The world’s priciest spice adds unexpected elegance to a muchloved holiday cookie. Take time to “bloom” the saffron to coax maximum flavour from the threads. Then to gild the lily, finish the warm cookies with a sprinkling of gold sanding sugar or edible gold leaf (see TIP) sold in baking supply stores.
½ tsp (2 mL) packed saffron threads
1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, divided 8 oz (250 g) block cream cheese
½ cup (125 mL) icing sugar
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour, divided 1 cup (250 mL) apricot jam, divided
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp (15 mL) water
Granulated sugar, or gold sanding sugar, or gold leaf (optional)
1 Place saffron threads in a mortar and finely grind with a pestle, or place on a chopping board and finely chop. Scrape into a small microwave dish and add ½ cup (125 mL) butter. Microwave until butter starts to bubble. Stir and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes. Place the remaining butter and cream cheese on the counter and leave for 30 minutes as well.
2 Scrape saffron butter into a food processor. Cut the remaining ½ cup (125 mL) butter into 4 pieces and cream cheese into 8 pieces. Scatter in processor. Sprinkle with icing sugar and salt. Pulse until evenly combined, scraping down sides often.
3 Add 1 cup (250 mL) flour and pulse just until most is mixed in. Repeat with remaining flour and stop as soon as it starts to form a ball. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and, using floured hands, form into a large log. Cut into 3 pieces and form each into a disc. Wrap each with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to a week.
4 To bake, remove dough from refrigerator. Leave at room temperature until soft enough to roll out, about 45 minutes. For easy spreading, place ⅓ cup (80 mL) jam in a small microwave bowl. Remove any large pieces of apricot, finely chop and return. Microwave jam just until warm, about 20 seconds.
5 Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
6 Place 1 disc on a lightly floured surface. Cover with a large piece of clear wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll disc into a 12-inch (30-cm) circle. Thinly spread with warm jam. It doesn’t have to go right to the edge. Cut into 16 wedges, preferably with a pizza cutter. Beginning at the wide end, roll 1 wedge towards the point creating a crescent. Place point-side down on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining wedges, leaving generous spaces between them. Whisk egg yolk with 1 tbsp (15 L) water and brush over cookies. If you are not going to use gold leaf, sprinkle with sugar if desired.
7 Bake in centre of oven until golden, from 18 to 20 minutes. Let sit on pans 5 minutes, then remove to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining dough and jam. Cooled, wrapped cookies can be kept at room temperature for 4 days or frozen up to 2 months.
Makes about 48 cookies
Do not sprinkle formed cookies with sugar if you are going to gold leaf them. Once cookies are baked and cool, and just before serving, use a small soft paintbrush and small sharp knife to apply gold leaf. Holding a goldleaf sheet with the brush, cut away a tiny piece using the knife. It should stick to the point of the knife. Transfer to cookie. Use brush to push the piece down and attach to the cookie.