Saffron Cake

I seriously think the best cooking magazine on the market is La Cucina Italiana. There is always something I just can’t wait to make and everything I have made from the magazine has been stellar. Tonight’s cake is a perfect example of stellar with a side of unexpected thrown in…

The March/April issue has a section on saffron… the world’s most expensive spice. Fortunately, while saffron is ridiculously expensive, a little goes a long way. It is measured and used in pinches and quarter-teaspoons. I can spring for a quarter-teaspoon now and again – and there are several recipes in the magazine I shall be making – but the first one to really whet my appetite was a saffron rice cake.

I started drooling while reading.

Rice desserts – especially rice pudding – definitely are childhood memories. Mom made a wicked-good Baked Rice Pudding as well as stove-top variations. I remember many hot-from-the-oven bowls because none of us ever had the patience to let it properly cool. And mom was probably the worst offender. She taught us well.

So fast-forward many years and I come across a recipe for a rice cake – with saffron, Sambuca, and almonds – and there’s no way I’m not making it! This had Mom written all over it.

Torta di Risoallo Zafferano

adapted from La Cucina Italiana magazine

  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter plus more for greasing cake pan
  • 1 tablespoon Sambuca or other anise-flavored liqueur
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 large eggs, separated

n a medium saucepan, combine milk, saffron and pinch salt; bring just to a boil, then stir in rice. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until milk is fully absorbed and rice is tender and creamy, about 45 minutes.
Transfer rice to a large bowl; stir in 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and confectioners sugar, almonds, butter, Sambuca and zest. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 400º with rack in middle. Grease bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with butter and line with parchment paper.

In a bowl, vigorously whisk together remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar and egg yolks until thick and pale, about 2 minutes; stir into rice mixture. In a clean bowl, using a clean, dry whisk, beat egg whites to soft peaks, then gently fold into rice mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly with a spatula. Bake, rotating once halfway through, until dark golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan on wire rack.

Release cake from pan and dust and with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I am glad the recipe stated dark golden and the picture in the magazine showed a fairly dark crust. I was a bit nervous baking it at 400° for 45 minutes and towards the end it was looking pretty dark, indeed. But I let it go and was rewarded with a really unique cake.

Saffron CakeIn the grand scheme of things, it was really more like a slice of rice pudding than a cake – but oh, what a slice! All of the flavors were there – the lemon, the saffron, the anisette – I didn’t have Sambuca – but nothing overpowered and they blended perfectly.

The texture was like a firm pudding. Rich and creamy, but with hints of surprise from the chopped almonds.

Seriously good. And Mom, you would have loved it.