Saffron Vanilla Bean Butter Cookies, At Your Own Risk

I have these friends.  I call them “danger friends.”  But not in a bad way.  Mostly.  

What I mean to say is that they are not the “vanilla” kind.  They are the kind that you curse at 7 am when you wake smelling of bourbon and regret.  They are the kind with last names like “Maloney,” “Santangelo,” and “Samson.”  The kind that will bail you out of jail.  Or put you there.

And here is what happened.  I went to California wine country with a few of these friends.  We stalked the hills of San Fran and downed wine at NOPA.  We drove through Yountville, stopping for a late, pinot-soaked lunch at Bouchon.  We impulse bought macarons the size of doorknobs, cork-shaped brownie cakes, and cupcakes wrapped in fondant from their bakery next door.  

We toured the wineries of Preston, Bella, Adrian Fog, and Medlock Ames.  We drank wine.  We bought wine.  We made friends with people that owned wineries.  You get the idea.  Lots of wine happened.  And we—somehow—survived all of this.

The day after I got back home, I made these cookies.  They’re almost a savory sort. Almost.  They have a nice salty bite and enough saffron to nearly invoke paella.  But not in a bad way.  In fact, the vanilla reins you in.  Go figure.

And they are a spectacular pairing to the adventures noted above.  The original recipe hails from Blue Bottle Coffee, a San Fran spot.  They also have some life to them.  And definitely some saffron.  Sugar cookie purists should turn back now.

Given their nature, I imagine they’ll go quite nicely with the floral viognier I got from Garagiste, a micro-winery in Healdsburg.  Or anything with bubbles.  But what I’d probably recommend most is to pair them with danger friends.  And maybe some sunglasses and Advil.

Saffron Vanilla Bean Butter Cookies


About 30 saffron threads (1/8 tsp crushed saffron)
½ a vanilla bean
2 tbsp half and half
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed muscovado sugar (I used the dark variety; you could also use brown sugar)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract


Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle (or finely mince them; alternatively, you may be able to crush them with a rolling pin if you’re feeling up for it: the finer the powder, the more pervasive the flavor). Split half of the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into a small saucepan. Add the vanilla pod, half and half, and saffron and cook the mixture on very low heat until bubbles start to form at the edge of the pan.  Take the pan off the heat, cover it, and let the mixture steep for about 10 minutes (a bright yellow color will appear).

Meanwhile, combine the flour and baking soda in a medium-sized bowl.  In a stand mixer, beat the butter on low speed for 1-2 minutes until it is smooth.  Add in the sugars and salt and beat to combine; scrape down the sides and mix on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).

Discard the vanilla bean from the saucepan (squeeze any liquid that collected in the pod to extract all the flavor you can).  Whisk the saffron mixture, egg, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl and then add the egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar in a slow stream with the mixer is running on low speed, until everything comes together and is smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then slowly add in the flour mixture until everything just comes together, with the mixer running on low again.  Press the dough together and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap; refrigerate it for at least 3 hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Scoop out about 1 heaping tbsp of dough.  (Don’t put more than 12 cookies per tray.) It helps to use a small scoop if you have one.  Bake them for about 10-12 minutes, rotating the tray half way through the baking.  The cookies are done when their edges start to brown but still appear slightly undercooked in the center.  Let them cool for at least 10 minutes.  The cookies should buckle slightly as they cool.

Makes about 20-25 small cookies (or about 10 large ones)

-The recipe on 101 Cookbooks used a ¼ cup sized scoop per cookie, which yielded about 10 cookies.  I wanted more, so I made them smaller and cut the baking time down about 3-5 minutes.

-Store leftover cookies in an airtight container for up to two days.  Alternatively, you can throw them in the freezer.

-The dough can hang in the fridge for up to five days, so consider baking off only what you need if you are someone who likes the idea of warm cookies quite regularly.

-The original recipe called for milk, but I only had half and half.  I don’t think this addition impacted anything too terribly.  Adding half and half to things rarely does.  Use whatever you have.

-If you are doing the math, it looks like there are at least 16 cookies on that tray (I can’t get anything past you!).  I arranged them all on one pan to take their picture.  Don’t crowd the pan is all I’m saying.

-Thank you, Jen and Kara, for an awesome trip.  For all the fun.  And for not killing me.  You guys are really animals.


  1. I love the idea of your "danger friends", quite a fun read.

  2. Danger friends! I love it. And I am bookmarking this recipe for Christmas. :)

  3. Those danger friends are the ones that help keep life exciting! I'd love to go to wine country with friends someday too. And come home to cookies like these!

  4. frankly, i want more friends like that! :)
    also, i should note that i also want some cookies like these.

  5. Emily, I envy you and your danger friends. Going straight from college to grad school means that my immediate circle seems to narrow each year to include fewer and fewer people who aren't philosophy nerds. That's not to say that we don't like bourbon. But we're more likely to hop in the car and drive to a philosophy conference in Alabama than plan a trip to wine country.

    Anyway, these cookies sound amazing. I never manage to bake holiday cookies, but maybe this year. It would have to be these cookies.

    1. Can't wait to hear how these go over at Christmas! I am lucky to have these danger friends. :) And Katie, am I wrong in saying that a philosophy conference sounds kind of fun?!

    2. Depends on the conference. I always seem to go to conferences that aren't exactly in my area of competence, so given the trend towards specialization that all academic disciplines seem to be experiencing, I sometimes find myself thinking about dinner because I can't follow what's going on. However, it can be exhilarating and inspiring. My favourite part about conferences is probably the road trip, though--getting to see the lay of the land, talking with friends for hours.