Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Saffron Cake

Saffron is an amazing spice which can be used in both sweet and savoury cooking to great effect. It is also a popular ingredient for use in baking in the British Isles and Scandinavia where it is commonly used in yeasted breads and buns.

Saffron is a much sought after spice made up of the stigmas gathered from a variety of crocus which are dried and used as a seasoning and a colouring agent in food. The colour that saffron imparts is a truly beautiful deep golden yellow and the taste is unique and hard to describe being fragrant and gently spicy at the same time. It is important that you don’t go overboard when adding the saffron because it can result in a slightly ‘soapy’ taste which can be overpowering.

Saffron is extraordinarily expensive to buy and it appears that you get a relatively small amount for the price you pay. Every time that I use saffron in my cooking I invariably tell my children that weight-for-weight, saffron is more expensive than gold – I think that they are getting rather fed-up of hearing it; but it’s true.
Saffron is an essential ingredient in Paella and also in a simple Risotto alla Milanese – two wonderful rice dishes hailing from Spain and Italy respectively. I have been experimenting with saffron recently and have used it in a sweet rice pudding and also in a syrup in which I poached some pears. Both dishes were absolutely lovely and once I have perfected the recipes, I will post them up on the blog.
The following recipe for Saffron Cake is a play on saffron bread (sometimes also called ‘cake’) which contains currants and is traditionally eaten in Cornwall in the south-west of England, where saffron was grown in the past. This cake is based on one that my aunt Barbara used to make and which I think she originally found on the back of a spice packet. This is essentially a light fruit cake with added saffron, filled and topped with a cream cheese icing similar to that you would get on a carrot cake. I find that the lactic tanginess and the hint of sweetness work well with the saffron and fruit in the cake.
This is a lovely, simple cake with an air of nostalgia about it.


1tsp saffron strands
30ml boiling water
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
275g self-raising flour, sifted
75g currants
50g butter, softened
100g cream cheese
200g icing sugar, sifted


1. Place the saffron strands in a small bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave aside for a couple of hours.
2. Preheat oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Line an 18cm round cake tine with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
3. Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, cream together until light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the eggs, making sure they are well incorporated before adding more.
4. Add the sifted flour and using a large metal spoon fold in along with the saffron water and strands until everything is fully mixed together. Finally add the currants and mix through the batter.
5. Spoon the cake batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula of the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 70-85 minutes or until the cake is well risen and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin and allowing to finish cooling on a wire rack.
7. Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
8. Using a sharp knife, divide the cake into two across the middle do you are left with a top and a bottom half. Spread half the icing over the bottom half and place the other half of the cake on top. Spread or pipe the remaining icing on top of the cake and dust with a little extra icing sugar. Serve.
Serves 6-8.