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Traditional Cornish Recipes

Saffron Cake & Saffron Buns

Saffron Cake

It has been suggested that the recipe for Saffron Cake was brought to Cornwall long ago by the Phoenicians who came to barter for tin; be that as it may, the Cornish have long relished those heavenly slices of golden sunshine that can only be cut from a Saffron cake.

Traditionally, not only cakes but buns were baked. Sixty years ago when Sunday Schools flourished in the county, once a year the scholars were bussed to the seaside for a day's outing and each child was given a "Tea Treat Bun", which was a saffron bun the size of a tea plate.

Ingredients to make 2 Saffron Cakes plus about 6 Buns

Saffron Buns
  • 1000 grams of plain bread flour
  • 500 grams of butter
  • 250 grams of currants
  • 250 grams of raisins
  • 125 grams of candied lemon peel
  • 50 grams of castor sugar
  • 50 grams of fresh yeast *
  • 0.4 grams of fresh saffron
  • 300 ml water
  • Butter and Cornish Cream to complete the treat.

* The fresh yeast can be obtained from most supermarket bakery departments.
I can't vouch for all shops and supermarkets but my local Sainsburys certainly sells it. If you can't find it on the shelves, go to the bakery department and ask one of the bakers.

I personally think the best saffron around at the moment is made by SCHWARTZ. It currently cost about £3.50 for 0.4 grams. It's expensive but thousands of saffron crocuses are needed to make a few grains of saffron!

How to Make Cornish Saffron Cake & Saffron Buns

  1. The day before you plan to cook, place the saffron threads in a bowl, pour over them three tablespoons of boiling water and leave them to soak over night.
  2. Next day, place the yeast into a large bowl with a teaspoon of sugar. Add four tablespoons of warm water and a tablespoon of the flour. Mix together and leave the mixture to form a spongy mixture.
  3. Place the remaining flour and sugar in a very large mixing bowl. Add the butter sliced into small pieces and crumble together to give a fine bread crumb texture.
  4. Stir in the dried fruit and lemon peel. Mix well.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the mixture. Add a half pint of boiling water to the saffron and stir well. Pour this mixture into the well, then add the yeast and fold the mixture together.
  6. Knead the mixture for least 15 minutes. It should then have a soft and elastic feel.
  7. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp cloth and place it in a warm place such as an airing cupboard and leave until the mixture has risen to twice its previous size.
  8. Knead the mixture once again, then divide the dough into two one lb bread tins and use the remaining dough to form round balls on a baking tray. Alternatively you can divide the dough into one bread tin and make more buns, or divide it all into buns, as required.
  9. Place the tins and the baking tray in a warm place for another 20 minutes.
  10. In the meantime preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the cakes for 20 minutes at 180°C, then turn down to oven to 170°C and bake for a further 30 minutes. When the cakes are ready they will sound hollow when you tap the bottom.
  11. The buns should be baked for 30 minutes at 170°C.

Note: The temperature settings given here are for a fan oven; for other types of oven refer to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serving Suggestions

Saffron Cake and buns can be eaten straight from the oven but benefit from a day maturing in a covered storage container.

The cake can be sliced and eaten as it is or spread with butter or clotted cream or, better still, both.

Recipe by Dorothy Benney (Falmouth, Cornwall)

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