Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure
Saffron cupcakes are well worth every expensive bite. I’ve baked cupcakes with all kinds of unusual flavors – beer, avocado, ricotta cheese. Some work better than others. Saffron cupcakes work. The saffron’s flavor comes through in every bite and fills the air with a sweet, soft aroma.
Why Saffron Cupcakes?
This is my second time participating in Taste & Create, an event where food bloggers get paired up to try each other’s creations. Last time, I was paired with What’s Cooking and made pumpkin abuelita cupcakes. This time, I was paired with Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. Back in May, she made a Vanilla-Infused Golden Saffron Cake. As soon as I saw it, I knew that was going to be the recipe I would try – in cupcake form, of course.
But wait – there’s more
When Dolores made her saffron cake, she did it as part of the Taste of Yellow, a food event in honor of Livestrong Day featuring yellow food. Guess what event is going on right now? The same one. It must be destiny (at least that’s what my mom would say). I am submitting these saffron cupcakes to this year’s Taste of Yellow event.
Livestrong Day is “the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the country.”
Dolores described why she participated so eloquently that I have to share her words:
“I’ve written before about how cancer has touched my life. John’s grandfather. His father and mine. Too many of our friends. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. Lymphoma, prostate cancer, bladder cancer. As their bodies betrayed them, these everyday heroes faced their mortality head-on — and learned something about living in the process. Even more amazing, through their examples they shared those lessons with all who love them. Whether or not they overcame the diseases they faced — they lived proudly, joyfully, with honor and dignity — and taught me the importance of doing the same. As a small expression of my gratitude and my love, today I bake for each of them.”
Dolores: I am dedicating these cupcakes to the people mentioned above. Even though I have never met them, they sound like incredible people.
Groom 2.0: I know you are questioning why all of my cupcakes are not being made for you.
a) Do you really think you should come first over cancer victims? I didn’t think so.
b) You want plain chocolate cupcakes. I need to work up to that. It’s just too boring.
Did Everyone Like the Saffron Cupcake as Much as I Did?
Not everyone liked the saffron cupcakes as much as I did. If you love saffron, you’ll likely love it. Not everyone loves saffron. Some (Bride and Groom 2.0), thought the cupcakes were too dry. Others thought the icing was too sweet. I recommend using small quantities of the icing. It nicely compliments the cupcake. If there is too much icing, it can be overpowering.
Why is Saffron So Expensive?
I’ve already had one out of town friend say she would never make these cupcakes because saffron is too expensive. Saffron is the most expensive spice. However, there is good reason. It is made from the yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). As explained on What’s Cooking America:
“Each flower provides only three red stigmas, and it takes approximately 14,000 of these tiny threads for each ounce of saffron. One ounce of saffron equals the stigmas from approximately 5,000 crocuses. It takes an acre of flowers to produce a pound. The tiny red threads of saffron must be handpicked from the center of the crocus flower. They leave behind the yellow stamens which have no taste.”
How to Buy Saffron
Saffron comes either powdered or in threads (the whole stigmas). For the saffron cupcakes I used the threads. If you do not have access to saffron threads, you can use the powder. If you are using the powder, be sure that it is pure saffron. Sometimes saffron is diluted with turmeric or other additives.
According to The Cooking Inn, “as a general rule, use half the amount of powder as you would threads.”
How to Cook with Saffron
Heat releases the flavor from saffron threads. They need to be steeped in liquid in order to let the true flavor shine. Unlike many other herbs and spices, you can’t just throw some saffron in cake or frosting and expect its flavor to come through.
In the saffron cupcakes, the saffron is heated with milk before adding it to the batter. In the saffron buttercream frosting, saffron infused butter is used.
Saffron Tip: Do not use a wooden spoon when working with saffron as the spoon will absorb some of the saffron flavor. You do not want to waste any of it.
How to Make Saffron-Infused Butter
The night before you make the cupcakes, you will need to prepare the saffron-infused butter for the frosting.
Melt 1 stick of butter (1/2 C) and mix in two large pinches of saffron threads. The saffron will not fully dissolve in the butter (you will still be able to see the thread). However, make sure that it is well integrated. The butter should turn a nice bright yellow color.
Let the butter sit out overnight. It may separate a bit overnight. Give it a good stir to reintegrate any liquids.
This butter is fantastic in the frosting. However, it would also be a delicious spread on bread with a Mediterranean or Indian meal.
The Saffron Cupcake Recipe
I adapted the recipe from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity to cupcake form. Makes 12 cupcakes.
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1-1/3 cups cake flour
- 1-3/4 cups sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 large whole egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
- 1/2 cup water
Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and baking soda) with a whisk. Set aside. Stir saffron threads into two tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup milk, egg, and one teaspoon vanilla. Add cooled saffron mixture and whisk well to incorporate. [Do not spill on clothes. Saffron stains. I may or may not know this from personal experience.] Marvel over brilliant yellow color. Pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture and whisk gently to combine. Resist over-mixing — whisk only until ingredients are well-incorporated. Pour into cupcake wrappers and bake for 20 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for 15 minutes. While the cupcakes cool, stir water and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in remaining teaspoon vanilla. Poke holes evenly in the cupcakes with a wooden skewer. Spoon the vanilla syrup over the top of the cupcakes. Let cool to room temperature.
The Saffron Frosting Recipe
Dolores’ recipe did not have any frosting. Cupcakes need frosting, so I went in search of an appropriate match. I found a recipe for saffron buttercream on A Tasty Pedia.
- 1.5 cups confectioners’ sugar (add more until preferred consistency)
- 1/2 cup saffron-infused butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon organic skim milk
In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream/sugar if needed for spreading consistency.
I’m all for the Livestrong cause. However, I never understood the fascination with the yellow Livestrong wristbands. My whole body would be covered in plastic if I wore a band for every cause I cared about. I’m picturing a green hula hoop-sized band around my waist because I support the environment and a white headband in my hair because I support brain research. I’m not even going to go into the band I would wear where the sun don’t shine to show my opinions on abortion.