Saffron Cake with Hazelnut Whiskey Filling
For me, nothing is a culinary indicator of the holiday season as saffron buns, the bright yellow, yeasted buns traditionally baked for Saint Lucia Day, celebrated on December 13th. Standing in the kitchen and rolling them out makes it officially feel like December. When they are served up on a tray with a flickering candle next to it, winter feels like the best time of year.
Growing up, a family friend always used the same dough to make a saffron cake, filled with almond paste. It’s something that I have been sure to bake every year as well, using half of my saffransbullar dough to bake buns, and the other half to make a cake.
This year, I decided to use hazelnuts instead of almonds, as well as experimenting with different flours. In this recipe, I make sure to toast the hazelnuts before grinding them, which adds an extra element of flavor, not to mention the addition of a few dashes of whiskey. Who doesn’t want whiskey in their holiday cake? (If you don’t, you can switch out for some almond or vanilla extract, just be sure to use a bit less than the measurement indicated for the recipe. Taste as you go!)
This recipe is traditionally made with white, all-purpose flour, but besides opting for more nutritional grains, I like the sweetness that comes through when using stone ground white whole wheat flour (i.e. whole wheat flour made from white wheat as opposed to the more flavorful red wheat) and a touch of rye flour. As an interest in something other than conventionally milled, industrial flour grows, these are also grains that can be found more locally, and with all their nutrition intact; chances are there’s a grain producer and miller somewhere in your area. Take the time to explore what’s available.
This cake is best eaten soon after it has been baked, so if you’re planning on baking it in advance, once it has cooled, wrap it in tinfoil or place in an airtight container and freeze it until the day that you are ready to serve it. If you leave the cake out and it dries out a little, not to worry; a slice toasted for a few minutes in the oven is perfect with a cup of coffee.
I have made this recipe to be enough for one cake. If you would like to make two, or want to use half the batch to roll out some saffransbullar, just double it (except for the egg, which instead of two small eggs, you can get away with one large one). Note that if you are baking saffransbullar, your baking time will be less – in the 8 to 12 minute range.
Saffron Cake with Hazelnut Whiskey Filling
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon whiskey
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85 grams) unsalted organic butter
1 cup (240 milliliters) organic milk, or non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 small egg
2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces, 227 grams) organic white whole wheat flour + more as needed
1 cup (5 ounces, 140 grams) organic rye flour
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces, 70 grams) currants + more for decorating
1 cup (5 ounces, 140 grams) toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 egg white
1 small egg, whisked
Place the saffron threads in a bowl, and use the back of a spoon to crush them a little bit. Add the tablespoon of whiskey and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients, this will help to bring out the flavor.
In a saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Heat until it’s warm to the touch. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast with a few tablespoons of the milk and butter mixture. Stir and let sit for a few minutes, until bubbles form on top of the yeast.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg and blend in the sugar, salt and saffron/whiskey mixture. Pour in the remaining butter and milk, along with the yeast and stir until well blended. Stir in the currants.
Add the flour one cup at a time. Work together with a wooden spoon until a dough forms and you can work it with your hands. The dough will be sticky, but you should be able to form it into a ball and take it out of the bowl. Add a little additional flour as needed.
Transfer the dough to the countertop and knead it until smooth and elastic, about 3 to 5 minutes. If you need to add a little more flour to keep it from being too sticky, go ahead. The dough is fully kneaded when you can press on it with your finger and the dough “bounces” back.
Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and let sit to rise for an hour.
When the dough has almost finished rising, prepare the filling. If you are using raw hazelnuts, toast them. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the honey and whiskey and mix until well blended. The hazelnut mixture should start to clump together. Whisk the egg white until foamy, and mix it together with the hazelnut mixture.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
When the dough has risen, pull off a little less than a fistful and put aside. Split the rest of the dough into two parts and form into balls.
Roll one ball out on a flat surface, until it’s about 1/4-inch (6 millimeters) thick. Place the round on a baking tray (a pizza tray works great, as well as a rectangular tray) lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the hazelnut filling evenly over it.
Roll out the second piece of dough in the same manner and place it on top of the filling. Pinch the two layers of dough together. To make a clean edge, you can fold the pinched part under the cake and then flatten the top with your hand. I like to then use my finger to push in the dough to make a scalloped edge, but you can leave it flat too.
Using the rest of the dough, roll out sections and make a design on top of the cake. The classic saffron bun shape is an “S,” but you can get creative. I’ve included two different cakes that I made to get an idea of what you can do with the designs.
Whisk the egg along (you can also add the egg yolk leftover from the egg white you used to make the filling, so as not to waste it) and brush it on top of the cake. Decorate with currants.
Bake the cake for about 20 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and carefully transfer to a cooling rack. Cover with a tea towel to cool. When the cake is cool, transfer to a plate or serving platter and slice into wedges to serve.
More holiday recipes:
Want more ideas for Swedish Christmas foods? Check out our listing of all of our Swedish holiday recipes.
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