Saffron Pear Almond Cake : Short & Sweet

I don’t have a lot of time to get this written up tonight so this is a speed post, half an hour flat out. I wasn’t going to bake this weekend but I found myself drawn into cake making, maybe by Mitchdafish’s delectable version of this cake here.  I scoured the garage for tinned peaches and came up with September’s home bottled pears and a tin of cherries. I checked with the others on Twitter what the drained weight of the peaches in the recipe should be, a great advantage of baking with other people even at the distance of the internet is that you can ask away and someone will say something helpful. Thinking about it afterwards, you just use what you have as the fruit goes on the top of the cake and doesn’t make a difference to the texture of the cake itself, providing you drain it, I am sure fifty grams more or less of fruit topping wouldn’t matter much.

I managed to locate the saffron that my friend Tom had brought me from Barcelona and activated it in boiling water. The saffron that I grew one year has long since been used. It has given the crumb of the cake a lovely pale yellow colour and I can’t detect any particular taste. Either the saffron is too old or I lack the saffron gene. I have noticed that before when I have used it, I don’t really know what saffron is supposed to taste like, if that makes any sense.

I added a couple of drops of a new bottle of almond essence from Bakery Bits. Some people like it, including Brian who voted to add it to this one when I waved it under his nose.   I am never that sure, it still reminds me of synthetic tasting cakes from my childhood, some people like that reminder maybe? I found a big 1kg bag of ground almonds in Licata’s, much fresher than the stuff that comes in the little bags from the supermarket and probably better value too. Whole almonds are always better bought in bulk if you are going to be using a lot of them.

The cake itself was easy enough to mix, though I still managed to curdle the eggs. I should have warmed them up in a bowl of warm water first. ( I know the theory, but oh I am so lazy) It doesn’t have that many ingredients or bowls and I hope I baked it right, I have cut it while still warm and had a corner so I can tell you that it tastes of almonds and has a nice slightly dense texture, (maybe due to cutting it while warm, underbaking, curdled eggs, or maybe that’s how it is?) a bit like a lightweight Bakewell tart, which is kind of what you would expect. If you imagine it with peaches on top, golden fruit and golden crumb and a swirl of thick cream. I do apologise for the photos as the cake would glow more fetchingly if I waited till the morning and sunshine to snap it, but time marches on and I have to make risotto.

We are having it for pudding to follow a little mushroom risotto and steamed purple broccoli. There may be custard ! Edit: In fact, we had the cake with some of the pears from the bottle, chilled and swoony delicious in their amaretto syrup with a little soya cream. Small grunts of delight emanated from Piglet at the other end of the table…..

Forgot to say this recipe is in Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard. The original version of the recipe appeared  in The Guardian called ‘Saffron Peach Cake’ and if you don’t have the book you can search online for it.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend! What have you been baking?

33 thoughts on “Saffron Pear Almond Cake : Short & Sweet

  1. ceciliag

    It looks good and moist, I really do prefer moist cakes. Though I am on the truncated celi diet for a bit, I had a terrible time trying to fit my going-out jeans on last night. So no cake for me for a while, or bread!! or potatoes (do you detect the whine in my voice?).. c

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s a lovely moist little number and I have cut it into teeny weeny fingers, as if that makes its calorific load any better :) It may go out with me to my class tomorrow and get distributed if I can sneak it out of the door :)

  2. teawithhazel

    just as well fat cells are not affected by visual stimulation joanna because i had a lingering longing look at your cake..:)

    i love the bitter flavour of almond essence..i put a few blanched apricot kernels into some jam i made over the weekend to add that extra bitter scent note and help balance out the sweetness of the jam..

    i made barm bread from dan’s bible yesterday was a bit of a marathon because i didn’t finish baking til 10 pm but my was it worth it! crunchy, light, tasty..and, yes, i was eating a slice of warm bread with melted butter and apricot jam at 10 pm last night..:)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I have some kernels in the garage that I bought in a Chinese supermarket and every so often I think I should do something with them. Good idea, I could have ground a few up for this cake. So pleased to hear the barm bread was a success, I love that one, haven’t made it in a while but it is just as you describe it. Fortunately I am too full to even think of eating anything again until tomorrow :)

