It's been many years now since I first discovered Trini sugar buns. I don't often venture into West Indian / Caribbean cooking, but when I do I'm usually pleased with the results. There's something incredibly appealing about that kind of fusion cuisine.
I came across Trini sugar buns one year when I was searching for a new take on hot cross buns. The idea of adding in saffron to a lightly-sweetened, milky cinnamon bun was just what I was searching for. In the years since it's become a tradition of sorts, though I never actually add the icing. They're just as good for a non-holiday brunch as they are for Easter, too.
Saffron Sugar Buns (Trini Hot Cross Buns)
Total Time: 30 mins prep, 2-2.5 hours rising, 25 minutes baking.
Credits: The idea of adding saffron and turmeric to sweet rolls came from The Trini Gourmet. The base roll recipe is a sweetened version of a dinner roll recipe that's been in my family for generations (affectionately known as The Rolls).
Makes: 24 small buns or approximately 18 large ones.
- 0.5 cup raisins (optional, can sub currants/sultanas if preferred) + roughly 1 cup of boiling water
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon milk (whole is best, but ok to sub as per your preferences)
- 0.25 tsp saffron threads
- 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1 package (2.25 teaspoons) yeast
- 5 cups bread flour
- 0.5 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1.25 teaspoons salt
- 2.5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 0.5 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup 10x (confectioner's/icing) sugar
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 1/4 tsp lime juice
- pinch of salt
- Place the raisins in a heat-safe cup and cover with enough boiling water to leave 2 inches of water on top. Set aside for 30 minutes to plump.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk using stovetop or microwave and stir in 3 tablespoons of the sugar until completely dissolved. Once milk is hot enough to produce steam, remove from heat and add saffron. Set aside to cool while the saffron infuses the milk.
- Dissolve the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar into the lukewarm milk. Add yeast and set aside to proof (5-10 minutes or until foamy).
- Whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, and turmeric.
- Add shortening to the flour mix. Blend until the flour takes on a grainy texture.
- Add yeast mixture to the flour, mix.
- Whisk eggs into the milk and mix until well-combined. Knead 2-3 minutes.
- Drain the raisins, pressing out any extra moisture.
- Add raisins to the dough and knead 1-2 minutes or until combined.
- Cover with a warm, damp towel and side aside to rise until doubled (about 90 minutes).
- Form rolls (24 small or 18 large) by stretching dough over itself and pinching together at the bottom [see pictures below]. Space approximately two finger-widths apart in a well-greased pan.
- Brush with milk glaze, cover with warm, damp towel, and aside aside to rise until doubled again (about 30-45 minutes). NOTE: if preferred, rolls could be covered with plastic wrap at this point and allowed to rise in the fridge overnight.
- Brush again with milk glaze just before baking.
- Bake at 325F for 25 minutes (may take slightly longer for large buns). Halfway through, rotate the pans 180 degrees and brush again with milk glaze.
- Allow buns to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Optional: whisk together the icing ingredients while buns are baking and place them in the fridge to cool. Top with icing once buns are completely cooled.
The trick to this particular recipe is to start the raisins and the saffron milk before doing anything else.
The reason for plumping the raisins in hot water is to keep them from sucking all the moisture out of the buns as they bake. If you're feeling adventurous you could also use milk or whiskey/rum. I find hot water does the trick just fine. Just make sure whatever cup you use can handle boiling water. Cover them completely, plus a few inches extra on top to give them room to grow.
See how much they plump up?
Next up is the saffron milk. One important thing to remember if cooking/baking with saffron is that you won't get much flavor unless you infuse it into a warm liquid first. I did this on the stovetop. Microwaving is also an option. You don't need to get the milk boiling or anything -- just warm it enough to steam a little and dissolve the sugar. Once the milk is warm sprinkle the saffron on top, using your fingers to crush the threads a little as you go. I took this picture as soon as I could grab my camera, and you can already see the color/flavor leeching into the milk just a few seconds after I put the saffron in.
Take it off the heat and let it cool. You don't want the milk to be too hot when you add it to the dough or else it'll kill your yeast. Lukewarm is okay.
