What are my special features?
The Cornish Saffron cake is now normally made as an oblong loaf, but can also be made as buns, or as a round loaf. Whilst always called a cake, the texture is akin to a sweet yeasted spiced fruit bread, and almost always served thickly spread with lots of Cornish butter. The cake has a deep golden crust and a pronounced yellow crumb which is speckled with fruits. The flavour can be described as mildly sweet with a slightly astringent saffron flavour.
Recipes for saffron cake vary in combinations of spices and dried fruits, village to village, however, the basic recipe contains flour, sugar, fruit, fat – traditionally lard – yeast and saffron. In order to release the colour, flavour and scent, the saffron must be infused in hot water.
Due to the high price of saffron, producers have frequently and deliberately confused saffron with turmeric and a common replacement nowadays is yellow food colouring.
What is my history?
Saffron comes from the plant Crocus Sativus, which is indigenous to the near East. The Romans brought Saffron to England, and Cornwall was a principle trading point for tin which was traded for Saffron and other goods. Saffron growing became established in Cornwall in both the Bude and Mounts Bay areas of the county, and in the east of England around Cambridgeshire and Essex, where the town Saffron Waldon takes its name.
The spice was widely used in British cookery between 1600 and 1700. However, the emergence of other spices and commercial dyes in 1700 led to the decline in saffron, with the exception of Cornwall. The use of saffron within Cornish sweet breads and buns is largely responsible for the survival of saffron within Britain. Originally, saffron buns were eaten with clotted cream on Good Friday, and then later adopted more generally by the Methodist church, for which Cornwall was a stronghold, for their “Tea treats” which ensured that this delicious loaf did not die out.
Almost all saffron is now imported, but it is still grown on a very small scale in parts of the UK, including Cornwall.
Why am I forgotten?
The Cornish Saffron cake is almost entirely produced in Cornwall and is threatened due to this much localised area of production.
Don’t lose me… cook me!