Many people will be familiar with saffron in savoury dishes, such as risotto Milanese, bouillabaisse and paella. The expensive spice is also delicious in desserts, especially those with a lot of butter and/or cream, including rice pudding and gulab jamun. The first recipe given below is a basic pound cake that has a double-dose of saffron (and blood orange) because it’s used in the batter and the icing, while the second dessert – crème brûlée – uses saffron in place of the more usual vanilla.

Saffron and blood orange cake

This cake can be baked in advance, but it should be iced just before you serve it, or the rose petals will wilt. You can omit the rose petals, if you like, but the cake looks prettier with them.

A pinch of saffron threads
250 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
250 grams granulated sugar
One small blood orange
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
250 grams cake flour, sifted
130 grams sour cream, at room temperature

For the icing and decoration:
A pinch of saffron threads
150 grams icing sugar
About 15ml freshly squeezed blood-orange juice
Fresh, small, edible rose petals
About 10 pistachios

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl, add 10ml of boiling water, then leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Use pan-coating to lightly spray a decorative tube pan that holds about two litres.

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Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until combined. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat until the butter and sugar are light, fluffy and pale yellow. Use a fine-toothed microplane grater to grate the zest of the blood orange directly into the mixing bowl. Sieve the baking powder and add it to the mixing bowl, along with the salt and saffron threads and soaking liquid. Beat until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add one egg and stir on low speed until combined, then add one-third of the cake flour and mix it in. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixing bowl and beater. Add two more eggs and stir until combined, then mix in half of the remaining flour. Mix in the last two eggs and the rest of the flour, then scrape the mixing bowl and beater. Stir in the sour cream then finish mixing by hand so you don’t overmix the cake batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake at 170 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until done: the cake is ready when it’s fragrant, pulling away slightly from the sides of the pan, and springs back when you gently touch the surface. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and lift the pan away.

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Ice the cake about 15 minutes before you plan to serve it. Place the saffron threads in a small bowl and add 10ml of boiling water. Sieve the icing sugar into a mixing bowl, then add the saffron threads and soaking liquid, and about 10ml of blood orange juice. Whisk gently, adding more blood orange juice if needed to make a thick but pourable icing. Pour the icing over the cake. Hand-chop the pistachios and press them and the rose petals onto the icing so they stick. Leave for about 10 minutes, so the icing has time to firm up, then serve.

Saffron crème brûlée

350ml cream
150ml whole milk
A pinch of saffron threads
5 large egg yolks
½ tsp fine sea salt
60 grams granulated sugar, plus extra for the topping

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl and add 10ml of boiling water. Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan and heat until simmering, then stir in the saffron liquid, but not the threads (save them for later). Remove from the heat.

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In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the salt and 60 grams of sugar. Pour about 100ml of the cream-milk mixture into the bowl and whisk immediately, then add another 100ml of the liquid and mix. Whisking constantly, add the remaining cream-milk into the bowl. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve placed over a bowl. Stir the saffron threads into the strained mixture.

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Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Place four ramekins (or shallow bowls) that hold about 180ml each into a baking pan that’s about 3cm deep. Place the baking pan on the lowest rack of the oven and working carefully so you don’t burn yourself, pour the saffron custard mixture into the ramekins or bowls. (If you pour the mixture into the ramekins, then try to place the pan in the oven, the custard is likely to slosh out.) Pour hot water into the baking pan so it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 30 minutes or until gently set – the centre of the custards will still be wobbly. Cool to room temperature then cover each ramekin with cling film and refri­gerate for at least two hours.

Just before serving, spread a very thin layer of granulated sugar over the custard, then use a propane or butane torch to caramelise the sugar.

Photography: Jonathan Wong. Stylist: Nellie Ming Lee