the shape. Most of the versions I saw online seemed to involve cinnamon, and while this is normally my absolutely favourite spice, I wondered if that was all there was to it. A little more digging suggested that the traditional flavour was not in fact cinnamon, but could involve saffron or cardamom. Cardamom made sense, given the frequency with which it appears in the baking of neighbouring Sweden and Finland. And saffron suggested some sort of link to Swedish luciabullar, those brilliant golden swirls. This did get me thinking…what about using the two of them? I have to admit that this was a strange combination that I would not have thought of putting together myself, so I checked it out in my trusty Flavour Thesaurus. Helpfully, this combination had an entry, and was recommended as a combination. It looked like aromatic, rich saffron and zesty, fresh cardamom would be a winner, and I was sold.

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For the dough, I’ve just adapted my recipe for Swedish cinnamon buns which worked out just fine. The dough contains a decent amount of butter, but not too much sugar. Most of the sweetness comes from the sweet cardamom butter used in the filling in any event, and I knew already that this was a dough that could cope with being rolled out and sliced up.

The fun bit here is how you shape the kringel. You roll out the dough, spread with the filling and the sultanas, the roll it into a long sausage. Next, slice it lengthways, and then you twist the two halves so that the cut side is exposed. This gives you the pretty ridged effect when the kringel is baked. In fact, the only tricky part here is getting a neat join when you form the whole thing into a ring. I’ve now made two of these things, and in each case, the joint was, eh, less than perfect. However, one tip I can share is that the loaf looks better if you keep the twists fairly tight (if they are not tight, then loaf is loose and does not get as much height as you want).

So there you have it – a loaf that looks fabulous and really does not take that much work to make. And trust me on the saffron and cardamom combination – it might seem odd, but it really is wonderful. It’s a nice contrast to some of the other flavours about at this time of year, but it still makes this taste like a very special treat indeed.

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So now, dear reader, a little request from me – does anyone know more about this bread? If you’re Estonian or just a fan of their baking, please do get in touch and let me know!

To make a Kringle:

For the dough:

• 3 generous pinches saffron
• 2 tablespoons boiling water
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 350g strong white flour
• cardamom filling (see below)
• 150g sultanas
• milk, to brush before baking

For the cardamom butter filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cardamom

1. Crush the saffron and mix with the boiling water. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes for the colour to develop.

2a. If using a bread machine: Throw everything into the mixing bowl (apart from the cardamom filling and sultanas). Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the saffron, milk and egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Make the cardamom butter – put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth.

4. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle of around 30 x 60cm  (my  rolling pin is 30 cm long, so use that as a rule of thumb). Spread with around four-fifths of the cardamom butter filling, sprinkle with the sultanas and then roll up into a sausage.

5. Use a sharp knife to cut the sausage lengthways. Arrange the two strips, cut side up. Starting at one end, twist the pieces around each other, keeping the cut sides face-up at all times. Form into a wreath, then join the ends, tucking them into each other as tightly as you can. Place on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Cover loosely with cling film or place in a large plastic bag, and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

6. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Brush the loaf with the milk and bake for around 25 minutes until puffed up and golden but not too dark.

7. To finish the loaf, take the reserved cardamom butter. Melt in a saucepan, and add two tablespoons of milk. Bush the hot glaze over the warm kringle.

Worth making? This loaf looks amazing, but is actually incredibly straightforward to make. If you’ve got a bread machine to do all the heavy lifting, then it really takes very little work at all! It makes a spectacular centrepiece for a breakfast or coffee morning, and can be easily customised according to taste (for example, make it with cinnamon and/or other types of dried fruits).

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{5} Lussekatter

On the fifth day of Christmas…this cook began to make…Swedish saffron buns! (Sing it to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas – it works!)

Lussekatter are typically eaten in Sweden for St Lucia on 13 December. This is a celebration of light in the middle of winter, with processions and candles. The dubious highlight (to an outsider at least) is the rather alarming scene of a culture that sends a  girl out in public with lit candles in her hair, but I guess there’s enough snow out there in case you detect the aroma of singed hair…

Pyrotechnics to one side, these saffron buns, however, are great.

