Have you heard of Peter Cushing?
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’ll most certainly recognize the face.
Peter is best known for playing Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977).
It’s a great irony that Peter made a name for himself playing villains like Tarkin, and starred in countless Hammer horror films—such as Dracula (1958) and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)—for in real life, Peter Cushing was an incredibly gentle soul with a great sense of humor. (Who didn’t particularly enjoy horror films by the way.)
My Inspiration for Yellow Saffron Cake with Cherries
To celebrate Peter Cushing this month, I developed this Yellow Saffron Cake with Cherries based on a cake Peter describes in his autobiography [aff. link]: “A slab of saffron-yellow cake with a single cherry” was Peter’s first taste of home when his patriotism propelled him to leave Hollywood in 1941, and return to England for the duration of WWII.
I could share some of the hilarious and frightening adventures Peter experienced during the 15 months it took him to voyage home to England, which included Canadian Mounties mistaking him for a Nazi spy, and almost freezing to death working as a deckhand on an English Merchant Navy ship…!
But I’ll save those tales for another day.
Instead, I want to share a bit from the film we probably all know Peter best in, Star Wars (1977). Here are some behind-the-scenes facts that show just what a gentleman Peter Cushing was in real life.
Peter's Gallant Act for Princess Leia
When 19-year-old Carrie Fisher arrived in London to film Star Wars (1977), her first scenes were with Peter Cushing. Carrie, insecure about her appearance—she hadn’t lost the ten pounds her contract required her to lose for the film—couldn’t have asked for a kinder actor to begin filming with. Peter insisted on standing in the shadows during their scene together, giving Carrie the most flattering lighting. Peter’s selflessness was a gift to the young actress in many ways: not only does Carrie look radiantly beautiful in the lighting Cushing gallantly gave her, seeing Princess Leia in this saintly lighting lends to our early interpretation of the character as a righteous leader of her people, with altruistic hopes for the Rebellion.
It’s easy to see why Carrie Fisher absolutely adored working with Peter Cushing.
And it’s also clear from this rare blooper of the scene just what an affinity Peter and Carrie had for each other. Take a moment to watch! Look at the huge smiles on each of their faces as Peter first tries to work with his flubbed line, then accepts defeat.
Bagel Bun Hair, Golden Pants, and Wardrobe Malfunctions
During Star Wars, there were constant wardrobe malfunctions. Anthony Daniels, C-3PO in the film, dealt with those golden pants falling off at the most inconvenient times. Chewbacca’s eyes tended to separate from the hair and mask worn by Peter Mayhew, while Carrie Fisher shared that, even though it took the hairdresser hours to bolt those double bagel buns to the sides of her head each morning, they’d still manage to get messed up during all the running down corridors Princess Leia does in the film.
No Budget, No Combat Boots!
Though Peter Cushing was one of the two established stars in the film (Alec Guinness being the other), he still wasn’t exempt from wardrobe challenges, which were largely the result of the meager budget given to director George Lucas for the film. For Peter, it was footwear that presented the problem: Peter just couldn’t get his size 12 feet into the much too small combat boots that went with his Tarkin costume. He tried to wear the boots and deal with the pain, but ultimately, Peter had to ask George Lucas if they could work something else out:
“After the first day’s work I could bear it no longer, so I approached the director, George Lucas. ‘Dear Fellow,’ I said, ‘I’m not asking for close-ups, but do you think you could shoot me from the waist up from now on?’ He consented kindly, and I was allowed to stomp about looking very cross as ‘Grand Moff Tarkin’ for the rest of the film in carpet slippers.”
Who would have thought that had the camera panned just a little lower, we all would have seen the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin wearing some comically informidable footwear? It’s telling of Peter Cushing’s extraordinary character that, despite his star-status, he just rolled with the punches on the Star Wars set, even if that meant working with an incomplete costume. A true English Gentleman indeed.
Peter Cushing, Saffron Cake with Cherries, and Star Wars!
Make my Yellow Saffron Cake with Cherries, and enjoy it with a cup of tea while you watch Star Wars (1977). Perhaps you’ll enjoy Peter’s amazing performance in the film on a whole new level.
A Few Things!
My Favorite Saffron
If you don’t have saffron, here is my favorite brand on Amazon [aff. link]. I’ve been so impressed with the freshness of Zaran saffron, which is aided by the tightly sealed (and beautiful, I might add!) container the saffron comes in. Be sure to use Persian, not Spanish saffron in my cake recipe. I find Persian saffron to be more fragrant and flavorful than Spanish saffron.
My Favorite Amarena Cherries
I love amarena cherries. When Peter described his saffron cake as having “a single cherry,” I immediately knew I’d use amarena cherries in my recipe. I also knew one cherry wasn’t enough, and that my recipe had to be full of them. Luckily we are entering the season that amarena cherries become more available, but if you can’t find them, Fabbri is my favorite brand I first tried in Italy. You can find Fabbri Amarena Cherries on Amazon here [aff. link]. You could probably substitute dried cherries in my recipe (though I haven’t tried it), but I highly recommend getting some amarena cherries: the flavor complements the saffron beautifully.
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Peter Cushing Yellow Saffron Cake with Amarena Cherries
For the wet ingredients:
- ⅔ cup canola oil
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ¼ tsp saffron threads
- ½ cup almond milk, or milk of choice
For the amarena cherries:
- ½ cup amarena cherries, chopped
- 1 Tbsp flour
For the dry ingredients:
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup almond flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
Infuse the milk with saffron
- First, on a cutting board with clean hands, break up the saffron threads. Just tear them apart with your fingers until all the threads become small pieces.
- Now, place the milk in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave until the milk is warm, about one minute.
- Add the torn saffron thread pieces to the milk, and whisk with a fork. The saffron will turn the milk yellow. Keep whisking until the milk is completely yellow. Set aside.
Prepare the amarena cherries
- Roughly chop the amarena cherries. (I prefer to cut each cherry in quarters first, then do a rough chop from there.)
- Now sprinkle the flour on top of the cherries, and with your hands, toss the cherries and the flour together until the cherries are evenly coated. (This step helps keep all the cherries from sinking to the bottom of the cake during baking!) Set aside.
Whisk the wet ingredients
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar (I just use a wire whisk and my hand; no need to get a mixer).
- Now add the eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk until completely combined.
Add the saffron milk
- Now add the saffron-infused milk to the other wet ingredients, and whisk until completely combined.
Mix in the dry ingredients
- Add the flour, almond flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to the wet ingredients, and whisk until smooth and just combined. Be careful not to over mix!
Fold in the cherries
- Now gently fold just over half of the amarena cherries into the batter.
Divide the batter
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Oil two, 8x4 inch loaf pans, and divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Each pan will fill about half-way with the batter.
- Now gently scatter the remaining amarena cherries on top of the batter in each pan.
Bake the cakes
- Bake the cakes at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes, until the top of each cake bounces back when lightly pressed, and a toothpick inserted in their middles comes out clean.
Serve and enjoy!
- Let the cakes cool for a least 30 minutes, then slice and serve with milk, or be very English and serve with tea!