The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A delicious Victorian recipe: Seed Cake.

Mrs. Beeton's Seed Cake.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
This recipe is from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management from 1861, but it has its roots in the 18th century, at least.  The ingredient that makes it Victorian is the self-rising flour: chemical leaveners (baking soda/salaratus, cream of tartar/pearlash, baking powder) were not fully understood until well into the 19th century, and were not available to the home cook until then.  Similar recipes for seed cake exist in 17th and 18th century recipe books, but they are leavened by one of two methods: the addition of yeast and allowing the dough to rise as for bread, or the addition of beaten whole eggs or egg whites, folding them into the batter at the end.

A Very Good Seed-Cake.
1 lb. butter [soft]            1 lb. self-rising flour
6 eggs                           3/4 oz. caraway seeds
3/4 lb. sifted sugar         1 wineglass brandy [1/4 cup]
mace and nutmeg to taste [1/2 tsp. each]

Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients together.  Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes.  Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper, and bake it from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  This cake would be equally nice made with currants, and omitting the caraway seeds.

[NOTE: When whisking/beating the eggs, beat them for several minutes by hand or machine, until they are light yellow in color, thick and foamy.  This helps leaven the cake!  When ready to bake, the batter should be a "dropping" consistency, or what we know as regular cake batter -- thick enough to drop from a spoon, but not thick enough to roll out like dough, or thin enough to pour from the bowl without the help of a spatula.  If the batter is too thick after you've mixed the above ingredients, add a few tablespoons of milk until the texture is right.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a greased 8-inch cake pan lined with parchment or wax paper.  You can also sprinkle brown or raw sugar on top of the cake before putting it in the oven, for a crackled sugar crust.  Serves 8 to 10, unless you take thin slices.]

This recipe can be made by hand, with a wooden spoon and a large mixing bowl, but it needs to be beaten thoroughly, so an electric mixer makes it much easier!  This is not the familiar soft sponge cake that we're used to these days!  It is basically an old-fashioned pound cake.  I made a half recipe of this cake last winter, and it produced an 8-inch round cake that was flavorful and dense, but not dry.  I also used currants instead of caraway seeds because I didn't have any of the seeds.  The flavor and texture lasted as long as the cake lasted.  I kept the cake wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter, and ate the last piece more than a month after it was baked.  It dried out a little on the outside, but the inside was still moist enough to be tasty.  It was delicious with tea, coffee, apple cider, and hot chocolate, as well as toppings of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.  It is a wonderful holiday treat!  


Rosemary said...

This seed cake looks tasty. Thanks also for the food history regarding the Victorian seed cake and the use of leavening agents. Very interesting!

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

You're welcome!

I'm getting ready to make an earlier version of this cake, but I need to borrow a mixer because the old recipe is leavened with egg yolks and whites beaten separately, and my arm isn't strong enough to do it!

Bernideen said...

I do love historic recipes and it is such fun to include them! Thanks for this recipe!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)