Baking challenge: saffron vanilla not-snickerdoodles

So having passed the milestone of having baked all the challenges from the first episode of the first season of the Great British Bake Off, it’s on to episode two, challenge one and the bakin’ is easy: biscuits. It’s easy because in this very first season of the GBBO the challenges were homey and sweet and well within the average home baker’s repetoire. So the first challenge was to bake your signature biscuit. I don’t know if I have a signature biscuit as such, though, unusually for me, I have a few that have stood the test of time and that I have baked more than twice: my chocolate truffle crackle cookies, with their dusting of icing sugar and rich centres; oatmeal raisin cookies from Cooking with Friends that I read on a blog about, oh, ten years ago (the blog no longer exists but the recipe can be found online); and Linda Collister’s brownies, which experience has shown are the perfect brownie recipe for posting.

However, instead of making any of these, or the recipe for speculoos that I made one St. Niklaas Day, I decided to bake up a recipe I had been obsessed with, reading over and over and admiring: saffron vanilla snickerdoodles, seen first at the truly pretty and inspiring veggie/whole foods blog 101 Cookbooks. While they are not a true signature bake, they were signature inasmuch as I’ve been staring and salivating over the recipe for a few weeks (haha, what poor justification!). These cookies come from a coffee place in San Francisco called the Blue Bottle Coffee Kiosk (implying it’s a bit petite, maybe?). I’m not quite sure why these were called snickerdoodles by their creators, as snickerdoodles always seem to come with a cinnamon-sugar coating, which these don’t. Maybe it’s a texture thing? I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never had a snickerdoodle, not being (US) American and all.

I bagged most of these up to give as a small gift to a friend who’s leaving (or, by now, has left) London for greener (literally) pastures (metaphorically), even though secretly I don’t think people should be incentivised into leaving London with biscuits. It was a bit of a sad moment since I can only imagine that the exodus of friends from London to…elsewhere will only increase as we all get older.

As for the cookies themselves, well, I prefer a lacy and crisp cookies, and these were big and very soft and substantial, so texture-wise they were never going to be a true hit with me. I have a bit of a weird relationship with saffron because I think it tastes a bit medicinal (TCP liquid in crocus stamen form) and I was hoping that this recipe would make me appreciate saffron all the better. A colleague of mine who ate one of the non-gift spares said he was really interested in using saffron in sweet things. However, I didn’t really taste saffron in the cookies as such; I did think the spice (which I pounded up in a mini mortar and pestle) gave the biscuits an almondy flavour (which is a bit worrying as the friend I gave them to does not particularly like almond – I said she could feed them to her family if necessary!). I can’t be imagining things too much since I mentioned this to a(nother) friend the other night and she said she’d had a cocktail with saffron gin in it, and someone had asked if it contained amaretto. So it’s not just me! Also, I thought that using a full teaspoon of vanilla extract (I doubled the extract instead of using the bean as suggested, but the extract I used was actually all-powerful vanilla paste) actualy overpowered the biscuits a bit, so suggest 0.75 – 1 teaspoon below, depending on the strength of your vanilla.

Saffron Vanilla Snickerdoodles
From the Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee via 101 Cookbooks

Warning warning: please note, worthy bakers, that this is a recipe you have to make ahead. The dough has to sit around in the fridge for at least three hours. This is not a quick recipe to make when you have a biscuit hankering and you want it NOW.

Makes nine very large cookies.

  • 30 threads saffron, ground, to make 1/8 tsp ground saffron (you can pound it up in a mortar and pestle as I did, or in a clean spice grinder, or in the absence of either mince the threads finely-finely)
  • ¾ – 1 tsp vanilla paste/extract
  • 2 TBS milk
  • 280g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 115g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100g granulated or caster sugar
  • 109g soft light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp fine-grained salt (or 1 tsp kosher, apparently)
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  1. Cook together the saffron, milk and vanilla paste over a very low heat in a teeny-tiny pan, just until bubbles begin to form at the edges of the pan. Cover and let steep for ten minutes until the milk is bright and sunny (I actually had to let it steep overnight due to sugar procurement issues).
  2. Sift the flour and baking soda together and set aside.
  3. Beat the butter on low speed until smooth, about a minute or so (depending on its state of softness). Add the two sugars and salt and continue to mix on low until well-combined. Scrape the bowl down and then mix on medium speed until light and fluffy – four or five minutes will do it.
  4. Combine the milk-vanilla-saffron mixture and egg and whisk together until mixed up. With the mixer running, add the egg mixture to the creamed sugar and butter very slowly, in a steady stream. Mix well until incorporated and smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and mix on medium for about 30 more seconds.
  5. Scrape down the bowl and add the flour mixture. Mix on low just until the texture is uniform. Scrape the dough into an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap, shaping it into a rough disk. Refrigerate for at least three hours, and up to five days (I did three hours).
  6. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Roll ¼ cup (60ml – I know! Huge!) portions of the dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet, at least 5cm apart (as the photos showed I adhered to this rule maybe a bit too much). Bake for 16 minutes. Apparently, the ideal cookie is slightly underbaked in the centre, so don’t worry that they appear soft. Let cool on the pan for ten minutes before removing. Again, ideally, some of them will buckle in this time. Some did and some didn’t. Since the buckle is the ideal, I gave the buckled ones away.

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