Sunday, September 24, 2006

Seed Cake

Just in time for your harvest supper...

Seed cake is a plain sponge flavoured with caraway seeds, and maybe including some mixed peel. The taste for caraway seeds is perhaps out of fashion now (in the UK at least), but they were once a flavouring much used in cakes, breads, buns and biscuits from the 17th century to the mid-20th.

I have also found that 'seed cake' can be used as a more general term for a cake served at festivals to celebrate the spring sowing of wheat, or to celebrate the autumn harvesting of the crop. Laura Mason writing in the 'Oxford Companion to Food', quotes from a book published in 1892: "Fifty years ago seed-time also had its festival, although on a lesser scale, as well as harvest. At the backend, when the early sowing had been completed, the farmer made a sort of feast for the men, the principle feature of which was 'seed-cake', which was given to each of them. The cake did not get its name from anything that it contains, for in was in fact an ordinary sort of currant or plum cake, but from the occasion." Elizabeth David in 'English Bread' suggests that the caraway seeds were symbolic of the wheat grains sown, and that this would also explain the inclusion of such cakes and breads on the Lenten table (I assume she means eaten to celebrate the end of Lent). One sweetened bread product that included caraway seeds was the wigg - these were eaten with ale and cheese at harvest time, but over time also became a richer, grander bun. For more information on harvest traditions, click here.

Harvest festivals and harvest suppers are traditionally held on the Sunday nearest to the Autumn Equinox (when the hours of daylight equal the hours of darkness). This year the Autumn Equinox is the 23rd of September, i.e. yesterday (and the official start of autumn, nights drawing in etc., but let's not think about that aspect of the season).

Although during my research I came across references to seed cake (all of the caraway variety) made in different regions of the country. The recipes varied very little - some cakes had mixed peel or lemon zest in them, others had solely caraway seeds. I think that seed cake had wide popularity and was baked nationwide, so cannot be attributed to any particular corner of the country.

I have baked seed cake previously from a recipe in Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine. This made a cake similar to madeira cake in buttery richness, and I loved the flavour that the seeds gave to what otherwise would be a very plain cake. I decided to try another recipe this time round, and settled on one from Jane Grigson's ' English Food'. The difference with this recipe is that it includes a small amount of ground almonds, which Jane claims makes the cake 'moist and delicious and most exceptional'! Elizabeth David, not a fan of caraway, had been put off seed cake by dry sponges eaten as a child, and I suspect Jane Grigson may have had similar experiences, hence her delight at finding a recipe resulting in a moist cake.

175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 rounded dessertspoon of caraway seeds
1 level tablespoon ground almonds
250g self-raising flour
A little milk on stand-by

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Prepare a loaf tin.
2. In a large bowl cream together the butter and the sugar. When mix is light and fluffy stir in the caraway seeds.
3. Sift the flour into another bowl and stir in the almonds.
4. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, but not too dry looking (you're not making meringues here). In another bowl beat together the yolks. Fold the yolks into the whites.
5. Add a little of the egg mix to the creamed butter and sugar, and a little of the flour. Stir in carefully. Continue to do this until all is blended. If the resulting mixture looks a little dry, add a little milk (I put in about 3 tablepsoons worth).
6. Put cake mixture into the prepared tin, and level the top with the back of a spoon.
7. Bake for about an hour and 5 minutes.
8. Allow cake to cool in tin for 20 minutes before turning out on to cooling rack.

Following a suggestion of my husband's (well, you have to once in a while) I iced the cake with glace icing, but I couldn't help but slip in a little lemon juice so that it had a good citrus kick. I had wanted to use some lemon zest in the cake, so figured that lemon in the icing was a good second option. Actually I felt the that lemon flavour was perhaps too strong ( I used a whole lemon), but it made a good contrast to the flavour of the sponge. The sponge was nice and moist, but I am not sure that the small quantity of ground almonds would make that much difference. The recipe that I have used before didn't contain almonds, and this cake turned out equally well.

A slice of seed cake is good with a glass of madeira, or, equally, a good old-fashioned cup of tea. Here's to autumn - flaming leaves; conkers; hot chocolate on a cold evening; home-made soup for lunch and toad-in-the-hole for tea!


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your cake look beautiful! I always loved "caraway seed cake" as it's really fine and delicately fragrant..

Anonymous said...

Lovely cake! My gran used to make seed cake. I should try your recipe - caraway seed is big in the Netherlands, they use it in cheese!

Jeanne said...

That looks beautiful Anna. I love caraway seeds and yes, every icing should have a touch of lemon in it! And I'm still laughing at your comment about following your husband's suggestion...!

Anonymous said...

beautiful pictures, Anna!
I’m (just as Elizabeth David...) not too big a fan of caraway seeds, but it looks absolutely delicious...
too bad the almonds didn't help...maybe triple, or more.. the amount next time? =)

Brilynn said...

I've never had seed cake but yours looks very pretty, excellent pictures, (I'm sure it's pretty tasty too).

Alanna Kellogg said...

Hi Anna ~ I love the idea of 'savory' caraway tucked into the lemony sweetess. Very nice!

Off topic ~ Yesterday a cousin e-mailed my greatgrandmother's (American since late 1600s) recipe for fruitcake and I was much surpised to see a sponge. My other side of the family (1 generation ago British) would fall over, I think. Or not?

Mama Lamb said...

Oh, thanks for sharing this! I love Miss Read books.. and several other British authors... but the Miss Read books about the Village School and the conker strings and decorating the church pews for the harvest festival... always sound so wonderful, and not terribly far off from many of our rural American ways.

Anyway, I have always wanted to try seed cake.. so maybe this autumn it is time to try it out.