In fact, it’s fair to say that they engage all the senses. First of all, they do look pretty – attractive shape, and the amazing colour, bright yellow tinged with golden brown. When you break the bread, you are struck by the vivid yellow colour of the dough, practically neon – it really is daffodil bright. As they bake, the kitchen is filled with the sweet aroma of saffron and yeast. Once they are baked, the buns are light and soft, and they have a lovely rich, buttery flavour highlighting the aroma of saffron. And as for sound…I guess you hear people making mmmmm noise as they eat them? So…all five senses duly engaged!

While I have not basis for saying this, I can see how lussekatter became so popular at this time of the year – they promise sunshine and the coming of spring. I mean, look just how yellow the dough is! But in the meantime, they make for a tasty snack to enjoy while it’s warm indoors and chilly outside.

To make lussekatter (makes 12):

• 1/2 teaspoon saffron threats (0.5g)
• 80g sugar
• 250ml milk

• 2 eggs (1 1/2 for the dough, 1/2 for glazing)
• 85g butter
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 450g flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

To make the dough:

Start with the saffron – place on a plate and bake in a warm over for 1-2 minutes until the strands are dry. Mix the saffron with a tablespoon of the sugar, and grind until fine.

Next, bring the milk to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron sugar mixture, stir, and leave to sit until the milk is lukewarm – it will will take on a glorious sunny yellow colour.

[If using a bread machine] Put 1 1/2 of the eggs and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sultanas) into the bread machine, add the milk mixture, and run the dough cycle.

[If making by hand] In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Add the sugar, yeast and salt and mix well. Add the milk and 1 1/2 of the eggs, and knead well (around 10 minutes) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size.

To shape and bake the buns:

Knock back the dough and divide into 12 portions. Roll each into a long thin sausage, and then form into a reverse “S” shape. Place the buns onto a greased baking sheet, cover with a damp teatowel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. In the meantime, heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

When the buns are risen, brush with the reserved beaten egg, and place a sultana or raisin in the middle of the swirls. Bake for around 15 minutes – the buns should just be developing golden-brown patches, but the yellow colour should still dominate.

Worth making? This recipe might look a little complex, but it’s actually a breeze – just think of an enriched bread with saffron added! The flavour and aroma really make it worth the effort – the lussekatter are fantastic if eaten while still warm with a cup of tea or a glass of mulled wine.

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Hark, the Royal Wedding! Maids of Honour Tarts

You might remember in the dark days of last winter, the announcement came from the Palace that there would be a royal wedding in 2011. Reactions were…muted.

Fast forward to Spring, and actually, the country seems to be completely cock-a-hoop about the whole thing. And the excitement is not contained to these fair isles, it seems the American media are really only just about able to contain how thrilled they are. We’ve seen Kate launching a lifeboat in Wales, Kate flipping a pancake in Ireland…yes, we (more accurately, the media) just can’t get enough of it. Kate shops, Kate crosses the road, buy Kate’s ring, wear her dress, and from late 2011, see her wax figure at Madame Tussauds. If you’ve got questions, there is a very helpful FAQ website here.

We were all supposed to throw street parties. We all thought “nope, won’t be doing that”. And then the shops were full of bunting and Union Flags for a bit of waving by the masses on the big day, and actually, we’ll probably all be doing it after all. The British, it seems, really do quite like a royal wedding after all. And best of luck to them!

To keep in with the mood of the nation, there obviously needs to be a little culinary nod to HRH Prince William and his future wife, and what could be more fitting that Maids of Honour tarts?

These certainly have a royal pedigree, but as with a lot of cakes that have a story to tell, there are a few versions floating about. Here are some of my more interesting findings:

Theory one: the maids of honour attending one of Henry VIII‘s Queens (possibly Catherine of Aragon) would nibble on these custardy, lemony treats (and the lemon link does fit with Catherine’s Iberian origins). So far, so nice. However, there is a darker element. The King, upon seeing how much the ladies enjoyed them, tasted one for himself, found it to be very good indeed, and so had to ensure that no-one else could learn the secret. How was this to be achieved? The unfortunate cook was locked up when he or she was not preparing pastry or zesting lemons. It’s probably a good thing we have moved from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

Theory two: these cakes were enjoyed by the maids of honour of Queen Elizabeth I when they were at Richmond Palace. The richness of these cakes (and remember – back in the day, lemons, sugar and butter were luxuries) made them famous and they were small objects of desire for fashionable members of the royal court.