  3. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    I think it looks beautiful, particularly the last photo which is quite an art shot, with its swirly deco style topping! :) And it’s always good when you can use up some old bottlings found in the garage! xxx

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think that is the effect of the icing sugar, cake not quite cool so it sort of melted on the pear bits. I have had my eye on those pears lately, trying to figure out the best way to use them, as we did quite big bottles and you don’t want to keep them that long once the bottle has been prised open. They should be good for a few months more, I have two or three left so I might well be making this cake again :)

  4. C

    It looks gorgeous, and I love the look of that crumb in the last shot – really, really delicious. It sounds like a great recipe to adapt to what you have available. Love the help you can get from Twitter too – so interactive :-) Your dinner sounds lovely, and this looks like it would be perfect with custard.

    I’ve been baking soda bread (again!), chocolate cake and a banana cake…. all yet to be cut into.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Has anyone figured out a good sub for ground almonds yet? There must be something that can be used to give that nice nubbly texture. Because they aren’t big on flavour in a cake. What about polenta? Have you tried making those lemon polenta cakes? I had a piece the other night when we went out for a meal and the texture was something similar to this, a bit coarser and denser but very good.

      Sounds like you’ve had a big baking day today, two cakes ! Excellent :D

  5. Evidence Matters (@EvidenceMatters)

    Ach, looks delightful.

    Oddly enough, knowing this was going to neighbours, I didn’t use saffron. Mostly because I find saffron very bitter and find it difficult to accept that other people don’t – so wasn’t too sure that I could adapt/adjust this batter if there were any problems. I used almond extract to make up for the lack of the hint of taste from the saffron and because I had no idea of how the tinned peaches would emerge from the baking.

    I’ll have to check when I do the compilation but I think our crumb was roughly comparable.

    It’s a store cupboard cake that would also be good as a pudding, or, as you suggest, for a good afternoon tea (or even morning coffee break).

    1. Joanna Post author

      It was better once it had cooled right down and set. It was very soft on coming out and I put it back for five minutes but then let it cool in the tin almost and it seems OK. It’s funny how you turn to the book for that ritual reassurance of ‘put the skewer in and… it comes out clean, or has a few crumbs adhering or whatever’ and when it isn’t there I feel bereft, like a safety blanket has been taken away from me.

      I do hope your neighbours liked it. As I said I don’t think I can taste saffron. But I wonder if this simply isn’t fresh enough, another of those mysteries :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Kari – if the sun is out tomorrow morning I’ll see if I can get a sunshine shot, it makes such a difference. I have low energy lights everywhere and they tend to cast a bluish tint over the photos, I can lighten and warm them up a bit in the photo programme. Natural daylight is still my favourite. I get these long shadows at this time of year, the sun is so low in the sky.

  6. Ann Hall

    Joanna, I am so glad I saw your little sidebar about the Ronald Searle drawings of Mrs Mole in the Guardian. They are utterly charming. Needless to say when i was at boarding school we were all great fans of St Trinian’s!

    1. Joanna Post author

      They touched my heart those little private drawings. Such love and so wonderfully expressed. i”m so glad you found your way to them Ann ;)

  7. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Joanna I’m not sure I have the saffron gene either. It just sort of bypasses me. I just googled the recipe, looks like a lovely one that I could easily make… and maybe, just maybe switch the almond essence for a little amaretto? :-) And your pears in amaretto syrup?… swoonable surely.

    1. Joanna Post author

      As the recipe originally calls for peaches you can safely add or subtract any of the spices or flavourings to suit your palate.I think the recipe was written with the idea of adding flavour to relatively bland baked peaches. As Evidence Matters says, it’s very much a store cupboard cake, making the most of what you have.

