Saffron bread (aka Oxford Butter)

Adapted from Cresci: The Art of Leavened Dough. I’ve been experimenting with recipes from this beautiful book written by two italian masters of baking and pastry-making arts, Iginio Massari and Achille Zoia. Why the name Oxford Butter? Heck if I know, but the thought of saffron between layers and layers of a basic yeast dough was enough to make me want to try it. The image in the book shows an exterior crust that is much thicker and darker, and I’m guessing this is due to the oven and type of pan used. The flavor is very rich and exotic — perfect with a cup of coffee or hot tea.

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup warm milk

1. Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water with a pinch of sugar.
2. Combine flour, salt, butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the dissolved yeast and warm milk. Stir to combine, then knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a buttered bowl and set aside to rise in a warm area until doubled in volume.

For the saffron-butter:
1 stick (4 oz.) sweet butter [unsalted]
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of saffron powder
a couple pinches of cinnamon

Allow the butter to soften just enough to handle and mix with the sugar, vanilla, saffron, and cinnamon. Keep aside in a cool area until ready to use. [If it softens too much, refrigerate for a few minutes.] After the dough has doubled in size, punch down and roll out to a 12×7-inch rectangle. Spread half of the saffron-butter mixture on one end of the rectangle. Fold the plain end over to cover and roll out again to 3x the length of its original size. Fold it in half, cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 45 minutes.

Roll out once more to twice its size, spread the remaining butter mix on one end, fold the other end over, and roll out to 9×14 inches. Cut crosswise into thirds and stack the layers in a paper-lined 9×5-inch loaf pan. Preheat oven to 375°F. Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in volume then bake for about 30 minutes to a golden brown color. Cool before inverting onto a cutting board. Keeps for a 1-2 days in an airtight container or wrapped in foil and frozen.

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