Seed Cake (in Mrs Beeton’s book it is called A Nice Plain Cake)
Caraway seeds with their fairly mild aniseed flavour have been used in English cookery – for cakes, biscuits and breads – for well over 400 years. So the Victorians and their love of Seed Cake were only continuing a long standing culinary tradition.
The seeds were reputed to be very good for the digestion. The Victorians often sugared them and used them as an after-dinner comfit or sweet treat but they also had another use, as a favourite ingredient in love potions!
The recipe given below, and which many of our visitors tasted on our January Steaming Sunday, is from Mrs Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management first published in 1861. However, recipes never stand still. What is enjoyed by one generation often doesn’t please the next – and there are a lot of generations between ourselves and Isabella Beeton! So I have made a couple of slight modifications to the original receipt to bring it more into the 21st Century. Don’t worry, they are only small ones. To all intents and purposes when you make this at home you are making a real Victorian dish.
The changes are –
- The use of butter or margarine (a baking block like Stork) rather than dripping (the fat gathered from the Sunday joint).
- An increase in the amount of fat used. Isabella’s quantity might be too dry and crumbly for modern taste
- 8oz (200g) self raising flour
- 4oz (100g) block margarine
- 3oz (75g) Light soft brown sugar
- 1/2oz (15g) caraway seeds
- 4oz (100g) currants
- 2 eggs
- 4-5fl.oz (100-125ml) milk
- Sieve the flour into a bowl. Cut up the margarine and rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Stir in the sugar, caraway seeds and the currants
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add these with the milk to the dry ingredients. Beat very well to mix
- Put the mixture into 8” (200mm) square cake tin lined with baking parchment
- Bake at 160C fan, Gas Mark 3 for 3/4 – 1 hour until the cake is fully cooked – test with a skewer
- Leave to cool in the tin for a little while before attempting to turn it out onto a cooling tray