Sparkling Saffron Cocktail

In Recipe by Sean26 Comments

Sparkling Saffron Cocktail

With Spanish Cava

Sometimes a recipe reveals itself to you. That’s always fun – a flash of inspiration, things click, and you know just what you’ll do. This is not one of those recipes. This is the opposite of that. This is a recipe that starts out with an ingredient and the simplest thread of an idea, forcing you to carefully concoct a plan and assemble all of the pieces. In this case, the ingredient that I started with was was quite literally a thread – saffron.

I’ve experimented with saffron on-and-off over the years, but I think I’m finally hooked now. It’s an ingredient with a potent and utterly unique flavour that warrants careful consideration. As is often the case with strong and distinctive ingredients, you have to tread a thin line when it comes to flavour pairings; weak or subtle tastes won’t stand up to the saffron, while bold and powerful flavours run the risk of masking, overwhelming, or clashing with it. I often take a trial-and-error approach to this kind of thing, but in this case I took a rather more academic and sensory approach. I’ve been reading an incredible cocktail book called The Bar Chef by Frankie Solarik, and it really got me thinking about this drink (and all cocktails) from a complete sensory perspective. The importance is of taste is still paramount, but the scent and even the texture of the ingredients guided me almost as much when I developed this recipe. The saffron takes center stage in a simple syrup, but it shares some of the spotlight with fragrant green cardamom (another classically pricey spice). Acidity and bitterness balance the heady floral sweetness, and these come from fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Sparkling Spanish Cava (a wine made using the same in-bottle fermentation that characterizes champagne) brings a dry, somewhat fruity flavour to mix, along with an effervescent texture. I was pretty happy with this combination, but I wanted to do something else to really bring the cocktail to life. For that, I turned to another flower – rose. Rosewater is a wonderful ingredient, but it’s very easy to overuse. The smallest amount has the ability to make food and drink evoke memories of soap. Your grandma’s soap, to be specific. So, with The Bar Chef fresh in my mind, I decided to focus only on the scent. Rosewater makes the subtlest of appearances in the liquid used to soak and sugar the rim. It appears and lingers for only a moment before the tastes and textures of the cocktail take over.

On Saffron & Inspiration

From a modern culinary perspective, saffron is a funny thing. It’s well known even to those who don’t cook very often, and yet it evokes an aura of complex, exotic and expensive cuisine. On top of that, it’s not exactly the most obvious of ingredients when it comes to its use in the kitchen. It’s ostensibly a spice, but it doesn’t really look like (or get used like) any other spice in the cupboard. I think that many cooks and even professional chefs shy away from saffron because of the complexity (and again, expense) it brings to mind. But in order to really understand (and love) saffron, you need to experience it. It lends a brilliant yellow colour to foods, but it’s really the flavour that’s unmistakable. It’s never easy to describe flavours, and that’s doubly true for saffron. It tastes… well, like saffron. Unsatisfying, I know – but that’s exactly why you need to give it a shot. And given that I just scored 5g of premium Spanish saffron for free (!) you’ll probably see more of it around here soon. A little goes a long way, so I’ve got lots to experiment with.

While I love the flavour of saffron, it was actually botany that planted the seed for this recipe in my mind (#Iseewhatyoudidthere). Every few months, I participate in a little blogging collaboration called Connecting Over Cocktails (more on that below). We pick a theme, develop new cocktail recipes, and all post at the same time (check out the links at the bottom of the page for more information). This time around, we decided to embrace spring and think floral. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for about 5 years now, and I’ve gotten pretty hooked on the sudden floral explosion that accompanies a Vancouver spring. Witch hazel, cherry trees, hyacinth, daffodils and more all make very early appearances around here. Having grown up in a much colder part of Canada, I’m always pretty pleased by this, and I figured that I’d have all kinds of inspiration for this cocktail. As luck would have it, we’ve had an unseasonably cool and rather rainy/snowy spring around here, and everything is way, WAY behind, leaving me a feeling a bit blasé – not to mention spoiled (I realize I’m not getting much sympathy from my frozen compatriots in the rest of the country). Luckily one beautiful and tenacious little plant has managed to erupt from our damp black soil – crocus. Crocus is a beautiful little flower, and in some parts of the world it will bloom while there’s still snow on the ground, making it one of our earliest harbingers of spring. It’s also the source of saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.

