I adore saffron. As it turns out, saffron is used to make a traditional Christmas cake in Sweden for St Lucia Day, which is celebrated on 13th December. Legend has it that Lucia as a young girl, about to be a bride, gave her entire dowry to the poor of her village and admitted that she had become a Christian. She was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake on December 13th, 304 A.D. (She is also the patron saint for Italian fisherman, and is said to guide them through a storm).
I’ve read that in all the Scandanavian countries, on St Lucia Day, breakfast is served at dawn, and is celebrated with saffron buns and gingerbread.
Here is my homage to St Lucia – my recipe for this cake. Why not try serving it dusted with icing sugar to represent the white gown usually associated with the Italian medieval saint. And, in the hot Australian summer of December 13th, seasonal fresh berries can provide the red sash that usually adorns the gown.
St Lucia Saffron Cake
generous pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup milk
4oz (125g) butter
1 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
pinch of salt
Place saffron in milk, and bring to scalding but do not boil. Remove from heat and allow to infuse. Add cubed butter to the milk; heat slowly until the butter has melted and remove from heat. (Do not boil) Bring back to room temperature.
Grease 8″ (20cm) square pan and line base with baking paper. In a large bowl, whisk whole eggs and gradually add the castor sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves between each addition. Alternatively add sifted flour, and butter mixture, (1/4 each time) to the eggs and sugar base. Whisk until light.
Pour into prepared tin. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes. Allow to stand a few minutes, before turning out to cool.
Serve when cold, dredged with sifted icing sugar, and adorned with fresh red berries (or macerated red fruits).
Photo with thanks to Darren Smith