As these buns bake, they fill the house with a lovely fragrance; you might want to bake them just as your brunch guests arrive. The buns have a small amount of almond paste filling yet are not too sweet.
Make Ahead: The yeast dough needs about 1 1/2 hours total for the first and second rises. The buns are best served the same day they are made.
Servings: 24 large buns
- For the dough
- 1 gram (about half the contents of a bag housed in one .06-ounce spice jar) saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon vodka
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
- 1 cup quark (a soft fresh cheese; may substitute 1 cup of small-curd cottage cheese, whipped smooth and drained in cheesecloth for several hours)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 1/2 to 6 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
- Vegetable oil, for the proofing bowl
- For the filling
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) store-bought or homemade almond paste
- 4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature
- For the garnishes
- 4 to 6 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
For the dough: Combine the crumbled saffron threads and vodka in a small bowl, stirring to mix well. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the milk and stir to combine until just warmed through; the mixture's temperature should register 120 to 130 degrees.
Place the yeast in a large bowl, then pour the butter-milk mixture over it and stir to combine.
Add the saffron-vodka mixture, the quark, sugar, salt and 5 cups of the flour; use a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula to combine. Add the remaining flour as needed until a very soft dough forms; it should be shiny and elastic.
Use vegetable oil to lightly grease the inside of a separate large bowl; transfer the dough to the oiled bowl, then cover the bowl with a clean, dry dish towel and let it sit for about 1 hour (preferably in a warm place) or until the dough has doubled in size.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine the almond paste and 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small bowl until well incorporated; add butter as needed to make sure the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the work surface, punching it down slightly and shaping it into a large mass. (At this point, if the dough is still too loose, add flour as needed but remember that the dough is supposed to be soft and somewhat spongy.)
Divide the dough into 24 equal portions. Either spray the insides of two 12-well muffin pans with nonstick cooking oil spray and place a portion of dough into each well, or line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Use your finger to poke a hole in the top of each portion of dough, then insert a good-size pinch (about 3/4 tablespoon) of the almond paste mixture. Cover over completely with the dough so the insert is not exposed.
If using baking sheets, shape each filled portion of dough so that it is smooth and rounded on the top. Place the mounds of dough 2 inches apart on the lined sheets.
Cover each muffin tin or baking sheet with a clean, dry dish towel and let the dough rise for 30 to 45 minutes.
For the garnishes: Combine the almonds and raisins in a small bowl.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the tops of the buns with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with the almond-raisin mixture. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 14 to 16 minutes or until the raisins are dark and the buns are golden brown on top.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from a recipe by Swedish Caterers of Washington.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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