Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure | Cupcake Project

Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure

Saffron cupcakes are well worth every expensive bite. I’ve baked cupcakes with all kinds of unusual flavors – beer, avocado, ricotta cheese. Some work better than others. Saffron cupcakes work. The saffron’s flavor comes through in every bite and fills the air with a sweet, soft aroma.

Why Saffron Cupcakes?

This is my second time participating in Taste & Create, an event where food bloggers get paired up to try each other’s creations. Last time, I was paired with What’s Cooking and made pumpkin abuelita cupcakes. This time, I was paired with Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. Back in May, she made a Vanilla-Infused Golden Saffron Cake. As soon as I saw it, I knew that was going to be the recipe I would try – in cupcake form, of course.

But wait – there’s more

When Dolores made her saffron cake, she did it as part of the Taste of Yellow, a food event in honor of Livestrong Day featuring yellow food. Guess what event is going on right now? The same one. It must be destiny (at least that’s what my mom would say). I am submitting these saffron cupcakes to this year’s Taste of Yellow event.

Livestrong Day is “the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the country.”

Dolores described why she participated so eloquently that I have to share her words:

“I’ve written before about how cancer has touched my life. John’s grandfather. His father and mine. Too many of our friends. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. Lymphoma, prostate cancer, bladder cancer. As their bodies betrayed them, these everyday heroes faced their mortality head-on — and learned something about living in the process. Even more amazing, through their examples they shared those lessons with all who love them. Whether or not they overcame the diseases they faced — they lived proudly, joyfully, with honor and dignity — and taught me the importance of doing the same. As a small expression of my gratitude and my love, today I bake for each of them.”

Dolores: I am dedicating these cupcakes to the people mentioned above. Even though I have never met them, they sound like incredible people.

Groom 2.0: I know you are questioning why all of my cupcakes are not being made for you.
a) Do you really think you should come first over cancer victims? I didn’t think so.
b) You want plain chocolate cupcakes. I need to work up to that. It’s just too boring.

Did Everyone Like the Saffron Cupcake as Much as I Did?

Not everyone liked the saffron cupcakes as much as I did. If you love saffron, you’ll likely love it. Not everyone loves saffron. Some (Bride and Groom 2.0), thought the cupcakes were too dry. Others thought the icing was too sweet. I recommend using small quantities of the icing. It nicely compliments the cupcake. If there is too much icing, it can be overpowering.

Why is Saffron So Expensive?

I’ve already had one out of town friend say she would never make these cupcakes because saffron is too expensive. Saffron is the most expensive spice. However, there is good reason. It is made from the yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). As explained on What’s Cooking America:

“Each flower provides only three red stigmas, and it takes approximately 14,000 of these tiny threads for each ounce of saffron. One ounce of saffron equals the stigmas from approximately 5,000 crocuses. It takes an acre of flowers to produce a pound. The tiny red threads of saffron must be handpicked from the center of the crocus flower. They leave behind the yellow stamens which have no taste.”

How to Buy Saffron

Saffron comes either powdered or in threads (the whole stigmas). For the saffron cupcakes I used the threads. If you do not have access to saffron threads, you can use the powder. If you are using the powder, be sure that it is pure saffron. Sometimes saffron is diluted with turmeric or other additives.

According to The Cooking Inn, “as a general rule, use half the amount of powder as you would threads.”

How to Cook with Saffron

Heat releases the flavor from saffron threads. They need to be steeped in liquid in order to let the true flavor shine. Unlike many other herbs and spices, you can’t just throw some saffron in cake or frosting and expect its flavor to come through.

In the saffron cupcakes, the saffron is heated with milk before adding it to the batter. In the saffron buttercream frosting, saffron infused butter is used.

Saffron Tip: Do not use a wooden spoon when working with saffron as the spoon will absorb some of the saffron flavor. You do not want to waste any of it.

How to Make Saffron-Infused Butter

The night before you make the cupcakes, you will need to prepare the saffron-infused butter for the frosting.

Melt 1 stick of butter (1/2 C) and mix in two large pinches of saffron threads. The saffron will not fully dissolve in the butter (you will still be able to see the thread). However, make sure that it is well integrated. The butter should turn a nice bright yellow color.