I, Like The View said...

I can't believe my luck!

haven't checked your blog for ages and now I do and find a recipe for a cake that my grandmother used to make. . .

my favourite of all her cakes - caraway seed

thanks Anna

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this recipe ;I think that is an old victoria recipe. Isn' it ?.I tried to make it , but I use less sugar (100 g) and less butter (125 g) .I don't use the almonds , but the juice of one lemon and some slices of cristallized lemons .No icing ;
It was marvellous , light and perfumed .

Anonymous said...

I have looked for this recipe for ages without much luck my grandmother used to make it for us every autumn. Thanks for the recipe cant wait to make one.

grey said...

I followed your recipe and baked the caraway cake (only because I had the ingredients to hand and I had a baking urge).Actually its probably only the 2nd or 3rd cake I've baked.. It turned out really nice even in my useless oven..... Except I used butter icing instead of glace icing( still wish a dash of lemon) only because I didn't really understand icing and mixed the two up But infact it tasted great.The icing improved it even more.the caraway taste was lovely and not too overpowering. Myself, my wife and my mother in law devoured it swiftly so it definitely got the thumbs up here..thanks!!

AnnaW said...

Glad you liked the cake.

Congratulations on the safe arrival of Max - nearly exactly one month old!

Anonymous said...

I think i will try it. It looks delicious and tasty.

Kerrio said...

Oh that looks interesting - think I will give it a go... can I use dill instead of caraway (there's some fresh dill seeds in the garden... smells a lot like caraway... hmmmm)

AnnaW said...

Hi Kerrio,

I was searching for dill seeds in the shops recently but couldn't find any (supposed to make a good infusion for nursing mums). I'm not sure how they will taste in a cake - I have one book that suggests adding them to apple pie, but the other dishes recommended are all savoury. Let me know how you get on.

Anonymous said...

" Man I love da' cake!", my graet aunt used to make 'seedy cake' when we were kids. We used to visit here once a year in Dorset and take home a supply of cake. She has since passed away and I have moved to New Zealand where I have been having a job to locate Carraway seeds. Anyway, just got hold of some through a bakers 30kms away and I am going to embark on your recipe tommorow afternoon. Thanks alot and have a good Xmas.

Dorene said...

I'd really also like to try the Waitrose recipe, but that page is not available. Does anyone have that recipe to share? Thanks!

AnnaW said...

Hi Doreen,

It looks as if the link has changed. Sorry about that. try this one instead. Happy cooking!

Anonymous said...

I love caraway seeds, so often double the amount!
I have also experimented using cardomom seeds for a very fresh, slightly astringent variation. Take the husks off and crush the seeds somewhat.

With You In Mind said...

I was watching Agatha Christies Poirot and at a tea party they were delighted that "seed cake" was being served. I had to look it up and find out what it was. And I am delighted that you supplied a recipe for me to try. I hope that it will be one of those cakes that will be cherished.


Sue said...

I can't believe I am going to make a seed cake. We hated it a children as a waste of a good cake and were invariably offered it when visiting elderly (Pommy) relations. Now I'm making it for a Raj High Tea!

Alina said...

As a big fan of Agatha Christie, I always wondered what seed cake was and thanks to you I have a recipe which I can't wait to try.
Thank you so much!

susymac said...

i grew up with seed cake! my grandmother was british and passed it down to my mom. i made it here in the netherlands for colleagues and they didn't "get"it. the dutch aren't big on eating something they've never had before!!

growing seeds said...

Sumptuous looking seed cake! It makes my mouth water! Thanks for sharing.

Robert Sims said...

Robert writes from Sogndal in NOrway

My wife who is Norwegian makes this cake for me, it's my favorite cake, light and tasty, nothing touches it. I first had it in the 1960s, two spinster ladies were very hospitable to us 'younger folk' we played board games read the bible with them and ate Caraway Seed Cake. Thanks for your recipe. With tea of course

floral canvas prints said...

Oh this seed cake looks wonderful, thanks for sharing the recipe!

canvas art said...

The cake looks brilliant, I really must try and make one of these!

Mike said...

That's awesome, thanks a lot!

joyhaycock said...

I bake a lot but have never tried a seed cake - her (Denmark) caraway is also used in some cheeses (as in Holland) which is quite nice but the caraway flavour is mostly associated with Schnapps and drunk with a cold lunch together with beer (VERY potent!) and especially with salted herring.
I shall certainly try out your recipe, it looks delicious and my cake-loving family will devour it in no time, I'm sure !

Anonymous said...

Caraway in a cake? Never! What about a good "marble cake"?

Prepare a pastry by the well known typically formular.

When it´s ready prepared, take a third part of the pastry and mix it with two or three teaspoonful of pure cocoa-powder (not a cocoa-drink-powder), ad, if it is too dry, a few milk and maybe a few sugar if the pastry is getting to bitter from the cocoa.

Now put the light pastry part into the prepared tin.
Add the cocoa-pastry on top.

Take a fork and pull it with a spiral-move from one end of the tin to the other.

That makes the pastry look like marble after baking and cutting into slices.

If you like, you can add a hint of fine rum to the cocoa-pastry part - or whiskey - instead of the milk . .

There are a lot of possibilities to create a cake . . . yum! yum! yum!

Plumbers in Denver Colorado said...

I have a recipe for Welsh 'shearing cake' that's a lot like this. It uses buttermilk,though.

Wait till you see Farm Land Service said...

Love this recipe. I have made this many times for my husband's birthday. It always turned delicious.

Unknown said...

Truely this is yummy. My family members loved it very much, So I make it again and again.
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