A couple weeks ago, A and I went on a road trip across southern and central Oregon. Now, I know what you’re thinking: the Pacific Northwest in February, that must have been delightfully cold and wet. Not so! It was completely gorgeous and just a tad chilly….except for that first day, when we drove south through a torrential maritime storm, with 15-foot waves pounding the cliffs below US-101.
Our destination that night was Sunset Beach, a campground just south of Coos Bay on the central coast. We had reserved a yurt there, our first experience in one of these fanciful dwellings, and were excited to sleep that night with the sound of waves crashing nearby.
The thrill of the road was brand new that day and despite the weather we stopped to explore multiple times—lighthouses, parks, cliffs overlooking the angry ocean. By the time we reached the campground, a secluded spot bounded by a creek and decorated with the thick hanging mosses and ferns of the Oregon rainforest, we were thoroughly soaked. We squelched our way to the camp host to deliver our check-in form, and then retreated to the yurt to dry out, warm up, and revel in relaxation.
We cranked up the heat, put our wet shoes by the vent, pulled on wool socks, got out blankets and books, and settled in to enjoy the tap-tap-tapping of the rain from the safety of our warm refuge. It was still too early for dinner but that really just means it’s time for hors d’oeuvres, so we rummaged through our bulging bag of road snacks and pulled out the Snack That Would Change My Life. Or that would, at least, stick in my head for weeks and result in this cake being created.
The snack was local producer Masala Pop’s Saffron Rose Popcorn with Pistachios. When the bag was opened, we were sitting side by side, with the popcorn propped up between us. With each new handful I slowly rotated and slumped down on the couch so that my right shoulder stood between A’s hand and the popcorn. He never suspected a thing. I successfully ate almost the whole bag myself (and then lay awake most of the night listening to the tapping rain and crashing waves with a bit of a tummy ache—turns out you can have too much of a good thing, including popcorn and crashing waves).
Even before the bag was empty I knew I wanted to recreate those flavors in a more substantial form. The Moroccan combination of saffron, rose, and pistachios led me to think of the syrup-soaked Moroccan semolina cake called basbousa; from there all I needed was a vehicle for the buttery sweet corn flavor. This recipe is dangerous. Someone really needs to get over here and make sure I don’t eat the whole cake.
Cornmeal Pound Cake
1 C unbleached white flour
1 C corn flour or finely-ground cornmeal
1 C butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 1/3 C sugar
¼ t salt
5 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla extract
1/3 C pistachios, roughly chopped
Saffron Flower Syrup
1 C confectioner’s sugar
¼ C + 1 ½ T water
1 T rose or orange blossom water
1 pinch saffron threads
Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and flour a loaf pan. Soak the saffron threads in ¼ C of just-boiled water for 20 minutes.
Mix white flour and corn flour in a small bowl. Beat butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then salt. Drizzle in beaten eggs by spoonfuls, beating constantly, then add vanilla. Add dry ingredients in three additions, beating just to blend. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with the chopped pistachios. Bake about 1 hr. and 15 min., or until top is golden brown and tester comes out clean.
Shortly before the cake is done, combine the saffron water, rose water, sugar, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. While the cake is still hot, brush syrup over the cake, waiting a minute or two in between layers to let the syrup soak in. Let cake cool at least 15 minutes before unmolding.