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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Saffron Drizzle Cake

Hand-embroidered tea-towel not included!
I've had a crazy week, and I do mean crazy. Honestly, WannaBGourmande.com and Instagram haven't been a priority for me at all. Thursday rolled around and I wasn't sure what I was going to post this week until I got a comment on my Instagram from a dear friend/follower, @VanessaBiglerArt, asking if the recipe for it was on the blog. I said "It can be!" and so it shall be.

I was still in the testing phases of this particular recipe when I got that comment, but I figured that it couldn't hurt to give to someone else with a hair of guidance. Besides, this is what writing a cookbook is all about, isn't it? Interacting with those that might one day read it gives me such a rush, and it helps me learn if I'm a good writer or not. I was so happy to text off the hand-written version of my recipe with a few simple instructions. We'll be getting to the recipe in a moment, but first, a little thing or two about saffron and why you should be cooking with it.

Saffron is, pound-for-pound, the most-expensive spice in the world, commonly known as "red gold." Saffron is so expensive, it's often sold by the gram, with the going rate of saffron by the gram retailing at $6.79 to $8.29. It's about 28 grams to an ounce, so by that math you're spending upwards of $190 per ounce. Why in the world is this?

Saffron Crocus
Learn more here!
Saffron is the little stamen that grows out of this crocus flower, which is a kind of bulb. It's a perennial, so a saffron crop will come back each year, but it's incredibly labor intensive to do. Each flower must be harvested by hand, and each stamen of each flower must be painstakingly harvested by hand and tweezers, and the longer the stem the better. It's obviously quite a long process. Harvesting your own saffron at home is a relaxing yet mindful morning for a dozen flowers or so, but doing it as work is going to not be so relaxing.

About 95% of the world's saffron comes from Iran, where it is grown and harvested. You'll notice saffron in a lot of Spanish cooking, of course, but that is the clear Moorish influence that's occurred over centuries of trade back in the day. You'll see a lot of Moorish/Muslim influence in their architecture as well as their eating if you ever go to Spain! So many things came from these cultures that we use today, and the benefits of these trades haven't gone unnoticed. 

Saffron is prized for the glorious reddish-gold color it gives rices, and the flavor is an almost indescribable gentle aromatic note that really perfumes a dish. Are there cheap saffrons you can buy? Absolutely! You can buy saffron with whole stigma and filament in them, but they're not going to yield the same color you would expect from the beautiful red threads. This is one of those things you shouldn't be stingy on and be sure to keep it in its original tin to preserve it as long as possible, if you buy it from the store. 

Saffron is one of those spices that holds great cultural significance in the world of culinary anthropology. It's quite obviously a symbol of wealth and opulence, and is an ingredient that absolutely demands respect. It's available year-round, but is it cheaper to grow and harvest yourself?You tell me! 

Saffron crocus is a wonderful bulb that is unique in the sense that it blooms in the fall, not the spring. I'm an avid fan of my beautiful spring tulips, but I always get a little sad when they die off. If you want bulbs blooming in the fall, I cannot recommend these more! These bulbs are quite hardy and can go as cold as -10 degrees F, but if you live in an area that dips below that, you should probably be kind and give them some straw or mulch to tuck them in to their beds to ensure they stay warm. The flowers themselves have an almost vanilla-like scent, in addition to their striking purple color. Nothing on your land or in your home should not serve you in some way, so I advise you to put this glorious flower to work for you.

Like most bulbs, they tend to love soil that's very well-drained and is high in organic matter.You should plant early in the spring, right at the start of Pisces, or just as soon as the soil is good and warm enough to work, and plant 6 inches below the surface. Each bulb will yield one flower, and each flower will yield three threads! It's highly recommended that you replant immediately once you dig up your bulbs to separate them, as they're touchy. Do this to yield a hardy crop, and you won't have your harvest affected next fall!

To harvest these threads, I recommend tweezers. Leave them to dry on a sheet pan lined with paper in a warm room until they crumble easily. Store them in an airtight jar, as you should with all spices once they're dried, and enjoy! I advise you to not consume any other part of the flower, as I hear it's poisonous. You can add a few threads to a steaming pot of rice to color it and add a very lovely flavor, to a soup to enrich it beautifully, or to this lovely pound cake. 

Full disclosure: I'm only calling it a pound cake in the sense that it acts like a pound cake when in reality it's a 'high ratio cake'. It's got a very fine crumb, is fatty and tender, and it is quite suitable for layer cakes should you choose to bake it in a round tin! Honestly, though, since you're using a simple-syrup drizzle, it's going to be a drizzle cake. The requirements for a drizzle cake must be that your cake is strong enough to take on that liquid, and that the drizzle penetrates all the way down, as far as it'll go, to make a moist finish. Yum!