Note: if you want to cut down on dishes, you could put the raisins into the hot milk along with the saffron. I tend not to because then I find the buns get a little too raisin-flavored and the saffron flavor gets buried. Up to you.
While the milk and raisins are busy working their mojo dissolve the remaining sugar and yeast into the lukewarm water.
This is calling "proofing" because what you're doing is making sure (proving) that the yeast is alive. That was more of an issue in the old days but is still a good idea if you tend to keep yeast for months or years. It's not a strictly necessary step, though. The proof that the yeast is active/alive is that it starts to digest the sugar, which we can indirectly observe by the gas that it lets off. That's where the foam comes from:
Neat, huh? And only a little bit gross. Try not to think about it.
While the yeast is chowing down on the sugar water and belching up proof (yum), whisk together your flour, salt, cinnamon, and turmeric:
The spices will kind of disappear into the flour. Not to worry, the saffron is going to give the buns a nice yellow color.
Next up is the shortening. If you're like me, shortening kind of freaks you out. If you want to give butter or even lard a try, I won't stop you though I can't guarantee that it'll come out the same. You might have to play around with measurements a little.
Blending in the shortening will change the texture of the flour so that it's more grainy:
Okay, so now you've got all the major components. First the proven yeast goes in:
Mix that up, whisk the eggs into the cooled milk (make sure it's only lukewarm, not hot):
See how yellow the milk got? That's all the saffron-y goodness. Once the eggs are whisked in, add that to the flour:
Blend it all into a dough. If you're using a mixer, like I was, you may want to stop partway through to change from a paddle to a dough hook.
Once it all comes together like the above, you can knead it for about 2-3 minutes. That should give you a soft, springy dough:
At this point drain the raisins, pressing any extra moisture out, and add them in. Another minute or two of kneading should be enough to mix them in.
Your dough is done! Wet down a clean cloth with hot water and drape it over the top of your mixing bowl. The dough will rise at different rates depending on how warm your kitchen is -- usually about 90 minutes is adequate to get it to roughly double in size.
When the dough has risen it's time to shape it into buns. I usually opt for smaller ones for the simple reason that I really like these buns and usually go for a second one whether I need it or not.
There's a trick to getting round(ish) buns and rolls that goes like so: stretch the dough through your fingers and tuck it in on itself until it's round and smooth. Here's the first step, where I'm using the thumb of my left hand to push the dough through a ring made with the fingers of my right hand:
Please forgive my giant ham hands and instead focus on how this is stretching the top of the bun so that it's smooth. Doing that will give you a kind of pocket at the bottom, which you can then pinch together:
Again, ham hands. Sorry. But anyway, if you put the bun seam-side down into your pan, nobody will ever know that the bottom is kind of puckery:
See? And now your bun isn't all lumpy.
Lather, rinse, repeat until all the dough is used up. Space them about two finger-widths apart and don't panic if you don't end up with an even number. I had to go back and add extra leftover dough to a few just so I wouldn't have to start a third pan.
Aside: does anyone else think it's weird when recipes say to put baked goods X inches apart? Does anyone actually get out a ruler and check?
Next you'll want to brush these with the milk/sugar/cinnamon glaze. This will add a little extra sweetness, but more importantly it'll keep the buns from drying out too much while they rise.
Cover them with a warm, damp cloth and let them rise again until the buns are about doubled in size -- roughly half an hour, maybe a smidge more.
Brush 'em down with the milk glaze again when they're all risen:
And now it's time to bake! The total baking time is 25ish minutes at 325F. Halfway through brush them down with the milk glaze again and rotate the pans 180 degrees so that they bake more evenly.
When you're done the tops should be lightly browned and shiny:
If you're making the icing: whisk the sugar/milk/lime juice together while the rolls are baking and put it in the fridge to firm up. Drizzle it over the top once the buns are cooled. I don't particularly care for icing so most of the time I skip that step.
I prefer to eat them hot out of the oven with a little coffee.
What I like best about these is that they're a-mazing right out of the oven, but they also toast up nicely the next day. Just split them in half and pop 'em in the toaster oven for a minute or two to heat them back up.