Min makes saffron cakes

When life gives you saffron you dig out all the recipes you can find. This month I’ve been trialling historical saffron cake recipes. The first one I tried was an eighteenth century recipe from Hannah Glasse which I found in Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery.

“Take a quarter of a peck of fine flour, a pound and a half of butter, three ounces of carraway seeds and six eggs; beat well a quarter of an ounce of cloves and mace together very fine, a penny worth of cinnamon beat, a pound of sugar, a penny worth of rose water, a penny worth of saffron, a pint and and a half of yeast and a quart of milk; mix all together lightly with your hands thus; first boil the milk and butter, scum off the butter and mix it with the flour and a little of the milk, stir the yeast into the d strain it; mix it with your flour, put in your seed and spice, rose water, tincture of saffron, sugar and eggs; beat all up with your hands very lightly, and bake it in a hoop or pan, minding to butter the pan well; it will take and hour and a half in a quick oven; you may leave out the seed if you chuse it, and I think it the best.”

Hannah Glasse, The Compleat 1772 (first published c.1760).

Obviously the quantities stated are going to make a huge cake, this is common in early recipes which are often really for special occasion food and for people running large households.

I made the cake with half measures but that still made a large cake so the quantities offered below are a third of the original.

  • Fine white flour, 520gm
  • Butter, 25gm
  • Cloves, Mace, powdered, 3 gm each
  • Carraway seeds, 28gm
  • Saffron, 1tsp
  • Sugar, 15gm
  • Yeast, 1Tbsp
  • Eggs, 2
  • Rose water, 15ml
  • Warm water, 30ml
  • Milk, 35ml

Start by preparing the yeast and saffron. Add the yeast to the warm water and allow to bloom. Lightly toast the saffron and then soak in the rose water, alternately grind the saffron before add the rose water (I do this in the mortar).

Next boil the milk and butter. I found that Hannah’s instructions left me with buttery lumps of flour which I then had to work hard to remove once the other wet ingredients were added and the final cake still had white bits and yellow bits. I would instead

  • Allow the milk, butter mixture to cool until only warm and then combine with all the other wet ingredients I.e.
  • The eggs, beaten,
  • The rose water, saffron tincture,
  • The yeast.
  • Combine all the spices with the flour and seeds and mix well.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix well. You should have a fairly normal looking cake batter.
  • Prepare a cake tin, buttering it well.
  • Pour in the cake mix.
  • Bake at 200 Celsius for 1 1/2 hours. N.B. I only gave mine about an hour and it wasn’t done enough on the bottom as you can see below.
Saffron cake, a bit undercooked and dense on the bottom. Next time I will give it the full 1.5 hours.


This is very much a cake, despite being risen entirely with yeast and eggs. I actually found it a little bland and would increase the spices used next time. Other than that it was quite nice and made me think to ‘Seed cake’ which it may be a precursor to. If definitely make it again but remember to cook it longer.