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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Seed Cake


I know what you’re probably thinking: what on earth is seed cake? I had wondered that myself, having only ever read about it in Agatha Christie novels, usually as a gateway to afternoon tea, shared by a few British ladies of a certain age. 

For example, Karen Pierce, author of the delightful Recipes for Murder (66 Dishes that Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie), which I have written about here, features a wonderful bundt version of Old Fashioned Seed Cake, pulled from the pages of At Bertram's Hotel.

But then I came across another mention of seed cake while reading about Lucy Snowe, the heroine in Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic romance Villette, who, speaking of her former place of employ, recalls her fondness for the British staple: “I knew the very seed-cake of peculiar form, baked in a peculiar mould, which always had a place on the tea-table at Bretton.”

So, what is seed cake? Well, it’s much like a pound cake made with caraway seeds. Yes, like the caraway seeds in rye bread. So, how does that work in terms of a cake? Quite deliciously, I found! The bitterness of the caraway is softened in the baking, making it a tasty flavored treat.

Sure, seed cake is great with tea, but why not kick the kettle around? Serve it at lunch, eat it for breakfast! Bring it to a pot-luck! Your guests may find it unexpected—and you might find it all gone, rather quickly.

Here’s a traditional recipe from The English Kitchen:

Seed Cake
Makes one 2 pound loaf

175g butter, softened (3/4 cup)
175g caster sugar (very scant cup (less about 2 TBS)
3 large free range eggs, beaten
3 tsp caraway seeds
225g of plain flour, sifted (1 1/2 cups plus 1 TBS)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 TBS ground almonds
1 TBS milk

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4. Butter and line a 2 pound loaf tin with baking paper. Set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Stir this in along with the salt, almonds, seeds and milk. Mix well to combine evenly. Scrape into the prepared baking tin.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until well risen, golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely in the tin. Store in an airtight container. Cut into slices to serve.

Lucy Snowe is seen below probably scoping out seed cake, as depicted by Edmund Dulac from his illustrations in Villette.


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