English Seed Cake

Sometimes I think I am half hobbit. I’m short and stocky and cheery and (to overshare) I have slightly hairy feet. My dad first read The Hobbit to me when I was about 5, and I re-read it on my own soon after; it was one of my first real chapter books. During the first chapter when the dwarves descend on Bilbo and eat everything in his pantry, the first thing consumed is seed cake; I always wondered what this tasted like (yes, even at age 5), and assumed it was poppy-seed based. So, when I found a recipe for a traditional English seed cake in my latest cookbook acquisition (a 1940s collection of old English bread and cake recipes), I immediately had to satisfy my curiosity.


This confection, it turns out, is studded with caraway seeds rather than poppy. The recipe in my book, moreover, called for a really old-school rosewater flavoring instead of vanilla extract. The rose flavor adds a beautiful floral dimension to the caraway and keeps it from tasting anything like rye bread.

One interesting point about the recipe below: it has one add egg yolks and whites in separate stages. I might try experimenting with this – it yielded one of the smoothest batters I’ve come across, even though I was creaming butter and sugar by hand (still working without a stand mixer).

I actually had a pretty exciting time making this cake. Because I’m now working full-time at my law firm job (we’re not allowed to call ourselves associates until we are actually admitted to the bar), I have zero spare time. I’ve been trying to work my life out, and have come to two conclusions: in order to have a reasonable amount of time to fit in good things like gym and friends, I need to (a) order everything possible online (thank god for Fresh Direct), (b) occasionally keep weird hours and go without sleep. I was super-desperate to make this, and I was getting home late most nights last week so…I pulled a wake and bake!¬† Yes, I know my version is not the usual one.

Yep, that’s a cake-plus-sunrise pic. I also worked out. The best part: I brough the result into work, and it made everyone just a little bit happier. I even met some new people in the process of handing out cake. The 6 AM wakeup was worth it, and I’m sure it’ll happen again soon. Especially because there are so many more delicious things in this new English baking book…

Old English Seed Cake (Makes one 9-inch bundt)
1 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
5 egg yolks
2 egg whites
3/4 c. milk
3 c. sifted flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 1/2 tsp. rose water
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add yolks, beat, then add whites. Sift dry ingredients together and add, alternating with milk. Mix in seeds, rosewater, cinnamon, pour into greased and floured bundt pan, bake 1 hour 20 min, top with powdered sugar.

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