Saffron Tea Cakes

Saffron is a prized ingredient in Scandinavian holiday baked goods, where its golden color enriches sweets made in honor of Santa Lucia Day. At Lost Larson bakery in Chicago, Timmy Gibbons and Bobby Schaffer use saffron to lend a beautiful color and flavor to buttery brioche rolls speckled with warm spices and studded with golden raisins.


    • 3/4 cup whole milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
    • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (about 14 7/8 ounces)
    • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (about 4 ounces)
    • 5 large eggs
    • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    • 1 (1/4-ounce) envelope instant yeast or quick-rising yeast (such as Fleischmann’s RapidRise)
    • 1 cup unsalted butter (8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
    • Cooking spray
    • 3/4 cup golden raisins
    • 3 tablespoons demerara sugar
    • 2 tablespoons honey


  1. Pour milk into a medium-size microwavable bowl. Crush saffron threads between fingers, and add to milk, stirring to combine. Microwave on high until just warm (not boiling), 1 minute to 1 minute and 30 seconds. Let mixture stand at room temperature until cool, about 15 minutes.
  2. Beat milk mixture, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and 4 eggs with a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment on low speed until a shaggy dough forms, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  3. Return chilled dough in bowl to stand mixer fitted with dough hook. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and yeast to dough; beat on low speed until just combined, about 2 minutes. Add butter, beating until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and is glossy and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.) Transfer dough to a lightly greased (with cooking spray) large bowl. Add raisins, gently kneading and folding into dough by hand, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until slightly risen, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator, and chill at least 8 hours or up to 16 hours.
  4. Lightly coat a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Turn dough out onto a clean work surface, and divide evenly into 18 (2 1/2-ounce) pieces. Shape each piece into a taut ball, and arrange in prepared baking dish. Cover loosely with lightly greased (with cooking spray) plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325°F during final 20 minutes of dough proofing.
  5. Lightly whisk remaining 1 egg in a small bowl; brush dough balls lightly with beaten egg. Sprinkle evenly with demerara sugar. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven, and immediately brush rolls evenly with honey. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

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