Seed Cake –
The title is a lie – this is really closer to bread. Seed cake seems to be one of those madly British things. However, unlike cricket and British humor, it can be understood by others. It is mentioned in Chaucer. Miss Marple eats seed cake At Bertram’s Hotel. Bilbo Baggins is thoroughly put out when his tea with seed cake is interrupted. And so on.
There is also seed cake which is a compressed agricultural product for livestock. Humans would not want to eat this, with or without tea.
There seem to be quite a few tales about the why and wherefore of the name. One tradition says that during the Middle Ages there were spring planting festivals as well as fall harvest festivals. The spring celebration took place after the seeds were in the ground, and this was a traditional cake for the celebration – hence seed cake. I don’t really buy this one. I think it was called seed cake because it had seeds in it. Choose your myths, and stand off at twenty paces. Ready? Present spatulas to the death. Or something like that.
This is kind of original, authentic seed cake, mostly. The modern versions have all sorts of sweet things in them, and a multiplicity of seed types. The original used only caraway seed. This is actually a 15th Century version. The true original didn’t use sugar. I like it with. To do no sugar, double the beer – you’ve got to feed the yeast.
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
1 package yeast
1/8 cup beer – authentically use ale. Who has Brit ale in the US?
Scant ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp. A heavy European butter is good if possible
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Mix the dry guys together, flours, caraway seeds and salt. Dissolve the yeast in the booze, about 100°. Add a pinch of the dry goods to the yeast mix. Mix up the wet guys, butter, sugar, eggs. Poke a hole in the dry goods, pour in the yeast mix, and mix it up. Mix up the whole mess, adding enough milk to get a nice thick, smooth batter. Bake in an greased 8” pan for around 45 minutes at 350°. Since this is cake form instead of bread, use the toothpick and not the thump method.
The Brits like it with tea. Do as you please. A bit of good, rich butter goes well here. Small slices, this is filling. First bite might be a bit strange, but one grows fonder rapidly. When leftover, butter heavily and toast it in the broiler. Do try it with caraway seeds the first time or two. After that, use the seed of choice. Just about any seed that is good to you should work nicely.
The modern version is often served with a lemon glace. I like mine without. Lemon glace? Mix the juice of one lemon with one cup powdered sugar. Slosh it over the top.