I love this cake. It is the essence of Christmas and family to me. Just the smell of my mother baking it makes me deliriously happy, and all my siblings (and her siblings*) feel the same way. Even my three little boys all agree that they like the taste -- which makes me suspect there's something genetic involved, because my husband loathes the stuff and my brothers' wives aren't particularly keen on it either.
All of which is to say that if you don't have Cornish genes in your family, or think that the combination of saffron, candied peel and currants tastes like medicine (as my husband does), this cake may not be for you. Furthermore, Spanish saffron threads are wickedly expensive, so you have to be pretty committed to even tackle this recipe in the first place (which is why my mother, like my grandmother before her, only makes it once a year).
Nevertheless, it's unlike any other fruit cake you will ever eat -- a dense and slightly moist (but not soggy like traditional Christmas fruitcake) golden loaf, lightly sprinkled with currents and bits of candied peel, seasoned with the most expensive spice in the world yet at the same time homey and unassuming, as one might expect of a Cornish delicacy. It does not require icing, or jam, or even butter -- in Cornwall it's sometimes made into buns and served with clotted cream, but to me even this seems unnecessary. Just a thick slice warm from the oven (or slightly heated in the microwave) and a cup of tea to go with it is all you really need.
One last caveat: this is a bulk recipe that makes five generous loaves, and I am an idiot when it comes to math, so I won't subject you to my clumsy attempts at downsizing it. If you've got this far, you'll have to do that yourself. :)
7 grams of Spanish Saffron (threads, not powder)
12 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 lbs. currants
1/2 lb. mixed candied peel
1 lb. lard
1/2 lb. butter
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp. salt
3 pkgs. yeast
Steep saffron overnight in 3 cups boiling water and pinch of salt.
In a large ovenproof bowl, rub lard & butter into flour & sugar & salt until crumbly. Add fruit and stir until well mixed.
Set yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water + 3 tsp. sugar. Let foam a bit.
Heat saffron to hot but NOT boiling. Pour hot saffron onto flour mixture, then add yeast and mix well.
Put oven BRIEFLY on LOW then TURN OFF. Put bowl of saffron batter into oven until doubled in size, which takes 3 hrs. plus if you use traditional yeast.
Take out bowl and divide batter into greased loaf pans (2/3rds full). Reheat oven as above and put pans in until batter rises to top of pans (about 1 hr.)
Take loaf pans out carefully while you heat oven to 350 degrees. When heated put pans in again and bake at 350 for 30 minutes and then at 325 for 30 minutes.
Makes 5 loaves.
If anyone does decide to tackle this enterprise, let me know how it turns out. Especially if you figure out how to convert it to a smaller quantity.
* I am not kidding. One year when my mother mailed my uncle George his Christmas loaf, he composed a lengthy poem on the subject of his love for Saffron Cake and sent it back to her as a thank-you note. Not a bad poem either: it both rhymed and scanned. My mother had it laminated.