Let the butter sit out overnight. It may separate a bit overnight. Give it a good stir to reintegrate any liquids.

This butter is fantastic in the frosting. However, it would also be a delicious spread on bread with a Mediterranean or Indian meal.

The Saffron Cupcake Recipe

I adapted the cupcake recipe from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity to cupcake form.  Dolores’ recipe did not have any frosting. Cupcakes need frosting, so I went in search of an appropriate match. I found a recipe for saffron buttercream on A Tasty Pedia.

Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure


    Cupcake Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Saffron Frosting Ingredients
  • 1.5 cups confectioners' sugar (add more until preferred consistency)
  • 1/2 cup saffron-infused butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic skim milk


    Cupcake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and baking soda) with a whisk. Set aside. Stir saffron threads into two tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup milk, egg, and one teaspoon vanilla. Add cooled saffron mixture and whisk well to incorporate. [Do not spill on clothes. Saffron stains. I may or may not know this from personal experience.] Marvel over brilliant yellow color. Pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture and whisk gently to combine. Resist over-mixing -- whisk only until ingredients are well-incorporated. Pour into cupcake wrappers and bake for 20 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for 15 minutes. While the cupcakes cool, stir water and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in remaining teaspoon vanilla. Poke holes evenly in the cupcakes with a wooden skewer. Spoon the vanilla syrup over the top of the cupcakes. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Saffron Frosting Instructions
  3. In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
  4. Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream/sugar if needed for spreading consistency


The Livestrong Wristband

I’m all for the Livestrong cause. However, I never understood the fascination with the yellow Livestrong wristbands. My whole body would be covered in plastic if I wore a band for every cause I cared about. I’m picturing a green hula hoop-sized band around my waist because I support the environment and a white headband in my hair because I support brain research. I’m not even going to go into the band I would wear where the sun don’t shine to show my opinions on abortion.

Luckily, my cupcake didn’t complain about donning its Livestrong wrist/cupcake band that I borrowed from a friend.
What do you think of the Livestrong wristband phenomenon? What about all the other wristbands that people wear for every imaginable cause? Do you like to show support for your charities on your wrist? Let me know in the comments.
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5 Responses to Saffron Cupcakes: Golden Threads Make a Treasure

  1. EMB February 21, 2008 at 6:10 am #

    For the record …

    I don’t want a “plain chocolate cupcake”. I want a phenomenal, rich, delectable, “better than sex” chocolate cupcake.

    Milk chocolate? White chocolate? Dark chocolate? All of the the above.

    Not EVERY cupcake needs to have an unusual flavor or a quirky ingredient. There’s no reason that traditional has to mean boring.

    If I wanted a boring chocolate cupcake, I’d got to the store and buy a box mix and do it myself. I want the Cupcake Project version.

  2. Stef February 21, 2008 at 6:21 am #

    EMB – Coming right up – whenever I get around to it.

  3. Ben February 21, 2008 at 10:57 am #

    Yes! Another round of Taste & Create! I was now paired with Val from More than Burnt Toast and I also loved her recipes.

    I am thinking about making cupcakes next week so I will go through your recipes again. There were several I wanted to try and now I have to decide again about which one I will use.

  4. Crockpot Lady February 21, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    this looks amazing! I have saffron that we were given as a gift and have never used it.

  5. Miss Michelle February 21, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    I absolutely love saffron! The aroma is unmistakeable. I have never thought about making it into a cupcake but I am going to put this on my to-do list. :-)

  6. How To Eat A Cupcake February 21, 2008 at 1:01 pm #

    That bracelet around the cupcake is a cute idea :)

  7. playswithyarn February 21, 2008 at 2:08 pm #

    to anyone who cares, trader joes has reasonable prices on saffron.

    i really need to get back into town and get in on some of these cupcakes.

    hopefully before these chocolate ones make their debut.

  8. Gigi February 21, 2008 at 2:38 pm #

    My mom is from Spain and she uses saffron in a lot of her dishes. I love it in rice! I will have to pass this recipe along to her. Thanks!