Now before I accidentally set off a foraging gold rush, I should point out that the crocus that grows here (or, in all likelihood, anywhere near you) is not the same crocus that yields saffron. The saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is a fall-flowering plant that’s unknown in the wild. It’s triploid, meaning that it has three copies of every chromosome – the same genetic feature that gives us seedless bananas and watermelons. This also means that it can’t reproduce by seed, and that the plant has been entirely dependent on humans growing, dividing, and spreading the roots (called corms) for literally thousands of years. The spice itself is the dried red stamen of the flower, and it can only be reliably harvested by hand. All of this makes saffron a rather unusual and incredibly labour-intensive spice – a fact that’s reflected by its often astronomical price tag. Prices vary depending on source and quality, but $10 (US) per gram is not unusual. That’s about 5 times the price of silver, and about 1/4 the price of pure gold. This means that saffron has always had a certain luxury status, and that it has been used in a very deliberate way. Oddly enough, saffron replacements, adulterated saffron, and moderately priced (but lower grade) saffron have all become common enough that more attention seems to be placed on the colour than the flavour in many circles, but I think that this cocktail can convince anyone that the slender red stamens’ true appeal is for the palate.

Recipe Notes

Alright, let’s talk about making these bad boys. I’ve given pretty detailed instructions in the recipe section below, but it never hurts to cover a few extra points. Let me also go on the record to say that, while I may have mentioned a pretty hardcore cocktail book above AND used some less familiar ingredients, this is actually a very easy cocktail to make. No fancy equipment needed, and no complicated steps involved. If you make the simple syrup ahead of time, you can make one of these in about 2 minutes.

So… is this expensive?

Let’s get to this one right off the bat. This cocktail sure seems fancy-shmancy, but it’s not going to break the bank. Yes, saffron is expensive – but you’re using what amounts to about 0.2 grams – about 2 bucks worth. And that makes WAY more syrup than you’ll need for this recipe alone (see quantities below). Green cardamom has historically been an expensive spice, but it’s not going to break the bank these days. Spanish sparkling Cava is made using the same fermented-in-bottle process as Champagne, but it remains one of the wine world’s best deals. The bottle I used for this retails for around $14 (CAD) in my neck of the woods, and it’s a wonderful wine and a fantastic value. Even if you don’t take the extra syrup you’ll end up with into account, these are only going to cost about $3 per glass, and that’s erring on the high side.

Ingredients

Saffron – Go for the best stuff you can find (and don’t buy too much unless you plan on doing a lot of saffron recipes, or you have money to burn).  Good saffron can be found from many regions around the world, including (but not limited to) Spain, Iran, Pakistan, and Italy.  Avoid powdered saffron, as it is frequently adulterated with other ingredients.  DO NOT use a saffron replacement like turmeric or sassafras; these ingredients replicate saffron in terms of colour, but not in terms of flavour.  Annoyingly, sassafras flowers are sometimes sold as ‘American saffron,’ which is wildly misleading.  Basically, if the price seems too good to be true – it is.

Green Cardamom – Whole cardamom pods are increasingly found in a variety of markets, but Indian grocery stores are probably your best bet for fresh and relatively inexpensive stuff.  Make sure you’re using whole pods, and not the small black seeds alone.  Don’t use ground cardamom either; the flavour of pre-ground cardamom fades fast, it’ll be difficult to figure out how much to use, AND it will be hard to strain out of the syrup.  Don’t use black cardamom – it’s a great ingredient, but it’s heady medicinal flavour will not work here.