Theory three: Henry VIII called these cakes “Maids of Honour” when he offered one to a future Queen, Anne Boleyn.

So we have learned…that we’re not exactly sure where they came from, but the Richmond link is strong, even to this day, and it seems to be a safe bet that they were around in the times of the Tudors. At this point, I confess that I am a huge fan of the recent TV series. Historically accurate? Maybe not, but a jolly good watch every weekend.


Now, at this stage, I realise two things. The links to the Tudors is probably not the parallel the I want to make with Wills and Kate (to whom I wish the best of luck). I’ve also failed to tell you what these cakes are actually like.

The cases can be made of shortcrust butter pastry of puff pastry. I used shortcrust here, but for the Big Day I will try them again but with puff pastry. The filling is a mixture of eggs, cream cheese, almonds and lemon zest plus a few aromatic “extras”. The filling sets when they are baked, so they are a little bit like mini-lemon baked cheesecakes. Some versions also add a little dash of something else under the filling – either lemon curd (to make them extra-citrussy) or some jam. I liked this idea, so I made some with lemon curd and some with seedless raspberry jam (typically British), but you could also use marmalade, apricot jam, strawberry jam or whatever else takes your fancy.

Now, the practical but – how exactly to flavour the filling? Lemon is a constant in all recipes, but as we are looking to make Maids of Honour for a Royal Wedding, I looked back to what would only have been available only to a royal kitchen back in Tudor times, and I went for broke: a pinch of saffron, citrus zest, orange zest, ground almonds, almond extract, orange blossom water, a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Clearly not the sort of things your average peasant would have been able to get hold of. For for a queen indeed.

If you’re looking to make these, they are well worth the effort and make a nice treat for a picnic or tea. However, use saffron only if you like the flavour. I know it can be an acquired taste, so if you prefer, just play it safe and stick with the lemon and spices, which will still give a wonderful flavour and delicate aroma.

To make Maids of Honour (makes 10):

For the pastry:

• 125g plain flour
• 80g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
• pinch of salt
• 2 teaspoons caster sugar
• iced water

Put the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers and work until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough iced water until the dough comes together (no more than 1-2 tablespoons). Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 50ml milk
• very tiny pinch of saffron strands (optional)
• 150g cream cheese
• 40g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/4 orange
• pinch of cinnamon
• pinch of nutmeg
• 50g butter, at room temperature

If using saffron: put the milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Turn off the heat, add the saffron strands and allow to sit for 10 minutes until the milk is infused with the saffron colour and aroma. Put the cooled milk and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

If not using saffron: put all the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

To prepare the tarts:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a cupcake tray with butter.

Roll out the dough as thin as you can – you might find it easier to work the dough with your hands so that it is pliable and does not crumble. Cut our rounds of pastry, put into the to 2-3mm thin, and cut out rounds to line a cupcake tray. Use fingers to press the dough as thin as you can (we want a high filling-to-pastry ratio).

Add one scant teaspoon of jam or curd to the bottom of each case (not too much – or the jam will boil and leak out when baking). Fill each tart two-thirds with the filling mixture – it will puff up slightly during baking.

Bake the tarts for 20 minutes until the filling is puffed and the pastry is golden. You may need to turn the baking tray around half-way to ensure they colour evenly.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, and serve with a light dusting of icing sugar (which would also have been an extravagance in Tudor times).

Worth making? These are very simple but elegant little tarts, which are relatively straightforward to make, and taste great. The filling can be customised depending on exactly what you like in the way of flavours and spices. Will Kate eat them on the big day? We don’t know that yet, but might just be the perfect thing to impress guests are you’re gathered around the television on Friday.

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