Looking for an authentic British dessert?  Try these traditional Cornish saffron buns—bright yellow, flaky rolls packed with currants.  These sweet treats taste great with butter at a tea party.  Learn how to make these delicious homemade yeast rolls in a few steps!

Prep Time: 50 minutes
holding one of the Cornish saffron buns cut in half
Bread, Sweet Bread

Traditional Cornish Saffron Buns

This post was extensively updated on December 11, 2018.

What is a more special treat than a homemade bun at teatime?  These delightful Cornish saffron buns are just the thing to serve at a tea party or as an afternoon pick-me-up.  They’re loaded with currants, so there’s no worries about not getting enough dried fruit in your bun.

holding half of one of the Cornish saffron buns

What are Cornish saffron buns?

Cornish saffron buns are soft, vibrant yellow rolls packed with currants.  These tasty treats originate in Cornwall, England.  Saffron used to be grown there, so it makes sense that they would have recipes using this expensive spice.  Indeed, saffron is responsible for coloring these buns such a unique color.  These saffron buns used to be a very popular snack at church functions in Cornwall, and live on today in old family recipes.

one of the Cornish saffron buns broken in half

What is saffron?

Saffron consists of the dried stamens of the Crocus sativus flower.  It is famous for being the world’s most expensive spice (often between $5,000 to $10,000 per pound), due to its labor-intensive harvest and short harvest time.  Fortunately, only small amounts of saffron are needed in each recipe.  Saffron is used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes, and is typically infused in a hot liquid before using.  It imparts a floral, grassy, woody, or honey-like flavor.

Can you freeze saffron buns?

Yes, you can freeze them in a zip-top freezer bag or airtight container for up to 1 month.  Defrost in the microwave or at room temperature.

holding one of the Cornish saffron buns cut in half

Have you ever baked with saffron?

Don’t be nervous; it’s really quite simple to use.  Saffron requires an infusing time in a hot liquid before it’s used to bring out the brilliant yellow color.  I think that toasting and crushing the saffron before infusing, like I’ve described in the recipe below, really helps bring out the color.  Note: there’s no substitute for saffron’s unique flavor.

You’ll be tickled pink (or yellow?) when you taste these delicious buns!  Trust me, you need to buy some saffron and set aside the time to make these special treats.  It’s a labor of love!  Tip: Just start the dough the night before and let it prove in the fridge overnight to shave off some time.

How do you make saffron buns?

Gather the ingredients.

ingredients for Cornish saffron buns

Spread the saffron threads on a small cookie sheet.  Toast them at 275 F for about 10 minutes, until the threads are a darker red.

toasted saffron threads for Cornish saffron buns

Lightly crush the saffron threads between your fingertips, then pour 3 tablespoons of boiling water on top.  Let stand for 30 minutes to infuse the saffron color and flavor into the water.

infusing the saffron for Cornish saffron buns

Pour the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl.  Stir in each one with your finger.

flour, salt, and yeast for Cornish saffron buns

Mix in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

mixing the butter, lard, and flour for Cornish saffron buns

Add the sugar, egg, saffron mixture, lemon and orange zest, and half of the milk.

mixing in the saffron liquid into the flour mixture for Cornish saffron buns

Add the remaining milk and mix until a sticky dough forms.

mixing the dough for Cornish saffron buns

Knead by hand on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is smooth, no longer sticking to the work surface, and has a sheen on its surface.

dough for Cornish saffron buns before rising

Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

risen dough for Cornish saffron buns

Punch down the dough to knock out large air pockets, then mix in the currants with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

dough for Cornish saffron buns with currants

Divide the mixture into 16 balls and space them evenly apart on a parchment-lined tray.

tray of Cornish saffron buns before rising

Let the buns rise until almost doubled in size, roughly 1 hour.  Bake at 375 F until well browned, about 18-20 minutes.  The buns should have an internal temperature of 190-200 F.