Cava – A delightful sparkling wine from Spain, I went with cava because of the Spanish connection to saffron, because I like it, and because it’s a phenomenally priced wine given the great quality and flavour.  I used a brut (fairly dry) cava.  Sweet and semi-sweet varieties are available, but I personally think they’d be too sugary for this cocktail.  If you can’t find cava, champagne, prosecco, or another dry sparkling white wine will work.

Rosewater – Rosewater is often available at well-stocked grocery stores, but you’ll definitely find it at Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores.  Make sure you measure carefully, and don’t overdo it, as a little bit of rosewater goes a very long way.

Grapefruit – Red grapefruit works well for the colour here, but I think you’d be fine with white as well.  In a pinch, you could substitute pure grapefruit juice as long as it’s not sweetened, but the freshly squeezed stuff tends to have a bit more of the bitterness that really helps make the sweet ingredients pop.

Quantities

There are two important things to note here: first, the recipe makes far more simple syrup than you need, and second, the recipe is for 6 cocktails.  Here’s why:

Simple Syrup – I deliberately chose to make a fairly large quantity of simple syrup for a couple of reasons.  First, because you’re dealing with relatively small amounts of saffron, it’s tough to scale it down much further.  Second, it keeps really well in the fridge (for up to 6 months), and it makes wonderful drinks, including non-alcoholic ones.  I’m currently drinking some with a little club soda and some blood orange juice.  It’s perfect.  That being said, if you’re looking to but back a bit, you could probably halve the recipe and still be alright, though you may find the saffron a little stronger or weaker – after all, ‘half a pinch’ is a tough measurement to approximate.

6 Cocktails – I normally give instructions and information for a single cocktail, but given that cava is a sparkling product and that one bottle makes 6 cocktails, I decided to assume that you’d be making that many.  If you’re making more, you won’t need extra syrup (see the note immediately above).  If you’re making less, seek out a sparkling wine stopper at a liquor store so that your extra cava won’t go flat in the fridge.

Mocktail Option

While it won’t have the exact same character as the original, a non-alcoholic sparkling wine or even simple club soda can be used to create a very lovely alcohol-free cocktail.

Connecting Over Cocktails

As I mentioned above, this cocktail was part of a collaboration with a wonderful group of Canadian food bloggers. Each of us has published a new drink today*, and I’m happy to tell you a bit about all of them here. I hope you’ll check out their drinks, and their sites – these people are incredibly talented, and I’m happy to call them my colleagues, and my friends.  Here are the amazing floral- and/or spring-inspired cocktails they’ve dreamed up:

Samantha from My Kitchen Love (who is new to our group, and all-around awesome) has gifted the world a Rhubarb Pisco Sour.
Meaghan from Un Assagio (also new to our group, and also awesome) has a superb sounding Rose Julep.
Jared at The Hesitant Chef brings us his Hopped White Lady, which is a kickin’ drink, and not a particularly springy WASP.
Justine from Justine Celina brings us a glorious Coastal Orange Blossom Gin Cocktail.
Jen from Mud On Her Boots has a delightfully named Lavender Orange Bees Knees.
Dana at Killing Thyme has a gorgeous Spiked Hibiscus Tea
Taylor from The Girl on Bloor has a refreshing Cucumber Basil Gin Fizz.

There you have it!  May your April showers bring flowers in the garden – and the kitchen.

Til next time – Cheers.

*due to time zones and the vagaries of life, some posts might be up a little later in the day than others.  Check back!


Nutrition Facts
Sparkling Saffron Cava Cocktail
Amount Per Serving
Calories 168 Calories from Fat 0
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0.01g 0%
Saturated Fat 0.001g 0%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.001g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.001g
Sodium 8mg 0%
Potassium 130mg 4%
Total Carbohydrates 19g 6%
Dietary Fiber 0.05g 0%
Sugars 17g
Protein 0.2g 0%
Vitamin C 13%
Calcium 1%
Iron 3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Note: Nutritional information is given for a single cocktail.

