Monday, 30 March 2009
Seedcake for tea
Seedcake is so very old-fashioned. You never see it in a cafe, but it is lovely. This one is a simple plain cake with hints of orange. I made it for a solemn occasion: a funeral for a friend's much-loved cat. It has a lovely "tea at the vicarage" charm about it, and it's not bad with a glass or 7 of sparkling, either. We finished it off this afternoon with a cuppa on the back deck, among the scattered gardening tools.
I got the recipe from a book of "British and Irish Cooking", a 1978 publication by Sally Morris. I bought it for $1.95. Not second hand, that was the recommended retail price. It's a wonderful old book, with recipes for plum cake, steak and kidney pie, Chelsea buns, Richmond Maids of Honour and much more. Some of them even use lard and suet.
I've always contended that British food is, despite its reputation, actually pretty bloody wonderful. I think that some of its bum rap comes from the war years, and the many years after when rationing was in force, and there was simply not enough butter, cream, bacon and eggs and so on. And of course, a lot of the best of it was simply done in private. Budget travellers encountered the horrendous cheap rooming houses with landladies dishing up over-boiled cabbage and a lump or two of gristle. Meanwhile the upper crust was feasting on Scottish salmon, rare roast beef with horseradish, devilled kidneys, stilton cheese and fresh watercress, and taking afternoon tea with seedcake, scones, strawberries and clotted cream.
Seed cake is worth reviving, I think.
3/4 cup salted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup icing sugar
Zest the orange finely, and juice it.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the orange zest, orange flower water, and caraway seeds.
Sift the flour, and fold in gently in several batches.
Use about 2 tablespoons of the orange juice to lighten it, but keep the batter quite thick.
Tip into a 20cm cake pan, prepared as you usually prefer.
Bake at 180 for 40-50 minutes, or until a testing skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool before icing.
To make the icing, sift 1 cup of icing sugar into a bowl. Add two teaspoons of orange juice, and mix well. If it seems too thick, add a little more. Smooth over the top of the cake, allowing a little to drizzle down the sides.
3/4 cup of butter is the measure in the original - odd, for a British book. It's a simple 3/4 packet, about 185g. And this cake mixture has a tendency to curdle at the addition of the eggs. It's common with this style of cake. Do not worry if that happens, just keep going and the flour will smooth it all out again.
If you are concerned about the age of your caraway seeds, soak them in the orange juice for half an hour first. They come out quite chewy in texture, but they are very small, so it doesn't really matter. Orange flower water is also known as neroli extract. A single drop of the essential oil might perhaps work instead, but it's a lot more powerful than the water. Be careful - or just skip it.