Pulling at the Thread


I have had this box of Saffron sitting on my spice shelf (see: window sill) since I arrived in Seoul. Every day when I cook up a sauté or soup or even make myself some tea in the morning, the saffron sits there, staring back, beckoning to be used. “I’m really delicious. Pick me! Throw me in some rice and call it divine! Come on!” Not a chance.

Really, I’ve been scared to use it for a few reasons. One being: I’ve never cooked with it before. The reason I even have this small box of aromatic herbs is not because I went to the store in search of it, rather a good friend (and maybe the one I can credit my culinary obsession to) brought me back a box of it from Greece. I was also hesitant because saffron, like truffles, is high up on the culinary hierarchy of complicated, involved, delicate, and divine flavors. So pairing the inexperience with the anxiety and the bravado of “Organic Greek Saffron” all together I was left paralyzed.

But since this week is Thanksgiving, I had to flex my culinary muscles a bit and go for it. Try something new, shrug off the anxiety of influence, and open the box of saffron.

The box was now open, and I still had no idea what to do with it. It has such a unique fragrance and taste, that if you pair it incorrectly or don’t use enough, then it is lost along the way. But if you put too much in, the flavor turns from a buckwheat-honey sweet, mixed with a few hints of hay-grass, to a full out bitter-brawl. How, then, do I decide what to do with this god-like spice?

Well that’s simple, I go for a run, stop thinking about cooking, and come back with an answer. Does that make sense? Nope. Does it work? Like a dream.

Coming back from my run, I knew that I didn’t want saffron rice or potatoes or fish or a meal, really. I wanted to throw saffron into a cookie recipe and see how it stood up. It would give me a good indication as to how the flavor acts in different circumstances, and it would be down right delicious.

The baking went on as it does here in Seoul: walk to the grocery store to pick up those last few ingredients that seem to always be absent from my refrigerator, make the dough, let it sit, warm up my little toaster oven, and make cookies in batches of four while I study how to say “that car is not yellow, it is silver” in Korean. As did the scones, the saffron cookies took up the morning.

The morning couldn’t have been better spent, though. Sure there are a million and one things I could have been doing, but why not find out how saffron (the most expensive spice in the world, folks) diffuses in warmed milk and turns it yellow despite being crimson? And best of all, why not find out how it acts in a cookie? Why not, eh?

Well let me break it down for you: the saffron diffused like a dream throughout the cookie, not only turning the whole thing a tinge of yellow, with sparks of vibrant red threads throughout, but also adding an aromatic quality to an otherwise plain sugar cookie. The flavor is still a bit elusive, though. Not because saffron didn’t stand out in the cookie, but because it’s almost an ineffable flavor. The flavor stands mostly in your nose on an exhale, but it is still present in every bite. It is that slightly dark sweet quality backed up by a deep earthen gusto and all encased in that floral smell.

The beauty of these cookies is not only the instant gratification of biting into a sweet, unique cookie, crispy on the outside, soft and chew in the middle, but future possibilities with saffron. Next up: Mediterranean food straight out of Seoul.

Want the recipe? Boom goes the dynamite.

Flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, white sugar, butter, vanilla, one egg, warmed milk and the star of the show: saffron.

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5 thoughts on “Pulling at the Thread

  1. Now that’s a tempting cookie to say the least.
    Say, how’s the atmosphere in Seoul in the aftermath of N.Korea’s antics? Can we get a glimpse in your next 20-Something?

  2. Running always did give you good ideas. Michele will be proud that you found a way to use her Greek gift. The color of the dough is beautiful really. Keep on baking, at least I will know your place is warm then 🙂

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