GOOD NEWS:
This drink avoids being overly sweet or overly alcohol-heavy, so it’s fairly low in calories. It’s also got a respectable amount of Vitamin C… so that’s nice.

BAD NEWS:
Nothing really – it’s big on flavour without being heavy and calorie-rich. Consume in moderation, and always drink responsibly.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Dairy-free
  • Gluten free
  • Vegan

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Sparkling Saffron Cocktail - Saffron-Cardamom Simple Syrup, Grapefruit Juice, and Sparkling Spanish Cava - Diversivore.com
Sparkling Saffron Cava Cocktail
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Servings Prep Time
6 drinks 20 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
5 minutes 4.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 drinks 20 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
5 minutes 4.5 hours
Sparkling Saffron Cocktail - Saffron-Cardamom Simple Syrup, Grapefruit Juice, and Sparkling Spanish Cava - Diversivore.com
Sparkling Saffron Cava Cocktail
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Servings Prep Time
6 drinks 20 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
5 minutes 4.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 drinks 20 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
5 minutes 4.5 hours
Ingredients
Saffron-Cardamom Syrup
Glass Rim
To Serve (Measurements are for each drink)
Servings: drinks
Units:
Instructions
Saffron-Cardamom Simple Syrup
  1. (Optional but recommended) Wrap the saffron in a small square of aluminum foil, then toast in a hot pan or oven for about 1 minute. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
  2. Lightly crush the saffron threads (e.g. with a mortar and pestle) and place into a small container. Pour hot water over the saffron, then loosely cover the liquid and set it aside, ideally for about 4 hours (see note).
  3. Lightly crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle in order to break them up into pieces. Place the cardamom in a small saucepan along with the liquid from the saffron (you can filter out the saffron threads now or later), cold water, and the sugar. Heat the mixture on the stove top, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture is simmering gently, remove it from heat and let it stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Pour the simple syrup through a fine strainer to remove the cardamom and saffron solids. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
To Serve
  1. Squeeze enough red grapefruit to yield about 200 ml (a little over 3/4 cup) of juice. Two medium sized grapefruit should do the job. Pour the juice through a fine strainer in order to remove any pith or pulp. Set 15 ml (1 tbsp) aside for the rims, and chill the rest of the juice for the cocktails.
  2. Before preparing the drinks, combine the liquids soaking the glass rims in a small flat dish or bowl. In a separate bowl, pour a small quantity of granulated sugar (enough to cover the glass rims - you can always add a little extra if you run low).
  3. Prepare 6 champagne flutes by dipping the rims into the soaking liquid, then into the granulated sugar. Set them aside.
  4. To each cocktail, add 15 ml (1/2 oz) of simple syrup and 30 ml (1 oz) grapefruit juice. Top up each glass with about 125 ml (1/2 cup or 4.2 oz) of chilled sparkling Cava. Garnish with grapefruit zest and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Four hours is generally considered to be a good amount of time to extract the maximum amount of flavour, but if you're pressed for time, simply steep it for as long as you can manage (ideally no less than 15-20 minutes). The flavour may not be as rich or complex, but it will still capture the unique taste and aroma of saffron.

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Comments

  1. I seriously feel like I leave your blog more educated every time I visit it. I had no idea that Saffron comes from what is basically a domesticated plant now or that it could be this good in a cocktail. I applaud you and all all the details you share! This cava cocktail need to make an appearance very soon at my house. Bedtime to be exact. Cava is my favourite of all the bubbles and any excuse to enjoy it is a good one. Cheers Sean!!

    1. Author

      Thank you Samantha! It’s an interesting plant… honestly I just get so hooked on sharing these strange and fascinating little food tidbits. I’m glad they’re being enjoyed and appreciated. I’m going to have to make an effort to get a glass of this into your hands some time soon!

  2. What a unique and spring-worthy cocktail combination! Well done on all accounts, especially that rose water rinse. It has me intrigued because I’m a huge fan of an absinthe rinse. I bet this has a similar effect.

