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Home on the Range: Vermont Saffron and Pistachio Shortbread 

Published October 31, 2023 at 2:33 p.m.

click to enlarge Vermont saffron and pistachio shortbread - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont saffron and pistachio shortbread
Newbury saffron farmer Jette Mandl-Abramson of Calabash Gardens believes that saffron is underappreciated as an ingredient in sweets. Although the precious spice is traditionally featured in Persian rice pudding and in raisin-studded, yeasted holiday buns in Sweden, more cooks think of using it in savory dishes.
Mandl-Abramson suggests substituting a little freshly ground saffron bloomed in water for vanilla extract in baked goods and pairing it with cinnamon, cardamom or pistachios. The former bartender also loves to use saffron honey — or saffron-infused maple syrup or simple syrup — for margaritas, bee’s knees and Manhattans.

Cookbook author Gesine Bullock-Prado, who teaches baking at her Sugar Glider Kitchen in her White River Junction home, grows saffron for personal use. She included a recipe for a rich onion saffron tart in her latest cookbook, My Vermont Table: Recipes for All (Six) Seasons. When it comes to sweet pairings, Bullock-Prado said saffron goes well with honey and almond. She suggested trying it in a financier or an almond dacquoise recipe. Both have relatively simple flavor profiles "to allow the saffron to shine," Bullock-Prado wrote by email.

Here is a simple shortbread recipe with saffron in the dough and also in a beautiful golden glaze. The pistachios are optional but add great flavor and texture. See below for a photograph of how to make the recipe with both options.

Vermont Saffron and Pistachio Shortbread

Yield: 8 triangular cookie wedges
Adapted from saffron shortbread by Shira Bocar on marthastewart.com

  • 1 generous pinch saffron, crushed (to yield about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Up to 1/2 cup chopped, salted pistachios, if desired
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
click to enlarge Vermont saffron and pistachio shortbread - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont saffron and pistachio shortbread


  1. Place the saffron in a small bowl; add hot water and let steep 20 minutes.
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan (preferably springform for easier removal) with the extra butter.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using an electric handheld mixer, beat the butter with the confectioners' sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 1 teaspoon of the saffron water and the cardamom and beat until combined, scraping again as needed.
  4. Add the flour and salt and beat just until dough comes together.
  5. Pat the dough into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Preheat the over to 325 degrees. Score the chilled dough into 8 wedges with a sharp knife and then prick all over with a fork. Brush the surface with the remaining saffron water. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the top, if using, followed by the sugar.
  6. Bake the shortbread until firm and dark golden around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool briefly in the pan on a wire rack. Release the springform band or gently turn the shortbread out of the pan. Recut the wedges along the scored lines with a serrated knife and cool completely.
Got cooking questions? Email [email protected].
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About The Author

Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen is a food writer for Seven Days. She is an award-winning cookbook author and journalist who has covered food and agriculture in Vermont for 20 years.


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