This weekend I was re-reading The Hobbit. I was laughing right from the start. Especially when all the dwarfs show up at Bilbo’s door just in time for Tea, in a frustrating progression one after another. Each comes right on in to his home and makes himself comfortable.
At the third ring of his bell, Bilbo is becoming a bit agitated and worried, as well he might:
…[Bilbo] liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he – as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful – he might have to go without.
“Come along in, and have some tea!” he managed to say after taking a deep breath.
“A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,” said Balin with the white beard. “But I don’t mind some cake – seed cake, if you have any.”
“Lots!” Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
Can you imagine having to offer up *your* lovely seed cakes to a bunch of scoundrelly-looking dwarfs? I can not!
That got me thinking about all the times I’ve read of seed cake – Tolkien, Burnett, Austen, Alcott, and many others. Always with tea, or snuck up into garrets for middle-of the night tea parties. What was it, exactly? I had a clear picture in my mind of a dense, sweet tea cake studded with lovely seeds and things, delicate but not too crumbly, and perfect for toasting (with butter).
This time I finally decided to look it up. There’s an entire library full of information out there on the internet, including much discussion of seed cake vs. seed bread, and the whole history, etymology, and evolution of the thing.
After about 30 minutes of poking about on the web, I realized I already knew far more than I wanted to or cared about, since the ‘real’ seed cake was not much like what I’d pictured in my head… and what I wanted to eat! What I wanted was something like this:
So I set about creating my own, and if I do say so, it is quite lovely.
I’ve made this twice now with excellent results, but as you’ll see the recipe is terribly inexact regarding baking time, and you’ll just have to experiment with your own oven and pan types.
The mix of seeds is truly up to you; select what you like and don’t be mean about it. I do encourage you, though, to include caraway – even if just a pinch. It really is wonderful, especially with the citrus undertones, and it gives a little depth to the sweetness of the rich cake.
Don’t forget to toast it. And a touch of butter too.
Shawn’s New-fangled Seed Cake
Yield: 3 tealoaves; 1/2 recipe makes one mammoth bread loaf
3c all purpose flour
1c granulated sugar
1c dark brown sugar
1½t baking powder
1t fine salt (non-iodized, if you have it)
1T poppy seeds
2t sesame seeds
1½t caraway seeds
1t ground cardamom
1t dried orange peel (or better yet, zest from 1 orange or lemon)
pinch ground anise seed
½c chopped pecans
1¼c canola oil (or other light-flavored oil, not olive)
2t vanilla extract
2t lemon extract
Heat oven to 350º (see note if using glass).
Prepare baking pans with spray or grease/flour.
- Measure dry ingredients into large bowl with plenty of extra room. Stir well to combine and to coat nuts.
- Measure wet ingredients into second bowl. Whisk together, mixing well enough to thoroughly beat eggs and incorporate oil.
- Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, folding together with a spatula only until well incorporated. (A few small lumps are ok.) Be careful of overmixing.
- Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake – small tea loaves: 35-45 mins; large loaf pans 50-60 mins. (The half- recipe I made using a thick Pyrex glass loaf pan took 80 full minutes to bake going back and forth between 325º and 350º, so use your best judgement if you put a lot of batter into a huge loaf pan.)
Note: If using glass pans you may want to start with your oven at 325 since the glass retains heat much differently than thin metal baking pans.
Can’t get enough? Looking for more? Check out these fun sites: