Saffron yeast cake Saffron yeast cake Israeli Kitchen Saffron yeast cake (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Saffron yeast cake

This delectable dessert is both sweet and spicy.

  • Yield: Makes 1 large cake yielding 12-14 slices
  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

I love saffron, but have always limited the use of this pungent spice to savory dishes. What is arroz con pollo without saffron? Answer: A sad thing. And how delicious fish is, covered in a saffrony, lemony, lightly garlicky sauce with a little cilantro stirred in. And how about lentils spiced with cumin, ginger, onion, and saffron? Mmmm.

Saffron and sweet? Never considered it, until several years ago I fell under the spell of Elizabeth David‘s masterful book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery. Ms. David gives recipes for yeast cakes flavored with saffron, originating in the West Country of England. In proof of the cake’s ancient origins, she also presents a few recipes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

I think if Ms. David required me to do jumping jacks to ensure the success of a recipe, I would jump. So, although still doubtful, I took out my little jar of saffron, and proceeded to bake this cake. It’s my adaptation of the formulas presented in her book.


    For the cake

  • 1 1/2 cup hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 cube fresh yeast
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus 1/2-1 cup more for later
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • For the filling

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • For the glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk


Hot milk and saffron threads Hot milk and saffron threads (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Heat the saffron threads in the oven, at low heat, for 5 minutes. This helps to release their flavor thoroughly. I just put them on a folded square of baking parchment and used the same parchment to line the baking pan.

Heat the milk until small bubbles appear at the edges. It shouldn't boil.

Put the saffron threads in a coffee cup and pour hot milk over them to fill the cup. Cover the cup and allow the milk to infuse. After 5 minutes or so, it will be bright yellow.

Pour the rest of the milk over the yeast and cream the mixture.

Melt the butter gently.

Add the saffron-infused milk to the yeast, without straining it.

Add the melted butter.

Add the sugar, salt and raisins. Stir to mix well.

Add the flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir well. It will make a loose dough. Cover it with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and leave it alone for 1 hour or until doubled. Depending on the room temperature, this might take up to 2 hours. It did for me, because my kitchen was cold.

When the dough is doubled and light, add 1/2 to 1 cup more flour, kneading it in to make a soft, but pliable dough. You don’t want a stiff dough like bread.

Roll the dough out to a fat rectangle 3/4″ high.

Mix the brown sugar, the clove and the cinnamon. Spread this all over the dough.

With a knife point or your fingers, cut off small pieces of the cold butter and dot them all over the surface of the sugared dough.

Roll the dough into a rope, from the long edge.

Form a ring, pinching the edges shut in the middle. Pat and coax it into a more or less regular shape.

Allow the cake to rise 1 hour, or until very light. Don’t worry about the hole in the middle closing up.

Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).

Bake the cake for 35 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out of the cake with a moist crumb or two clinging, bake another 5-7 minutes.

Cook the powdered sugar and milk together for the glaze: boil them for about 5 minutes. Powdered sugar has starch in it, which will thicken the glaze slightly. Add the vanilla and continue cooking another minute or so. Let the glaze cool somewhat; it will thicken. But spread it on the cake while both are still hot.

This is a handsome, festive cake, with an unusual but pleasing flavor – if I’m to judge by the rapturous noises my guests made while eating it this evening.

Related Topics: Baking, Desserts

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