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Seed Cake

December 31, 2010

After recently re-reading The Hobbit, I’ve been having a great time daydreaming about Shire-eating. I’ve always identified with the Hobbit appreciation of a good meal, or seven, but this year it’s been magnified by my interest in rural British cooking. (It’s not surprising that the Shire culture is based on Tolkien’s childhood in Victorian Warwickshire.) One of the many treats mentioned in the book is seed cake, which the Dwarves finish off in the first chapter of Bilbo’s story.

Reading it, I imagined them to be flavored with poppy seed, but a little research revealed it to be Caraway seed, similar to anise or fennel.  It was something I thought I had never tried, but once I got my hands on some, I recognized them immediately as the little seeds in rye bread. The cake itself tastes a bit like rye, but with a subtle sweetness. It’s a no-frills cake and, as Mr. Baggins would attest, a lovely little snack.

I did find an “authentic” Victorian recipe courtesy of Mrs. Beeton, but Victorian measurements leave something to be desired. (What, precisely, is the volume of  a teacup?) So I decided to look for a more modern version. I landed on a Nigel Slater recipe, but I still had a measurement problem: the metric system.

British cookery is a bit odd in this respect. Recipes seem to jump back and forth between imperial and metric, and volume vs. weight measurements. Thankfully, while I didn’t have enough room for my whole kitchen in a suitcase, I did bring these suckers:

This scale does both grams and lb/oz, and the measuring cup has ml on one side and cups on the other. The one thing I haven’t been able to adapt is the intuitive sense of measurement. I can look at a pile of raisins and tell you approximately how many Tablespoons or cups it is – don’t ask me about milliliters.

Enough complaining; this cake is way too easy to get that grumpy about.

Cream together softened butter and caster sugar. (Granulated will work just fine.)

Add 3 eggs and some milk, one egg at a time.

Combine self-raising flour, caraway seeds and ground almonds. I didn’t have self-raising flour, so I had to do a little extra measuring. Self-raising flour means 1½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt per 1 cup of plain flour.

Add dry ingredients to wet, pretty self-explanatory.

Scrape into a lined loaf pan. I had to get creative with some parchment paper, but they do sell pan-liners for those who plan a little further ahead.

I drizzled a tiny bit of honey over it and it was delightful. This keeps for several days if you wrap it tightly in foil.

Seed Cake

Recipe by Nigel Slater, via The Guardian
Makes one loaf, about 8x4x3 inches

120g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons milk
1 tsp caraway seeds
170g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds

1. Preheat oven to 320°F/160°C. Line a small loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
3. Beat in milk and eggs, one at a time.
4. In a separate bowl, combine caraway seeds, flour, and almonds.
5. Add dry ingredients to wet and beat vigorously to combine. Scrape into loaf pan.
6. Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 min – 1 hour.
7. Eat plain or with a light drizzle of honey. Wrap tightly in foil to keep for several days.

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