St Piran’s Day is the day, beyond all others – including Christmas, New Year, even my birthday – when I miss home the most. As you’ll know if you’ve checked in here more than once, Cornwall, the place where I was born and raised, is very much part of my identity (hell, I was even a certified judge in a pasty competition). The day of its patron Saint Piran (5th March) is when social media goes wild with Cornish food, drinks, stories, heritage and songs, and as I watch it all play out from 500 miles up the road, I ache for the cliffs, the sea air, the fresher than fresh produce, even the lack of phone signal.
If you’ve never been to Cornwall, you should go, not least for that queen among teatime treats: Saffron Cake.
Saffron Cake is a sweet, yeasted, buttery bread, a bit like brioche, but flavoured with the spice that’s literally worth more than gold. Saffron is the hand-picked stamens of crocus flowers, and takes a ridiculous amount of time to harvest, hence how pricey it is. You can usually pick up 0.5g for about £3.50-£6.00, depending on where you get it and how high quality it is. The flavour is a bit medicinal, and completely unique – once you recognise the taste and smell, you’ll be able to spot saffron in a dish at twenty paces. Saffron Cake recipes tend to be family secrets, closely guarded by bakers and fiercely defended in arguments. In Cornwall, everyone has their favourite baker to go to for Saffron Cake (Prima Bakeries for me, in case you’re interested), but in the absence of proper Cornish fodder in Scotland, I’ve had to make my own.
This recipe is gleaned from the backs of Saffron Cake packets and from tried and tested yeast cake recipes – it’ll give you a couple of beautiful golden 1kg loaves, to slice and spread with butter.
570g strong white flour
3 sachets of dried yeast
70g caster sugar
2 big pinches of saffron – just over half a box (sorry, bank balance)
50ml boiling water
250g unsalted butter (you could also use an even mix of butter and lard, if you’re not fussy about it being vegetarian)
2/3 tsp salt
200ml of warm water mixed with milk
200g sultanas, currants, or a mixture of both (a traditional saffron cake uses both, but I’m not a fan of currants)
Two 1kg loaf tins
This is made miles easier by using a food processor with a dough hook – if you don’t have one, you’ll definitely need a dough scraper and a clean, flat surface for some pretty high-maintenance kneading
- Add the saffron strands to a cup, pour over the boiling water and leave to infuse – the water will go a gorgeous livid yellow
- Milk the sachets of yeast into the warm water and milk mixture and stir to combine
- Stir together the flour and salt, and rub in the butter/lard until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar.
- Using the dough hook, start to combine the water/yeast mix into the flour mixture, until it has all come together in a thick dough. Tip in the saffron water (including the strands left at the bottom) and continue to mix.
- Increase the mixer speed and let it run on medium for about 5 minutes, until you’ve got a soft, elastic, yellow-looking dough.
- Allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
- After that time, knock the dough back and combine the sultanas and/or currants, ensuring they’re fully dispersed throughout the dough.
- Allow to sit for another 20 minutes in the warm.
- Turn the oven to 180°
- Divide the dough in two, and shape each piece into an oblong shape the rough length of your loaf tins, making sure the top is smooth and the folds and joins are tucked underneath
- Cover the loaves with a cloth and put back in the warm place until the oven has heated up – ideally about 20 minutes. They should rise a little and start to fill out the tins.
- Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then check them – they should be well risen and on their way to being a beautiful golden brown, but they can turn solid quite quickly. In total they’ll need about 35-40 minutes in the oven to be fully baked, so if they’re starting to catch on top, cover them with foil.
- Turn out on to a wire rack to cool. Serve sliced, with cold unsalted butter – toasted if you fancy it.
- Eat within 3 days. Shouldn’t be an issue.
Gool Peran Lowen everyone!