In the Middle Ages, spices were a symbol of status and prosperity. Aristocrats’ meals were ordinarily heavily spiced, and saffron was especially favored. The attractive, bright yellow was used to color a variety of dishes.
It is believed that Welsh devas, also known as faeries, thrived on saffron. A twelfth-century story by Giraldus Cambrensis tells of a boy who was taken to a faery palace and found that the whole faery court ate nothing but saffron and milk.
The saffron crocus was first found in Greece and Asia Minor. Later, medieval people found that they could grow the flower closer to home. Spain, Italy, and England all produced large quantities of saffron.
¾ Cup Warm Milk
1 (¼-Ounce) Package Active Dry Yeast
1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
¼ Teaspoon Saffron Strands
½ Cup Boiling Water
3½ Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Butter, Softened
½ Cup Superfine Sugar
½ Cup Raisins
½ Cup Dried Cranberries
½ Cup Chopped Candied Orange Peel
1 Teaspoon Minced Fresh Thyme
Pour the milk into a bowl and dissolve the yeast and the sugar in it. Let stand in a warm place for approximately 10 minutes, until foaming. Steep the saffron in the boiling water for several minutes, then let the mixture cool.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. In a small bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Then add raisins, cranberries, orange peel, and thyme, mixing well. Gradually add the flour.
Strain the saffron mixture. Add the yeast mixture and saffron liquid to the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth; it should look like a very thick batter.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Pour the batter into a greased and lined 10-inch round cake pan. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, until the mixture rises to the top of the pan. Bake the bread for 1 hour. Let it cool in the pan.
Slice and serve with butter.