For a dose of nostalgia, today I am pairing the 1880 classic “Heidi” by Joanna Spyri with soft, delicately flavoured Saffron Butter Buns. Dear reader, if you have a daughter, please acquire this book and either have her read it or read it to her. The copy you see in the photographs was my mom’s, and I have read this beautiful little story countless times since I was old enough to read.
For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure to read it, “Heidi” follows the story of a young orphan girl who goes to live with her grandfather, the Alm-Uncle, in the Swiss Alps. She befriends Peter, the goatherd, as well as his blind, infirm grandmother. Peter’s family is poor, and can only afford hard, black bread to eat. Heidi is taken away to Frankfurt to live with a wealthy family, and each night at dinner she tucks her soft, white roll into a napkin and squirrels it away into a stockpile in her closet. Her hope is to take the soft bread back to the grandmother so that she will grow strong again.
I don’t want to spoil the story; you will just have to read for yourself whether Heidi gets the rolls to the grandmother. There is also so much more to it than this – it’s not just a novel about bread, I promise! It’s a story of hope, redemption and unconditional love. This book is so dear to me and was an important part of my young life.
These rolls… I am almost at a loss for words. The sweet, exotic flavour of the saffron and the sugar blend perfectly with the almond flour. The texture is divine; pillowy doesn’t even begin to describe it as they almost disappear on your tongue like cotton candy. I know it seems like a lot of prep work, but most of it is just waiting for the dough to rise. They are perfect on their own, smeared with a little bit more butter. As I write I am trying to stop myself from having my third roll, and I fear it’s a losing battle.
- Pinch saffron threads
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup almond milk
- 3 tbsp liquid honey
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup butter, softened
- ½ cup finely ground almond flour
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- Using mortar and pestle (or bowl with the back of a spoon), crush saffron with sugar. Mix in ¼ cup warm water until sugar dissolves. Stir in yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together almond milk, honey, salt, egg and egg yolks; stir in the yeast mixture. Stir in 1½ cups of all-purpose flour and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and sticky. Beat in softened butter until smooth.
- Stir in almond flour and 2 more cups of the all-purpose flour to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until moist but silky smooth (5-10 minutes), adding up to ½ cup more all-purpose flour as necessary. Place in a greased bowl, turning to lightly coat; cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours.
- Lightly punch down dough and knead lightly. Turn onto lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half and form into 2 balls; cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll each ball into a rope and cut each rope into 10 evenly-sized pieces. Form each piece into a ball, pulling down sides of dough and tucking the ends in a the bottom. Evenly space in 2 greased 9-inch cake pans or dishes.
- For the glaze: Brush the butter on top of the rolls. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes.
- Bake at 400 degrees F (or 375 degrees F convection) until golden brown, about 15-17 minutes.