    1. Author

      Thank you Bernice! The floral element, the late-season citrus, and the bubbly cava all made it feel very springy to me, but I think it’d be rather well at home during any time of the year. The rose water is so important here, but it’s got to be subtle lest it overwhelm. I’m sure that the effect is quite similar to the absinthe rinse overall.

  3. hmmm…well. Once again Sean, you leave me totally impressed! Only you would use harbinger and saffron in the same breath. Love it. And seriously, until now I really believed I could pick saffron out of my neighbour’s croci (isn’t my face red!). I love red grapefruit and will be adding this to the list of bucket list drinks I plan to make before summer’s end. (And, it’s worth saying again: great lamp!)

    1. Author

      Hah, well thank you Jen. I’ve always been curious whether or not other crocus varieties have a flavour anything like saffron, but I’m not exactly sure if I should go about testing it. I hope you enjoy this one when you get a chance to try it. I’ve done two rounds of it now and I’m still very much in love with it.
      (And that lamp was awfully fun to shoot – glad it’s got an appreciative audience)

    1. Author

      Thank you Ayngelina. I have to say, I was blown away by the quality given the price point. Champagne is nice and all, but I think I’m a cava convert.

  4. Ah Sean — I love everything about this recipe! I love Cava (as I’m sure you’ve read) and I’m so intrigued by this ingredient combination. As others have mentioned, I feel like I’m getting world-class culinary education every time I read the pages of Diversivore. Thank you for always being so informative and for breaking down barriers or stigmas attached to certain ingredients.

    I haven’t worked much with Saffron, but I plan to get my hands on some and try this recipe the next time bubbles are in order (I still have a bottle from my Blood Orange Creamsicle Mimosa phase!).

    As always, it was a pleasure collaborating with you and so lovely to meet you this month. Cheers to many more editions of Connecting Over Cocktails!

    1. Author

      Your love of cava had me thinking of you more than once while working on this one Justine! I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe and the information behind it. I think food is endlessly fascinating, and I hope my enthusiasm for it will help demystify and encourage others to step into the kitchen a little more often. I hope that this goes well for you when you do get to try some saffron. It’s a wonderful and unmistakable ingredient to be sure, and it’s one I’ve very much enjoyed working with. In fact I have another recipe with it coming up quite soon.

      I’m always so happy to get to collaborate with you too, and it’s always such a joy to have your comments here on the site. Cheers!

  5. What a great collaboration you have going on with other talented fellow bloggers! It’s always nice to read your posts, I usyally take some time off from what I’m doing, sit down, and relax while learning a whole lot of new things! I am very familiar with good saffron, but unfortunately knew nothing about cava. What a shame! With Loreto we’re really bad in the “drinking” department 😁. I love everything about this cocktail from the flavors to the texture and color! Another great job, and great pictures!

    1. Author

      Thank you Nicoletta! I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts (and my endless barrage of information). Cava is definitely worth exploring, especially if you’re a fan of bubbly. To be honest, I wasn’t much of a cocktail maker before I started doing these collaborations, but I’ve gotten pretty hooked. It’s a wonderful variation on the more culinary recipe development I’m usually doing. Thanks for the compliments, and for coming by. Cheers!

  6. If I could somehow express the drooling nature of my expression right now I would. This sounds right up my alley- I love the mix of flavours and the incorporate of – gasp!- saffron, a spice that I’ve loved but only used in savory dishes. I’m so intrigued!! Thanks for sharing Sean 🙂

    1. Author

      Given it’s hay-like, iodine flavour, I can see how many would balk at the idea of saffron in a drink. But it works! The sweetness, bitterness, and floral components from the rose and citrus zest all make for a really powerful yet balanced drink, and somehow saffron just fits in their like a key in a lock. I’m glad it appeals to you too! Thanks for coming by and commenting.

  7. I would have never thought to use saffron in a drink! I’ve never even bought it to use in food before because the price always turns me off! Haha. I *really* need to just grab some sometime. I want to make a paella, anyway.