      Another person to whom saffron is a mystery flavour :)

  8. heidi

    That cake looks perfect!
    I don’t have any pears canned, but I do know where I can get some!
    I haven’t baked anything much this week.
    But I plan on baking some goodies starting tomorrow!
    After I get the pears!

  9. Melanie

    Your slice of cake looks wonderfully delicious. I don’t know that I would have gotten to making the cake. I’d have eaten all the pears from the jar before I got started. I love, love pears especially home canned ones. I’ve never bought saffron before, just not impressed w/ its smell enough to shell out that kind of money.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is expensive, isn’t it more expensive than gold? I watched a series of programmes about spices last year and the process of producing it is very labour intensive. I rarely use it, but I was given this lot by a friend. I have grown saffron croci though. Violet flowers with long blood red stamens which you have one day to pick and dry for saffron. They came up two years in a row, but I think they have been eaten by mice now. Iti is entirely optional in this cake :)

  10. Tutak

    Polenta. Stands in for almonds very well. And I use di Saronno a lot, is that amaretto liqueur? And as for saffron, well I must share that gene with you among others, can’t taste it at all. Am now eyeing up the jar of pears in the cupboard from your Christmas care package with evil intent. Currently rationing your lime marmelade which is not only beautiful, thin threads suspended in jelly the colour of your nephew’s eyes, but utterly delicious. Will have to hide it from marmalade monster Swithun.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think the pears you have aren’t in amaretto, we only did the one jar like that and then we did the rest in plain syrup, But I recommend tipping a slosh of di Saronno over them or in the cake, good combination, as you say. So pleased you like the marmalade, I think it might just be the best I’ve ever made (for my taste anyway) xx

      Do you have a polenta cake recipe so I can compare to this one ? I am quite interested to try it out and see how it goes ….

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s also very filling, and despite my intentions of giving most of it away, I wasn’t fast enough as Brian has consumed most of it :)

  11. Choclette

    It looks delicious Jo and the sound of your pears in amaretto is nearly making me swoon. Saffron has quite a delicate taste (try Cornish saffron cake to get the flavour) so could easily have been swamped by the almond extract. I think I’m going to have to make this cake now – this is the 2nd one I’ve seen and I want a slice of both.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Choclette, I do like the di Saronno or amaretto as I call it here, prefer it to almond extract by far.

      I am sure if there was any flavour left in my elderly saffron it would have been swamped by the almond extract, though I literally only waved the bottle at it, one or two drops at the most. But in all seriousness I have used saffron as the only flavouring in other dishes, with rice, I think I made some saffron bun of Dan’s at one point too and have never noticed a distinctive taste or smell. But this is a great base recipe and easily adaptable to all sorts of fruits and toppings :)

  12. spiceandmore

    Lovely looking cake – all the more special for having home bottled pears in it!

    Saffron has quite a strong taste (to me). Perhaps you are not using enough or the stuff you are using is stale/questionable quality. I did notice that you used boiling water on the saffron – I have always been told that barely warm milk is the best for this. The saffron almost dissolves into the milk and it is easier to distribute the flavours through the dish. Most of it is probably in the aroma (like most ‘tastes’). After it has soaked in the warm milk check to see if the colour has leached through the milk and if you can get a good strong smell of saffron before you add it to the dish. Don’t give up on it, it is such a wonderful spice!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hiya! Thanks for that advice, I was following the recipe re the saffron in boiling water and I suspect mine was pretty old. I will try to hunt down some fresher stuff and see if I can ‘pick up’ the unique qualities of saffron.

      I think you are absolutely right that most of whatever it is must be in the aroma. I have never heard it described in terms of the tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

      I don’t think my palate is that good. I am getting older, an ex smoker (twenty years ago this year) had a serious bump on the head in a nasty car accident when I fractured my pelvis (again in my early thirties). . Head injuries alter one’s palate too, medicines, viruses, all sorts. Our senses are fragile and far from immutable. So it could be something to do with that, or genetic. :)

  13. Elaine

    If you have the saffron gene it should have a pungent aroma and an earthy bittersweet taste.

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