There are very few recipes that still hold onto their heritage as tightly as Saffron Cake. It has a very special place in Cornish culture as the queen of all Cornish cakes. I've only ever seen it in homes and bakeries in and around Cornwall. If you're not familiar with it, I would probably describe it as a fruity, yeasted dough cake with an incredibly distinctive, aromatic smell and flavour.
When I was a child it was one of the recipes my grandmother made regularly. Both my grandparents and parents lived on St Michael's Mount, in the far west of Cornwall and were steeped in Cornish heritage and traditions.
The use of saffron in baking is really ancient. It was apparently introduced by the Phoenicians, from the eastern Mediterranean, who traded spices for Cornish tin in pre-Roman times. Then, as now, saffron was a luxury. Saffron is in fact the dried stigmas of crocus flowers and gives a really exotic, distinctive flavour to the cake.
Here is my version of this Cornish classic.
450g of plain flour, 1/2 tsp saffron, dried in the oven for ten mins, crushed and covered with 3 tbsp boiling water, 1 tsp of instant active yeast, 1tsp mixed spice, 225g currants, 25g of mixed peel, 225g of butter, 100g sugar, pinch of salt, 375ml of warm milk.
- First put the saffron in the oven on low on some baking paper for a couple of minutes to make sure its nice and dry, then crush it and cover with boiling water. Let it steep for at least 30 mins, longer if you can.
- Rub the fat into the flour, add salt, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix. Warm the milk and mix with the saffron. Make a well in the mix and pour in the liquid a bit at a time, the liquid needed can vary depending on the flour Then either tip onto a floured surface and knead gently or let your machine do the work until the mixture is soft, smooth and dough like.
- Place in a warm spot to let it rise a bit, usually a couple of hours. It won't rise anything like as much as bread dough. Then knead again and put into a lightly oiled large loaf tin to prove for an hour.
- Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees centigrade and bake for 60-90 minutes. Turn out and cool. You can glaze the top if you like, I used a sugar and water mix with just a sprinkle of Cornish Sea Salt. Then cut into slices and smear with butter or Rodda's clotted cream for a great tea time snack!
Enjoy with a good cup of tea, perhaps from one of our lovely bone china mugs.
You might enjoy this recipe with our wonderful Masala Chai - a great tea brew that I discovered on a trip to Rajasthan in India or have a go at our Boiled Fruit Cake, both available through our Journal.