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Cornish Saffron Bread

Saffron has always been the most expensive spice in the world, and it was especially favoured in Middle Eastern dishes for both its pungent and exotic flavour and its colour. The spicy cake has a yeasted, lightly fruited dough usually made without eggs.
Always buy whole saffron stamens rather than powder, which may be adulterated.

ingredients

makes two 1 kg (2 lb) loaves
1/2 tsp whole saffron filaments
150 ml (1 1/4 pt) water, warmed to blood heat
300 g (11 oz) currants
100 g (4 oz) sultanas
65 g (2 1/2 oz) candied orange and lemon peel, chopped
140 g (5 oz) plain flour, sifted
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar
150 ml (1/4 pt) milk, warmed to blood heat
20 g (1 oz) (scant) fresh yeast
375 g (13 oz) strong plain flour
5 g (1 tsp) salt
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch mixed spice
75 g (3 oz) butter
75 g (3 oz) lard

for the glaze

30 g (2 tbsp) sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) milk

method

1. Dry the saffron filaments in a hot oven for 5 minutes, then crumble them into a cup filled with the hot water and leave to infuse while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Place the dried fruits and peel in a large bowl and set it in the warm, switched-off oven to heat through.

3. Make a Yeast Sponge Batter with 140 g (5 oz) plain flour, 10 g (2 tsp) sugar, the milk and yeast; beat well, cover and leave to rise and double in bulk.

4. Sift the strong flour with the salt and spices into a large bowl. Cut in the butter and lard and rub to a crumb texture. Mix in the rest of the sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast batter and saffron liquid. Draw in the flour mixture and beat into a soft dough. Mix in the warmed fruits and blend thoroughly until the dough is shiny and shows large air bubbles.

5. Cover the bowl with a floured cloth, stand it in a warm place and leave to rise until it doubles in bulk, which may take as long as 2 hours.

6. Knock back the dough and knead for a moment or two, then divide it equally between two lightly greased 1 kg (2 lb) loaf tins. Pat into shape and leave to rise for up to 1 hour more until risen almost to the top of the tin. Bake immediately in the hot oven at 220°C (425°F) Gas 7 for 30 minutes.

7. As soon as they are removed from the oven brush the loaves with a warmed mixture of 30 ml (2 tbsp) milk and 15 g (1 tbsp) sugar. Leave in the tins for 15 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.

8. Serve saffron bread as soon as it has cooled. You may like to freeze one loaf while it is still warm.

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