Cornish saffron buns on a plate

Pro Tips

  • Toasting the saffron threads before infusing them in hot water brings out additional color and flavor.
  • Can I substitute all-purpose flour for the bread flour?  Yes, you can; just realize that the dough won’t be as strong and chewy.  Bread flour contains more gluten than all-purpose, and strengthens the dough.
  • Make the dough the night before and let it prove in the fridge overnight to save time.
  • Speed up the rising by using warm liquid in the dough and putting the dough in a warm place.
  • Eat the buns the same day they’re made for the best freshness or toast under the broiler the next day.
  • Store the cooled buns at room temperature in a zip-top bag or covered with plastic wrap for up to 24 hours after baking.  The fridge will make them go stale quickly.
  • Freeze leftover buns in a zip-top bag to save them for another time.

Need a new teatime treat?  These other sweet breads will be family favorites.

St. Lucia buns on a plate slice of Lincolnshire plum bread with tea and loaf hot cross buns on a wire cooling rack

Did you make these Cornish saffron buns?  Please leave a star rating below the recipe to share how you enjoyed it.

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holding one of the Cornish saffron buns cut in half

Traditional Cornish Saffron Buns


  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 50 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 16 buns
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: British

Description

Looking for an authentic British dessert?  Try these traditional Cornish saffron buns—bright yellow, flaky rolls packed with currants.  These sweet treats taste great with butter at a tea party.  Learn how to make these delicious homemade yeast rolls in a few steps!


Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon good quality saffron threads
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 4 1/4 cups bread flour (500g)
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt (10g)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled (87g)
  • 6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lard, chilled (87g)
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar (100g)
  • 3 teaspoons fast-action yeast (10g)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk (175 ml)
  • scant 1 1/2 cup dried currants (225g)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 medium lemon)

Instructions

Preparing the Saffron (10 minutes toasting + 30 minutes infusing)

  1. Preheat the oven to 275 F.  Spread the saffron on a small cookie sheet and bake at 275 F for 10-15 minutes.  The saffron should dry out and turn a deeper shade of red.  Watch it carefully to prevent it from burning.
  2. Pour the saffron threads into a small bowl and crush them between your fingertips.  Stir in three tablespoons of boiling water and let the saffron infuse into the water for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.  The water should turn a deep golden orange.

Making the Dough (30 minutes + 2 hours proving)

  1. Warm the milk to 115 F.  If you use the microwave to warm the milk, put a small wooden spoon in the milk to break the surface tension and prevent it from exploding.
  2. Place the bread flour in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl, then stir in each one with your finger.
  3. Mix the butter and lard into the flour with the paddle attachment until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Stir in the sugar, egg, saffron mixture, lemon and orange zest, and half of the milk.  Mix on low speed to start bringing the dough together, gradually adding more milk as needed to create a soft, somewhat sticky dough.  Keep mixing until all the flour is picked up from the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead vigorously for about 15 minutes, until the dough is very stretchy, silky smooth, is no longer sticking to the work surface, and has a sheen on its surface.  Test the dough by stretching a lump of it between the thumb and forefinger of each hand.  The dough should stretch until it’s translucent without breaking.  If it breaks, knead a minute longer and check again.
  6. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a large buttered bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough prove in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.  Alternatively, let the dough prove in the fridge overnight.

Shaping the Buns (20 minutes + 1 hour proving)

  1. Line an 11 by 17-inch rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Punch down the dough in the bowl to knock out the air, then dump in the currants and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until they’re evenly distributed.
  3. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, using a kitchen scale for accuracy.  Roll each piece into a ball and space them evenly apart on the prepared cookie sheet.
  4. Place the tray inside a clean garbage bag.  Inflate the bag and tuck the ends underneath the tray to seal.  Set the tray in a warm place and let the buns prove for about 1 hour, until about doubled in size.
  5. About 10 minutes before the buns are done proving, preheat the oven to 375 F.

Baking the Buns (20 minutes + cooling)

  1. Bake the buns in the middle of the oven at 375 F for 18-20 minutes.  Watch them carefully to make sure they don’t burn.  The buns should be well browned and have an internal temperature of 190-200 F.
  2. Brush the tops of the buns with salted butter if desired, then let them cool completely on a wire rack.  Serve the buns warm or at room temperature, split in half, and spread with salted butter.  They taste great with a cup of tea or coffee!

Notes

  • These buns taste best the same day they are made.  Freeze any leftovers in a zip-top bag or airtight container for later.

Keywords: cornish, recipe

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