Lemon cake is as subtle as it gets, but saffron most certainly is not. Brought together in this dessert recipe, they surprisingly make the perfect pair – commonplace meets exotic!
Saffron: What Is It and How to Use It
Even though this recipe only calls for one-fourth teaspoon of saffron, it is undeniably the star of the show. I mean, the lemon cake is delicious and all on its own, but the saffron-infused syrup is what makes this recipe the standout dessert that you won’t forget any time soon.
Here’s what you need to know about saffron.
Saffron is a perennial spice that is a member of the lily family. Iran is the world’s largest producer of saffron, and Spain is the largest importer of the spice (it’s prominently featured in the popular rice dish paella). Saffron is also commonly found in Portuguese and Turkish dishes.
While saffron is most certainly used stateside, it is not a huge part of our culinary culture. Its price point may have a lot to do with that. Producing saffron is labor intensive and timely. The pollen catchers, or stigmas, must be delicately handpicked, cut from its white style, or stalk, laid out on a sieve, and cured over heat to deepen its flavor. It takes 4,500 crocus flowers to make up one ounce of saffron spice. One pound of saffron can reach a retail price of some $1,500. But rest assured, you’ll never need that much saffron in your life, and you can buy a gram at a time for around $7. For a special occasion or for the every-so-often dish, it’s worth every cent!
Saffron’s taste is hard to describe. In fact, it seems everyone experiences the spice differently. To some, it is honey-like, floral, and sweet. To others, it comes across as musky, mushroom-like, and bitter. While opinions differ concerning its taste, everyone agrees on one thing: saffron is intense and a little goes a long way. That is good news, considering how expensive it is.
The best way to approach saffron is to purchase a small amount and to taste it. That way, you can better see how its complex flavor profile can be applied to some of your favorite dishes. Since it’s hard to find it being used in dishes on restaurant menus, seasoned home cooks (pun intended) should integrate the spice more into their lives! Not only does saffron add a touch of gourmet flair to grain, chicken, and fish dishes, it offers some health benefits as well.
One ounce (two grams) of saffron contains 400% of the RDA of manganese, 38% of the RDA of vitamin C, 18% of the RDA of magnesium, 17% of the RDA of iron, and 14% of the RDA of both potassium and vitamin B6. Manganese is an essential trace metal that is crucial for normal cell function and metabolism and is particularly important for brain health. Saffron has shown to improve symptoms of depression.
Preferably, you should purchase saffron from an ethnic specialty grocery store to get the purest product. Meanwhile, to obtain the most flavor out of saffron before adding it to this recipe, soak it in a teaspoon of warm water for five minutes.
Lemon Cake with Cardamom and Saffron Syrup
For the cake
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon finely-grated lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups white flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the syrup
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a cake or loaf pan with butter and set aside.
For the cake, combine the sugar and eggs in a large bowl and beat them together. Add in the lemon zest, extracts, and lemon juice. Beat the mixture while you add in the melted butter and milk.
Next, sift in the remaining dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold the mixture with a spatula until just combined. Transfer the mixture to the greased pan and use a spatula to spread it out evenly across the pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.
About five to ten minutes before the cake is finished baking, prepare the syrup. Combine all syrup ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to stir while cooking for five more minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup thickens. Once the cake is removed from the oven, immediately pour the hot syrup over the cake. Set the cake aside to cool before serving. Enjoy!