Friday, December 26, 2008

The Golden Sunshine of Saffron 3: from India to Paris and in your Plate

~reproduced* from "Le Monde d'Hermès: Spring-Summer 2008", compiled by guest writer AlbertCan

A Thread of Myth
The saffron road, with its trail of red gold, runs from India all the way to Faubourg Saint-Honoré. When Alexander the Great reached Kashmir, he pitched his camp on a grassy plain. In the morning, he beheld his army afloat upon an ocean of mauve flowers that had opened overnight and reached all the way to his tent and under the hooves of his horses. Suspecting some sorcery, he turned back, avoiding battle. So says the legend. In fact, the Supreme Commander of the Superstitious had simply spend the night in a field of crosues, in a crop of wild saffron that may well have been used to make Mongra and Lacha, the finest qualities of this spice anywhere in the world. Just a pinch--no more, for saffron is potent and costly--infuses a flavour of far horizons: Persia, the Atlas, Crete, the monks of Tibet, fabrics snapping in the wind of Calcutta and feasts fit for a king. Added to rice, immersed in stocks and sauces or soaked in milk, it has a complex taste--bitter, metallic, salty, with notes of hay and bark--and a fine yellow colour. "When choosing saffron, one should select broad, red, new-grown threads that are supple and fleshy to the touch, and yet dry, with a very aromatic odour." So wrote the expert for Diderot and d'Alemberts' Encyclopédie [1] and it was sage advice. For the world of saffron is full of powdered impostors, while genuine growths such as Zafferano dell'Aquila and Pennsylvania Dutch Saffron are rare. Its purple strands are the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus, a member of the Iris family (Iridaceae) which flowers fashionably late, in October. It must be harvested by hand at dawn-and mibly too, so as not to damage the pistil. Shy and delicate it may be, but this confounded crocus has nevertheless made a place for itself in myth. The tale related the joint metamorphosis of two lovers--a handsome Arcadian youth, Krokos, or Crocus, and a nymph, Smilax--who were "changed into tiny flowers" [2]. A more tragic version tells of the accidental death of the said Crocus, when a discus thrown by a fond friend hit him on the head. Three drops of blood fell from the wound and fertilised the earth, brining forth a mauve flower with three red stigmas. The fond friend was Hermès.

--Text by Yves Nespoulous, Le Monde d'Hermès: Spring-Summer 2008, p.116.

[1]. Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie (1751-1772).
[2]. Ovid, Metamorphoses, book IV.

Saffron Ice Cream Recipe

For 1 litre of ice cream:

8 egg yolks
100 g of granulated sugar
750 ml of fresh full cream milk (or semi-skimmed for a lighter ice cream)
250 ml of creme fraiche
a few pistils of very good saffron

You will need a kitchen themometer marked in centigrade and an ice cream maker.

1.Bring the milk to the boil in a pan, then remove from the heat and allow the saffron to infuse for half an hour.
2.In the meantime, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns white. Slowly pour in the warm milk, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon.
3.Wash the pan then pour in the mixture and heat it, stirring all the time, until the temperature reachers 87 degrees Celsius, then remove from the flame.
4.Add the cream, stir and pour the mixture through a fine strainer into a salad bowl. Leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight so that the flavours can blend properly.
5.The next day, freeze the mixture in the ice cream maker to give it a smooth, creamy texture. 6.Serve with a fruit salad and orange tuille biscuits (an important cooking rule: to keep the palate interested, it is always a good idea to combine crisp, soft and creamy ingredients).

*The "saddler's touch": using the same thin custard base (creme anglaise), you can make all kinds of unusual ice creams to serve with the first fruits of summer or the last ones of winter: saffron ice cream with orange salad, funnel ice cream with roasted figs, verbena ice cream with raspberries, etc. All you need to do is infuse the herb or spice or your choice in hot milk, and give your imagination free rein.

--Recipe by Élisabeth Larquetoux-Thiry, Le Monde d'Hermès: Spring-Summer 2008, p.116. Pic via DKI images.

For more saffron recipes: Mutton Buryani, Bouillabaise, Paella Valenciana, Mussels in a saffron white wine sauce
Visit the Glass Petal Smoke blog for another take on saffron.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: the Saffron Series

*Article reproduced with every reservation on matters of copyright infringement (none intended), while every possible credit is being given. Should you feel it should not be online, nevertheless, please email us for removal.


  1. Oh man does that ice cream sound yummy. Although I am still working on finding my perfect Saffron rice pudding. Which reminds me, Helg have you read this book I recommend it for the history and recipes, although I will be the first to admit that the author does go off on her "glorious" personal history tangents sometimes.

  2. Thank you for the lovely saffron ice cream recipe. I also like this saffron ice cream with a touch of rose water, and some rose petals stirred in...

  3. Jen,

    that book looks fascinating! Many thanks for the rec.

    I think it should be easy to make an excellent saffron rice pudding: just take your best recipe for rice-pudding and steep the stigmata of saffron into the warm milk to be used for a whole night and you're set ;-)

  4. J,

    if we put rose petals in it I don't think I can concentrate enough to continue writing! :-)

  5. I had an even more intriguing idea (considering i have always had issues with making rice pudding): saffron tapioca pudding, I happen to be quite excellent at making this from scratch.

  6. J,

    Have never made anything with tapioca I'm afraid, so you're on your own; but it seems like you won't need any help in this! :-)
    (now, I'm getting hungry)


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