#231 Seed Cake

In my humble opinion, one of the most therapeutic things one can do is spend a few hours baking in the kitchen. Last Saturday I definitely needed therapy – stupid Microsoft wiped a load of my work; I shall not go into the boring details. Baking this cake helped me a bit; though in all honesty, getting completely pissed later on that night helped rather more.

This recipe is a variation on the basic pound cake (see here) and there have been a few of these baked by yours truly (see here). Pound cakes are very easy to make – they’re an all-in-one batter recipe, so not technique is atually required. I would advise you to use a hand mixer over any other type of mixer, which produces a better, lighter cake. Follow the recipe for the pound cake and just add a dessertspoon of caraway seeds. Easy.

#231 Seed Cake. The best of the pound cakes thus far. Not necessarily because it’s the best recipe, but because I think I’m getting better at making cakes. This was deliciously moist and didn’t need any buttercream or anything. The caraway seeds went very crispy inside. To ensure a good cake, I should say again that you should use a hand mixer and that you should also put a dish of water in the bottom of your oven if it is a fan-assisted one to prevent the cake drying out. Anyways, a great cake 7/10.

#227 Wigs

Wigs go right back to the Middle Ages when a ‘wig’ meant a ‘wedge’. Bakers would make a sweetened cake using yeast as a raising agent, making cuts so that wedge shapes were made. This recipe is from Elizabeth David’s book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery – a classic work that I do not own yet! – and is a Seventeenth Century recipe. Eating sweet cakes really took off in that period of history as people realised that sweet cakes and breads went really nice with morning or afternoon tea. It was during this time that Teatime or High Tea came into being and a whole chapter of English Food is devoted to it. This is a good recipe to try if you’ve never made bread before as there is no kneading, er, needed!

To make your own wigs start off by creaming half an ounce of yeast in six fluid ounces of warmed milk. Beat in 12 ounces of plain flour (not strong white flour – this is more of a cake than a bread) to form a loose dough before mixing in four ounces of softened butter. Next, mix in 4 ounces of caster sugar and ½ teaspoon each of mixed spice and ground ginger along with two or three teaspoons of caraway seeds. Cover with cling film and allow to rise – a couple of hours should do it. Knock back the dough and divide it between two greased 9 inch sandwich tins, making four cuts (i.e. eight wedges). If the dough is too soft to pick up and handle, add some more flour. Cover the sandwich tins with large billowing polythene bags – you don’t want bag to touch dough – and let the wigs prove for 20 – 40 minutes. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200⁰C. Eat warm.

#227 Wigs. I liked these – not too sweet, and great hot with plenty of butter on them. The genius thing was the addition of caraway seeds. The fragrant nutty taste may not be for everyone, but I really like it. It is a shame they have gone out of favour. These are definitely worth a go, particularly because they are a real little bit of English history. 6/10

#62 Mrs Sleightholme’s Seed Cake

Seed cake, it seems, goes way way way back. Jane mentions books from the 1700 with several recipes. A classic English cake if ever there was one; except I’ve never heard of it. In fact there’s two seed cake recipes in English Food itself. The seeds are provided in the form of caraway, a most English of spices. The cake itself is an unusual one – half way between a traditional recipe, where you cream butter and sugar and a sabayon, where eggs are whisked up until thick and frothy.

To make the cake, cream 6 ounces each of butter and sugar and stir in a rounded dessertspoon of caraway seeds. Separate three eggs and whisk the whites until stiff, but still creamy. Beat the yolks and carefully fold these into the whites with a metal spoon, then fold the eggs into the creamed butter. Next, stir in a tablespoon of ground almonds and eight ounces of sifted self-raising flour. I find it easier to mix the flour in three or four stages to avoid getting a lumpy batter. The mixture should be slack enough to ‘fall off the spoon when you shake it with a firm flick of the wrist’, and we must do as we are told. If too thick, add a little milk; a tablespoon or two should do it.

Pour the mixture into a lined 9 inch loaf tin and smooth it down with the back of a spoon. Decorate with blanched, slivered almonds if you fancy. Bake for up to an hour (but check on it with a larding needle as it may be less) at 180 degrees Celsius. Let the cake cook for 15 minutes before taking out of the tin to cool on a wire rack.

FYI: In Henry IV Part II, Falstaff is invited by Shallow to have a snack on some of ‘last year’s pippin [apples] of mine own graffing, with a dish of caraways’. So if Mr. Shakespeare liked them, they can’t be bad.

FYI 2: Mrs Dorothy Sleightholme was a cook on Yorkshire Television. Growing up in Yorkshire and being an avid telly watcher naturally means I have no recollection of her whatsoever.

# 62 Mrs Sleightholme’s Seed Cake: 4/10. A low scorer, though not foul tasting. It was like a dry Madeira cake. It certainly needed tea to go with it as it was on the claggy side. The caraway seeds save it to some degree. There is, of course, the slightest chance that I over baked it, but I find that very hard to believe…