One of the favorite topics for rants in Sweden nowadays seems to be the Swedish postal system. Not without cause, but that kind of complaint is far from new. In 1918, a reader writes to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, complaining about thefts in the postal system. The reason? He was distressed to have received a saffron cake for a baptism ceremony with a third of the cake missing. Apparently, the cake was “in a filthy way crumbled and hollowed”. Oh, dear.
While saffron has been popular for all kinds of festive occasions, the Swedish minds connect it most strongly with Saint Lucia’s Day, which is celebrated on the 13th of December. While the classic saffron buns are considered a must, why not switch it up with a saffron cake?
Let’s take a look at how to make it, all in stop motion:
Saffron for Saint Lucia’s Day
In 1948, pastry cook Migg Spördnly mentions in Konditorns uppslagsbok that saffron has been used in Sweden for 400 years and historically was considered a drug. Jan-Öjvind Swahn finds the first mention from 1328, but notes that it only became popular in the mid-17th century.
The saffron sponge cake doesn’t seem to have a particularly long documented tradition, as I do not find it in my cookbooks until the early 1900s.
Migg Spörndly suggests that extracts can be used to avoid “the colored dots that are common when using [baking with] the drug”. Personally, I like the red dots, but if you want to avoid them, grind the saffron with a pestle and mortar together with a little of the sugar.
How to make Swedish saffron cake
This recipe of saffron cake is based on the version (a 1984 prize winner!) in the popular baking book Sju sorters kakor. Makes one cake.
200 gr (7/8 cups) butter
1/2 gr saffron (1 small sachet)
3 dl (1 1/5 cups) sugar
1 1/2 dl (3/5 cups) milk
4 dl (1 3/5 cups) flour
2 tsp baking powder
butter and breadcrumbs for preparing the baking pan
To decorate (optional): icing sugar, flaked almonds, or both
- Prepare a baking pan by greasing it with butter and sprinkling it with breadcrumbs. I’ve used a springform baking pan that was 22 cm (8,6 inches).
- Set the oven to 175°C (345°F).
- Melt the butter and let it cool. Stir in the saffron—if you’re using saffron strands, grind them with a pestle and mortar together with 1 tsp of the sugar.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until they turn pale yellow and fluffy.
- Add the saffron butter and the milk into the bowl and give it a stir.
- Mix the flour with the baking powder. Then, gently stir the flour mixture into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
- Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan and bake it in the oven for about 45 minutes. The cake will get a little bit of color on top.
- When you take it out, let the cake rest in the baking pan for a few minutes to set. When serving, flip it upside down onto a plate. If you feel like decorating it, you may want to try sifting over some icing sugar, sprinkling it with flaked almonds, or both.
The color makes this saffron cake a quiet showstopper just as it is, but if you’re feeling fancy, why not serve it with berries and whipped cream?