Cornish saffron buns


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For



Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Saffron cakes and buns appeared throughout Britain, but only survived in Cornwall. The tin that was collected from the many mines in Cornwall was sometimes partially exchanged for saffron with foreign merchants, but although saffron was imported and traded for centuries, saffron crocuses have been and still are grown in Cornwall and some other areas in the country. The clue is in the name of the Suffolk town of Saffron Walden, where saffron was grown as far back as the 1600s. For the last decade, there have been several small farms producing saffron in Britain.

These Saffron buns were eaten by Methodists on Good Friday, smeared with clotted cream. Hot cross buns were the preferred bun eaten on Good Friday in other parts of the country, so the Methodists’ preference ensured that saffron buns continued to exist on this beautiful peninsula.


  • ½ tsp saffron threads
  • 325 ml (11 fl oz) lukewarm full-fat milk
  • 15 g (½ oz) dried yeast
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) strong white bread flour
  • 60 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 20 g (¾ oz) butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 30 g (1 oz) lard or butter
  • 5 g ( oz) fine sea salt
  • 5 g ( oz) caraway seeds
  • 50 g ( oz) candied citrus peel, finely chopped
  • 60-100 g (2¼-3½ oz) currants
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash


Use a pestle and mortar to crush the saffron threads. Combine the saffron with half of the lukewarm milk.

Add the yeast to the remaining lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the butter and lard on top. Pour half of the yeast mixture over the butter and start kneading. When the milk and butter have been completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture, along with the saffron-infused milk. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it stand for a few minutes (at this point the dough will be very wet).

Add the salt to the dough, then add the caraway seeds, candied peel and currants. Knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and side of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and elastic dough that is not too dry but also not terribly wet. (Adding the currants at this point will ensure they adhere to the dough, whereas they won’t adhere properly if you add them after the first rising.)

Cover the dough and set aside for 1 hour until it has doubled in quantity. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with baking paper.

Briefly knead the dough and divide it into eight equal pieces. Take a piece of dough and lightly flatten it on your work surface, then pull the outer parts in like a purse and gently squeeze together like a dumpling so that the dough can no longer split open while rising. Turn the dough over so the squeezed ends are on the bottom. It should be nice and smooth on top – if not, flatten it and start again. Place the bun on the baking tray and continue shaping the other buns.

Cover the tray of buns with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 1 hour or until the buns have doubled in size. Towards the end of the resting time, preheat the oven to 210°C (410°F).

Brush the buns with the egg wash and bake for about 15 minutes until they are golden brown. The buns are best eaten on the day they’re made. The next day they can be revived in a hot oven for a few minutes. You can also freeze the baked buns, thaw and then pop them in a hot oven for a few minutes.