Traditional recipes intrigue me. Saffron intriques me. Let’s just say I’m easily intrigued. But making a recipe that’s traditional, and an old recipe from a particular place doesn’t make me an expert. Obviously. I just wanted to make something with saffron in it. Something that wasn’t too sweet, but not a savory dish. This seemed to fit the bill. Even though it says “cake”, it’s sort of a cross between a cake and a loaf of bread.
Except. I had to put off doing it for awhile, because it called for a fair amount of saffron, and saffron isn’t cheap. So I put this recipe to the side and decided to try it once I got hold of some cheap saffron to practice with.
Enter Trader Joe’s. I’ve been shopping there more and more, since getting rid of our car, because there are a couple of them that are easy to get to, by foot, or by bus. Anyways, I noticed that they sell one gram of saffron for $6, which is roughly one third of the usual price at most grocery stores that sell saffron. Of course, the quality probably isn’t as good, but still. So I bought a few bottles.
(This is what happens when you just throw un-activated dry yeast into the dough.)
The first time I made it, I used this recipe, which said to just dump the yeast into the dough and let it rise for a few hours. As soon as I dumped it in, I realized that they are probably referring to use fresh yeast, but it was too late to try and take the active dry yeast out, or start all over. It did rise, but very little, and it basically tasted and looked like a quick bread, but was very heavy, and after a day, not very good at all.
So I had to try it again, but maybe use a different recipe.
This time, I think I got it right. This was a better recipe, and luckily, I still had all the ingredients I needed, including the saffron. The only thing that turned out different than what I was expecting was that it was a little lopsided at the top. Oh well. At least the dough rose, and it felt lighter and more like a yeast bread should feel and look, I think.
(Once, I sliced it, it didn’t look as lopsided, as it does here!)
Saffron Cake (adapted from Baking For Britain)
1 and 1/2 gram of saffron threads
600ml hot milk
1000g unbleached white bread flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
300g unsalted butter, diced
100g light muscovado sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
14g active dry yeast
160g dried currants
1. Grease a large 14 inch Pullman pan, or two 9-inch by 5-inch bread loaf pans. Set aside.
2. Heat the milk in a small stove top pan until very hot, but not quite boiling. Remove from heat and place into a heat-proof container. I used a mason canning jar that holds 600 ml almost exactly and has a lid. Stir to let the saffron threads start to impart their color and flavor to the milk. Let sit for a few hours. (The recipe said to let sit overnight, but I thought the flavor and color was enough after just a couple of hours! I did use more saffron, though.)
3. After a couple of hours, stir milk/saffron mixture to blend again, and pour half of it into a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of the sugar and if milk has gotten too cold, heat up in the microwave to get it lukewarm, roughly 110 degrees. Place yeast into warm milk/saffron mixture with the sugar and stir gently, then let sit until foamy. If not foamy, it means that the yeast is dead and you’ll need to start all over.
4. Add the flour and salt together into a bowl and stir with a whisk several times. Add the butter to this flour mixture and rub the butter together with your fingers, like making pie dough, until the flour resembles coarse sand. After yeast and milk mixture is foamy, add the remaining sugar into the flour mixture and whisk to blend the sugar thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the yeast/milk mixture, and the remaining milk/saffron mixture, and use a rubber or wood spatula to mix the liquid into the flour to make a dough. After a while, you may continue to knead using a utensil, or your hands, to work the dough until it is less sticky and more pliable, about 10 minutes.
5. Add currants and mix thoroughly in bowl, again with your hands, or a utensil, to incorporate well, another minute or so. Put plastic wrap over the bowl and leave undisturbed in a warm place in your kitchen to rise, about 1-3 hours, until doubled.
6. Punch down doubled dough, to remove air pockets and reincorporate ingredients. Shape into a loaf and place in tin, or tins. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Top should be fairly browned, and bottom should sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
As an aside, it snowed yesterday!! The last time it snowed in Seattle, several days before Christmas, it melted within a few hours. This time, it stuck around for about a day. I love snow!