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.

Recipe: Seedcake
1 orange
3/4 cup salted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
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.


Bells said...

I really love the sound of seed cake. It reminds me of something I can't put my finger on - like a forgotten scene from a novel or a poem or something. So thanks for this. I'm going to try it.

BJ said...

It's a gorgeous, delicate flavour. The bit of orange lifts it without dominating. The crumb is small but not crumbly. This is a very elegant cake. I'll definitely try it soon.

WITH the bubbles!

BJ said...

You know what I mean by 'crumb small but not crumbly' don't you???

Rhonda said...

You are so right about British food, the basic ingredients in Britain are fabulous. Of course, that could be why so many cooks became so lazy about the way it was cooked.
My grandmother used to make this type of cake. I still dream of the afternoon teas she used to provide - so many cakes and biscuits to chhose from. It was heaven for a small child!

Ozquilter said...

I have always loved seed cake, my nanna and my mum made it and I make it as well, along with their butter cake, which is plain but deliciously rich. Must make it again soon. Elizabeth David's 'Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen' shows just how aromatic, spicfilled and good English cooking can be.

Liz from Melbourne said...

Mmmm. Sounds like a nice cake. The theme of old fashioned cake recipes reminds me of the yummy ginger fluff sponge I used to have in a cafe in Ballarat when I was a child. Might have to try and find a recipe.

Anonymous said...

Is seedcake inevitably with caraway? I had imagined poppyseed. Caraway is so powerful. --- Ignorant American who could look it up but would rather ask.

kates said...

I am having a slice right now. Thank you so much for the recipe! I first read about seed cake in C.S. Lewis & Tolkien -- I think Lucy has some with Mr. Tumnus when she first goes to Narnia, and the imperious dwarves who arrive unannounced on Mr. Baggins' doorstep demand it -- so though I never tasted it, it's been in my imagination since childhood. The first bite was a little strange -- I've never had caraway in a sweet -- but the slice is gone now and I'll have to restrain myself from having another one before dinner. Simply lovely.