Saffron Drizzle Cake
yields 1 loaf cake or 1 9" cake
  • 1.5 oz olive oil
  • 1.5 oz butter(I've used my vegan Earth Balance butter on this and it's just fine!)
  • 6 oz cane sugar + 1 oz aside
  • 4 oz warm water, at least 115 degrees F
  • 1 pinch of saffron (6 or 7 threads?)
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 9 oz AP flour
  • 1 oz cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c almond milk (you may use dairy milk or hemp milk if you like)
For the Saffron Syrup
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c cane sugar
  • 1 small pinch saffron, 3-4 threads
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and prepare a loaf pan with pan spray and flour. This cake likes to climb, so please do allow it to do so! Prepare the Saffron syrup first. 

Bring your sugar and water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Immediately add in the saffron threads and cover your pot and leave it alone. This will be your simple syrup.  You're honestly only going to use a little bit of this to drizzle into your cake, but you'll definitely want the stuff left over! It's going to get a beautiful gold color and you'll definitely love it in your iced tea.

For the cake, take your saffron threads, that set-aside ounce of cane sugar, and a mortar and pestle. Grind the saffron into the sugar and then add it to the warm water. Let this sit for at least five minutes before you add this liquid to the milk of your choice, as well as the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. You can use cake flour for this, but I like having a little more control over the amounts of protein, and I also don't like cake flour taking up space in my already-crowded cabinet.

Using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, whip the butter, oil, and 6 oz of sugar together. Start first on medium and then go to high until it's fully incorporated. Add in the whole egg, scrape, and then whip. You'll want it to be homogeneous and light-colored, not clumpy or separated at all. Scrape the bowl one more time and gather your remaining ingredients. 

Spoon the flour mixture in, about a third at a time, alternating with a glug or two of the liquid. You're going to want to do it in this order:
  1. Spoon in flour.
  2. Add liquid
  3. Mix for five or six turns.
  4. Spoon in flour.
  5. Add liquid.
  6. Mix for five or six turns.
  7. Spoon in the remaining flour.
  8. Mix by hand to incorporate.
  9. Add the last bit of liquid and scrape the bowl, especially getting the bottom.
  10. Mix for five or six turns.
This is the way I tend to mix cakes of this nature it and it seems to have served me the best over the years. Knock all the batter off the whisk attachment and use a spatula to scrape the bowl and give it one final stir, just to make sure there aren't any pockets of flour hanging out. If we're all good, scrape it into your loaf pan, give it a shimmy-shake to make sure it all of the batter is level, and pop it in the oven. Immediately lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes, or until it pulls gently away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched gently. 

Evacuate from the oven and place on a folded-up tea towel. Now comes the fun! Take a skewer or a toothpick and poke mercilessly all over the surface of the cake, making sure to get all the way to the bottom-third of your cake. While it's still warm, take a spoon and drizzle in the saffron syrup, at least a shot's worth, which is a couple of ounces. You can use a silicon brush if you like, as well, but I think this is a little better to start off with and then finish with the brush. Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack and allowing to cool completely. 

See that crack in the middle? You want that! This dome is a sign you've done your loaf cake right!
You may dust with powdered sugar or give it a touch of royal icing. Or, of course, you can make a saffron glaze. How? Oh, it's easy:

Saffron Glaze
  • 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp saffron syrup
  • 2 tsp coconut oil, melted
Whisk all of this together until lovely and smooth, and drizzle over your cake, doughnuts, tray bakes, whatever you like! It's colored a gentle yellow and is highly addictive. You can even use it to spoon over your experimental coconut-sugar cookies. Do you, man!

For every insta-worthy picture I take, there are at least 300 hauntingly gross other photos on my phone, I assure you.
This cake is sweet without being too sweet, incredibly versatile, quick to do, and is incredibly accessible as a treat to give your not-so-adventurous friends. A loaf/pound/drizzle cake is something someone instantly recognizes, and when they taste it they'll all say: "Ooooh, what is in that cake?!" I especially love it because it keeps well, but you truthfully won't keep it around the kitchen for long. 

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe and have learned a few fun things about saffron. If you like this post, please feel free to comment on, share, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more. Happy cooking and happy eating!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing and the shout out <3 Promise I will make it again and make you proud ! ;)