  9. Stef February 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm #

    Ben – I love Taste & Create. It may be my favorite blog event. Glad you had fun again this time too. Good luck with your next batch of cupcakes. I’ll be curious to see which ones you pick.

    Steph – You should definitely use your saffron. Saffron would be great in so many crockpot dishes.

    Michelle – Cool! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know!

    HTEAC – Thanks! It was the perfect cupcake size.

    Kat – Good to know about the trader joe’s saffron. I’ll have to check them out next time. Thanks for the tip.

    Gigi – When’s dinner at your mom’s? I’m there. :)

  10. the AIRY FAIRY February 21, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    i’ve been a huge fan of your blog for some time, so much so that i’ve ‘tagged’ you. if you wanna see what that means and what you need to do then follow the link to my blog – if you have time!

  11. Nancy February 22, 2008 at 6:28 am #

    The aroma of these cupcakes was almost as good as the taste. Good to know about the Trader Joe’s saffron.

    Loved the photo of the cupcake dressed up in its bracelet.

  12. CB February 22, 2008 at 8:21 am #

    Your cupcake has been chosen for ATC’s Weekly Cupcake Collection! Click the link to see more. Looking forward to your next cupcake creation!

  13. Hillary February 22, 2008 at 8:40 am #

    Thank you for all of the great saffron lessons! I am so intrigued by the stuff but still don’t really know what it tastes like.

  14. Barbara February 22, 2008 at 10:23 pm #

    Hi Stef. Thanks for your great entry. I wear the yellow wristband because a dear friend gave them to my entire family and at the time I was diagnosed. We made a pact to take it off when I was given the all clear from cancer. Some days it clashes with my outfit. The wristband not only gives me strength, it gives my family, particularly my husband and children, strength also.

  15. maybellesmom February 24, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    great idea. would be great as a dessert after a Spanish-style meal.

  16. Lisa February 24, 2008 at 4:20 pm #

    Once again you are an inspiration!

    I have been fascinated by saffron since I spent time in Spain as a teenager. Still, the only thing I regularly use it in is Paella. I have tried it in truffles but haven’t coaxed that to work out as I envisioned just yet. But these cupcakes look wonderful and challenge me to keep trying it in new ways. Thanks for the great ideas!

  17. Stef February 26, 2008 at 5:42 am #

    CB – Yay! Thanks so much for including me in that. ATC is a great site that just keeps getting better.

    Hillary – You’ve got to taste it!

    Barbara – Thanks so much for sharing. I was a bit surprised that more people didn’t have something to say about the wristbands. I know that they mean much to many people like they do to you and your family.

    Maybelle’s Mom – Thanks! They definitely would be!

    Lisa – Saffron truffles would be awesome! Let me know if you ever get those figured out.

  18. holly March 20, 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    Thank you! I loved this recipe. I did not find them at all dry and we had these for dessert for about a week. I will definitely make these again.

  19. Stef March 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm #

    Holly – Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed them! Thanks for letting me know.

  20. Jaison September 15, 2008 at 7:52 pm #

    how to remove saffron stain on cotton cloths

  21. Stef September 15, 2008 at 7:57 pm #

    Jaison – If it’s white, use bleach. Maybe try Zout? I’m a baker, not a cleaner. Sorry! Saffron used to be used as a clothing dye, so it’s not easy to get out.

  22. Essie October 2, 2009 at 8:16 am #

    Saffron cupcakes sounds amazing. Just one thing where do you find it? can you buy Saffron at anywhere? As far as I know its expensive? The Band around the cupcake is an excellent idea!Would be great to give a cupcake to friends with a special message on. Also you can check out my blog
    http// or click on my profile.Please tell me more about Saffron.

  23. Stef October 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    Essie – Yes, saffron is expensive, but you can find it the spice section of most supermarkets.

  24. kim April 24, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Hi! Have 2 questions if you have a minute to answer. First I don’t see any fat in this recipe besides the 1 tsp of butter? Secondly, I don’t see where the butter is used unless I’m missing something. Very interested in trying this recipe as I”m looking for unusual gourmet flavors. Thanks so much


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