Easy Cornish Saffron Cake Recipe

A traditional Cornish yeasted cake recipe flavoured with delicate saffron and fruity currants. Serve the saffron cake sliced, spread with butter, or for extra decadence, clotted cream.

Saffron cake on a wooden board.

Saffron cake is a rich and buttery cake that is infused with the unique flavour of saffron. 

This spice adds a subtle sweetness and a beautiful golden hue to the cake. 

The recipe is simple and easy to follow, making it a great option for both experienced bakers and beginners.

The origins of saffron cake can be traced back to Cornwall, where it has been a beloved treat for centuries. 

It was traditionally made for special occasions such as weddings and harvest festivals, but now it is enjoyed year-round as a tea time snack. So why not try your hand at making this delicious and timeless recipe?

✔️ Why you should try saffron cake?

✔️ It's a traditional Cornish tea time treat.
✔️ Delicious served with butter or clotted cream.
✔️ Stale slices make an amazing bread and butter pudding!

What is saffron?

Saffron is a delicate aromatic spice, which arrived in Cornwall with Phoenician traders, more than 2000 years ago. It's believed the traders exchanged it for prized Cornish tin and copper.

There is evidence that saffron was also cultivated in select parts of the county, including near me in Bude, on the north coast. It's also experiencing a revival today, with a couple from the Roseland peninsula cultivating and selling it, through their newly established Cornish Saffron Company.

Growing and harvesting saffron is extremely labour intensive, which is what makes it the most expensive spice in the world, and even more expensive than gold! Each crocus flower has to be hand picked and the three red stigma removed by hand (most usually at night). A painstaking process!

It has been estimated it takes a quarter of a million flowers to produce one pound, that is 454g. So if my little pot contained just 0.5g of stigmas, that’s still around 275 flowers!

Strands of saffron in a bowl.

🛒 Ingredients

To make the Cornish saffron cake recipe you will need:
  • Saffron - the star of the show in this saffron cake. Aromatic and delicately spiced, giving the cake that distinctive yellowy hue.
  • Strong Plain Flour
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Dried Yeast
  • Currants
  • Caster sugar
  • Nutmeg
  • Milk

🥄 Equipment

Two mixing bowls and a 2lb loaf tin are all you need to make this saffron cake, along with a bit of patience. Proving the cake takes 3 hours, and you also need to infuse the saffron strands in milk overnight, before you even start baking!

Saffron loaf cake on a wooden board.

🍴 Serving suggestions

The best way to enjoy this cake is simply sliced and spread with butter or clotted cream, for a delicious and traditionally Cornish tea time treat. 

Stale slices of saffron cake also make incredibly good bread and butter pudding too, which I usually serve with creamy custard or clotted cream.

🥡 Storage

The baked saffron cake can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Wrap in parchment paper to keep it as fresh as possible.

🧊 Suitable for freezing?

Yes, this saffron cake can be frozen. Wrap in parchment paper then tightly wrap in 2 layers of foil, to prevent freezer burn. Freeze for up to 3 months.

❓ Frequently Asked Questions

How do you incorporate saffron into a cake batter?
To incorporate saffron into a cake batter, you first need to steep the saffron threads in a small amount of hot water or milk for at least 15 minutes. This will help release the flavour and colour of the saffron. Once the saffron has steeped, you can add it to the cake batter along with the other ingredients.

What are the key ingredients for a traditional Persian saffron cake?
The key ingredients for a traditional Persian saffron cake include flour, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, saffron, and rose water. Some recipes may also include cardamom, almond flour, or pistachios.

Can you make a saffron cake using a bread maker, and if so, how?
Yes, you can make a saffron cake using a bread maker. Simply add the ingredients to the bread maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and select the cake setting. Make sure to steep the saffron threads in hot water or milk before adding them to the batter.

What is the history behind Cornwall's famous saffron cake?
Cornwall's famous saffron cake dates back to the 14th century when saffron was a valuable commodity traded in the area. The cake was originally made with yeast, saffron, and dried fruit, and was often served at special occasions such as weddings and Christmas.

Is there a difference between saffron loaf and saffron cake, in terms of preparation?
There is no significant difference between saffron loaf and saffron cake in terms of preparation. Both use similar ingredients and are made in a similar way. The main difference is in the shape of the finished product, with saffron loaf being a long, narrow shape, and saffron cake being round.

What are some tips for ensuring a moist and flavourful saffron cake?
To ensure a moist and flavourful saffron cake, make sure to steep the saffron threads in hot water or milk for at least 15 minutes before adding them to the batter. You can also add a small amount of yogurt or sour cream to the batter to help keep it moist. Finally, be careful not to over-bake the cake, as this can cause it to become dry and tough.

😋 Related recipes

More Cornish recipes you might like:

Saffron cake pin image

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  1. I have never had this before but it sounds amazing! I will be saving this to try!

  2. This is so good! Anything with saffron is a treat!

  3. This looks so good, I love that you are using saffron to give this cake an amazing color.

  4. Love dishes with saffron flavor! This looks great..I will try it tomorrow

  5. This looks so delicious! Wish I had a very large slice just now! Thanks for linking up to #CookBlogShare. Michelle

  6. OMG this looks amazing I love yeasted sweet breads like this