    This drink sounds delicious and looks oh-so-refreshing — seems like it would be a wonderful brunch drink! I also love the mood and setting of these photos.

    Great work as always, my friend!

    1. Author

      At this point (he said, finally catching up on his comments a month later) I don’t even remember what possessed me to give it a shot. I think it just seemed like an interesting idea. Of course a quick trip to the Googles and I realized that others before me had done saffron syrups, but I was quite pleased with my idea to incorporate cardamom. I completely understand being put off by the price of saffron. I avoided it for the same reason for a long time. But a little bit goes a long way, and it has an incredible character. Of course I recently came into possession of a rather large quantity of good Spanish saffron for free, so I think I’m going to have to start using it a LOT more. Paella sounds like a good idea. So does another round of these cocktails.

      Cheers, and thank you.

  8. Seriously- I bought saffron awhile back, but it’s so stinking expensive that I was afraid to use it because I might “waste” it. Now it’s been sitting there for over 6 months and I NEED to use it so it doesn’t go stale.. This is brilliant! I’m doing it for my next date night.. or maybe this afternoon (because, why not!) I love this!!!!

    1. Author

      Isn’t it funny how we do that? We convince ourselves that we don’t want to waste something special, so we end up never using it. I’m glad you like the drink Sarah – it’s got a wonderfully unique character and it’s easy to make too. On top of that, it really highlights the taste of saffron (and cardamom), making it a nice introduction for those looking to become more familiar with it. Thanks for commenting – I hope you got a chance to take a stab at this!

  9. I’ve got some saffron but haven’t opened it yet and am not experienced in using it so I really appreciate your comments regarding using it! I love grapefruit in a beverage and mixed with cava sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m definitely going to have to give this beverage a try.

    1. Author

      I’m glad I could help, Julie! I know it can be daunting using an unfamiliar ingredient that also happens to be pricey. Thanks for commenting, and I hope you enjoy the drink!

  10. Sean, this is such a beautiful cocktail — at first, I was thinking perfect for brunch – but the more I read, the more sophisticated it sounds — as if I should be wearing my good pearls to have a sip. I like to make my own simple syrups, but I’ve never even thought to use saffron in it. It has such a unique flavor, I give you credit for coming up with a pairing that would compliment it. That said, I love saffron. There’s always some in the pantry – and we’re having brunch on Sunday….

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Lisa! I think it’s a pretty multi-purpose cocktail. It definitely works with brunch (especially if you’ve got some Iberian, Mediterranean, or Persian flavours in the mix), but it dresses up awfully nicely too. I’m glad you like the recipe, and I hope the simple syrup becomes a part of your rotation. I happily polished mine off with club soda – it makes a great drink on its own.

  11. I always love hearing other ideas for cocktails, since cocktails are 90% of what we blog, so it’s always great when other bloggers are doing it as well! I love the group you have going there, how much fun and inspiration for you! I adore all of the spices and ingredients you have listed and used, and I could almost taste this drink as you described it! Cheers to you!

    1. Author

      Thank you Leah! You guys definitely have some out-of-this-world amazing drinks, so I’m happy to know this one clicked with you. Cheers!

  12. This is one complex cocktail! I love how there is clearly so much care that went into the development of this recipe. I see this Sparkling Saffron going over well at a Bridal shower or an intimate and polished wine and cheese night (which I have a summer goal of hosting 😉 )!

    Loving the photos, please tell me that is your normal light fixture!

    1. Author

      There’s a lot going on, but it’s actually pretty easy all-in-all. If you make the simple syrup ahead of time (since it keeps for ages), it comes together in a snap. I know this for a fact, as I bought another bottle of cava after this went live. Woohoo! It would definitely go nicely at an intimate gathering! I do hope you’ll get to give it a shot.

      As for the light – it’s not mine! I shot this recipe at a friend’s party (because we food bloggers are weird folks) and I got to have a lot of fun with their decor. The lamp has certainly been a hit. 🙂

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