Saffron Cake, Traditional Cornish Recipe

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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.

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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.


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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.

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(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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

8 responses to “Saffron Cake, Traditional Cornish Recipe”

    • It’s really hard to describe. I really enjoy the smell and looks of it. The smell and taste of saffron is one of a kind! Grassy, maybe? It’s like a subtle yet not so subtle flavor. I think the butter mixed into the dough gives it a very rich, luxurious flavor and mouthfeel, but it’s not as soft and airy like I thought it would be. It reminds me of brioche, but denser, yet has sort of a crunchiness to it. When I sliced it fresh out of the oven, it was like each slice was already toasted, if that makes any sense. Definitely will be making this again and again, maybe using better quality saffron. We’ve been toasting slices of it and slathering some cream cheese on them for breakfast. I imagine these would be excellent as French toast. Happy baking and thanks for stopping by!


  1. I’ve made this a few times, its a pretty popular recipe w/my family. I grind the saffron and reserve some milk for rinsing the saffron dust from the mortar&pestle, and the flavored milk from the steeping container, to get every bit into the bread, so it gives a nice bright color and steeps relatively quickly.

    This recipe did forget about adding the butter, but from the source recipe linked I guessed and rubbed it and into the flour before step 4, with the salt, which worked well enough. Just adding it here so it’s on the same page as the rest of the recipe, for the future.

    I also made it a couple times with less sugar, for a more savory saffron loaf (it came out really good, it was *very* popular with [indian] chutney and cheese, moreso than jam or sweet toppings). Using two tablespoons (in w/the yeast) worked nearly identically to the full-sugar version, while using none needed more raising time due to less active yeasties.

    an attempt at gluten-free did not work at all well, however I blame the gluten free flour blend and its unrealistic promises of “use your same recipes”. Ah, well, we live and learn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for correcting this! I will work to add that step about adding the butter soon. It’s been so long and I haven’t made this recipe again, so maybe it’s time to revisit it for me. Thanks again.


  2. Oh my! My grandmother is turning in her Cornish grave! 😂 She always said that it was called cake not bread…or should I say yelled at me! I’m smiling as I hope you have discovered by now that the packaged active dried yeast labelled ‘fast’ is indeed put straight into your gently warmed flour! Nanny would have always used fresh yeast and as much saffron as possible! Her cakes or buns were alway deep yellow and…..delicious! Slathered in Cornish salt free butter… and toasted..with butter really brings out the flavour! I’m off to the kitchen it being Christmas Eve but Merry Christmas to you and I might make some Saffron Cake soon! I now have retired to northern Portugal and can buy reasonable ish priced good saffron from ‘next door’ ie Spain! 🤶❤️


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