Saffron Currant Braid
I keep a little bit of saffron in the house, usually reserving it for paella. Samantha Seneviratne’s recipe for this fragrant yeast bread has me excited about using it for something sweet. She explores spice in a wonderfully playful way in her book The New Sugar & Spice. This easy to make yeast bread is soft – you will want to pull-it-apart and devour it while slightly warm. The pearl sugar is optional but it adds visual interest, crunch and a tad of sweetness and we love it included. Plan ahead as you might have to special order it. Try her Marmalade Cakes as as well, which feature a candied citrus topping over a slightly nubby textured cake made with cornmeal.
Excerpted with permission. The New Sugar & Spice, by Samantha Seneviratne. Published by Ten Speed Press, 2015. Photos by Erin Kunkel.
My friend Amy, who lives in Sweden, loves lussekatter, the delightful saffron-scented, S-shaped buns Swedes make each December thirteenth to celebrate Saint Lucia. On one recent February visit, I suggested we make some, but Amy, a stickler for tradition, thought it would be strange to bake them out of season. I admire her commitment. This saffron currant bread is inspired by lussekatter and is equally delicious. I’m hoping that since I’m not Swedish, and the loaves are not the traditional form, I’ve given Amy a way to bake a soft, saffron-infused treat all year round without breaking any rules.
I could eat an entire loaf of this bread by myself. I find that slices are as wonderful toasted up with butter and jam as they are on either side of a savory sandwich.
- 1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1⁄2 cup whole milk
- 1⁄8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups bread flour (9 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons, if necessary,
- 21⁄2 ounces (1⁄2 cup) dried currants
- 1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
- 11⁄2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons water
- Pearl sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
- Lightly butter a large bowl.
- To prepare the dough, in a small saucepan, bring the milk and saffron just to a boil over medium heat. Watch closely to ensure that the milk doesn’t boil over. Pour the mixture into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup and top it off with enough water to bring the level back to 1 ⁄2 cup. Let it cool to 105°F to 110°F. (It should be warm to the touch but not too hot.) Add the whole egg and stir to combine.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, combine the flour, currants, sugar, yeast, and salt on low speed. Add the milk mixture and mix just until combined.
- Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed, about 3 minutes. Or, knead it by hand for about 6 minutes. Add the butter, a piece or two at a time. It may look like it’s not getting in there but don’t worry, it will; just keep adding and kneading. (You might have to stop the mixer and knead the butter in with your hands for a minute to get it started.) Once incorporated, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for another few minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Or tip the dough onto a work surface and knead by hand until smooth. During this stage you can add a bit more flour if the dough is too wet, but don’t add more than 2 tablespoons. The dough should just pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Put the dough in the prepared buttered bowl, fold it in on itself at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, flip it over, cover it with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to double in size. This could take 30 minutes or 2 hours, depending on how warm your house is. It’s best to just keep an eye on it and watch the dough rather than the clock.
- Tip the dough out onto a work surface. You shouldn’t need flour at this point. Gently press out the air and fold the dough in on itself at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Turn it over and pop it back in the buttered bowl for another rise.
- Butter a 41 ⁄2 by 81 ⁄2-inch loaf pan.
- Once the dough has almost doubled again, tip it onto a work surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece into an even 10-inch rope. Pinch the ropes together at one end, braid them tightly, and pinch them at the ends to seal. Place the braid in the prepared loaf pan. Cover it lightly with plastic wrap.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a small bowl, make an egg wash by whisking the egg yolk with the water, and gently brush over the top of the loaf. Sprinkle the top with pearl sugar. Bake until deep golden brown and set, 24 to 28 minutes. Tent the bread with aluminum foil if it is getting too dark. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes, then tip the loaf out of the pan and turn right-side-up to cool completely.
- Store the bread, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.