Not only does this bread have a beguiling name, it also features such beautiful ingredients that I knew I had to make it as soon as I found it hidden in the pages of one of my favorite cookbooks, Heartland, the Best of the Old and New from Midwest Kitchens by Marcia Adams. I've written about the book before in such a devoted way that several readers have emailed to say they went out and bought copies off ebay, usually for $1 or so. I got it for $2 in a thrift store in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
It has all sorts of stick-to-your-ribs comfort food dishes, many hailing from Sweden, Germany, Norway, etc., all those countries whose people immigrated to the U.S. and settled in the Midwest, including my great-grandmother who came here from Germany, alone, when she was a teenager.
About those ingredients: saffron, of course, dried currants (soaked before stirring into the batter), raisins, lemon zest and juice, You steep the saffron threads in boiling water till it fills your kitchen with that matchless floral aroma that saffron has.
If it weren't such a luxury, I think I'd develop a habit of steeping saffron threads, just to make my house smell like this bread. But I'm much too thrifty for that sort of thing. Look at the photo above: they look like little red sperms, right? Just a thought I had.
Marcia says: Wisconsin food lore is fascinating. In the town of Mineral Point is a street called "Shake Rag Under the Hill." Originally lined with the stone and log homes built by the Cornish lead miners, the street went down the hill to the mines. The miners' wives would signal mealtime to their husbands by shaking their dishrags out their doors, an action that gave the street its name. Saffron bread would have been one of the staples those hungry miners found on their tables.
It's rich, it's sweet. It's loaded with dried fruit. And it smells just wonderful when you open the bag to have yourself another slice.
Here's my version:
Welsh Saffron Bread
Makes 1 loaf
3 c boiling water
1 c dried currants
1/2 c raisins
1/8 teaspoon (or a nice pinch) saffron threads (or 1/2 t mace and 1/2 t grated lemon rind)
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
1 c sugar
1 t grated lemon zest soaked in lemon juice
2 c all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour 2 c boiling water on dried currants and soak for 15 minutes, then drain. Pour remaining water over saffron and steep until cool. Cream butter and sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, blending after each. Add lemon zest and juice.
Combine dry ingredients n a bowl and add to the sugar-butter mixture, alternately with the saffron water, beating until just blended. Stir in raisins and drained currants. Pour into a greased and sloured 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan. Bake 40 - 50 minutes until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Tip out onto a rack to cool.