Saffron is a very expensive spice that comes from the saffron crocus. In order to obtain 500g of saffron, approximately 250,000 flowers are harvested by hand. Luckily, since it is so expensive, a small amount goes a long way. It is best to buy it in filament form but it is also available powdered. It can be prepared by either grinding in a pestle and mortar or by steeping in a small amount of boiling water for a few minutes. Although most famously used in rice dishes such as paella it also has uses in baking.
In Cornwall it is put into Saffron Cake, a yeast-risen, sweet, fruit loaf. This recipe is also used to make saffron buns and when good quality saffron is used, the flavour and aroma are unmistakeable. It can also be partnered with lemon and made into a loaf cake or used with ground almonds to flavour shortbread biscuits.
Saffron also goes well with seafood, so try making souffléd crab and saffron tartlets. Make a sauce with shallots, white wine, saffron and cream, and add an egg yolk and white crab meat. Whisk the egg white until stiff, and fold in. Once this has been poured into the pastry case top with a little grated Parmesan and bake.
Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from Leiths School of Food and Wine